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Management "Science" and the PMBOK

Among a segment of the population the PMBOK has a bad name for a number of reasons (some content related, others regarding the organization surrounding it) but it does have one thing going for it and that is in the reduction of confusion. Prior to the PMBOK the acceptance of a common taxonomy across Project Management was spotty. Certainly there was strong development of many principles and techniques, but they were spread pretty widely. The PBMOK changed that.

Now, I certainly don't agree with the way that the PMBOK is often taken as a bible and think that it is detrimental to those who treat it that way, but as Francis Bacon wrote some 500 years ago in the famous aphorism:

"Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion"

It would seem that to find some truth, an incomplete and perhaps wrong statement of where we are is a better starting point than a broad selection of conflicting schools of thought.

Indeed the current situation still looks a bit to me like what Thomas Kuhn described as "early fact-gathering, a state of affairs where

"all of the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant. As a result, early fact-gathering is a far more nearly random activity than the one that subsequent scientific development makes familiar. Furthermore, in the absence of a reason for seeking some particular form of more recondite information, early fact-gathering is usually restricted to the wealth of data that lie ready to hand"

A recent post to the agile management mailing list where-in the author was searching Google for evidence to support his argument seems to place us firmly in the early fact-gathering era. The reason being that real "Science" is hard and expensive and in the absence of a clear need to do it (to defend one's practices or to remedy an error) it just doesn't get done. In the current world anecdote is enough. Some measure of charisma and perhaps a high Google page-rank helps as well.

However, the PMBOK is not enough yet. What PMI should be doing if they want to advance the knowledge of Project Management further is to commission some experiments to validate the claims which are implicit in the PMBOK. Rather than footnoting (if they even do that) conflicting schools of thought, they should mount an active challenge and seek to design experiments which validate - or invalidate - the positions that are implicit in their categorization of "best" practices. Until they do that we are still picking up facts where they lie, searching Google for anecdote, conjecture and opinion.

Some one please pass the phlogiston...


Comments (1)

What PMI needs to do is provide a reference and bibliography to PMBOK. Like SWEBOK Systems Engineering BOK, and every other BOK on the planet, the "guide to the body of knowledge" needs to refer to the body of knowledge that is being guided.

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