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Taking the PMP Exam - Part 7 - PMBOK Introduction and What is a Project

We finished the Preface and now it is on to the introduction. Usually this sort of stuff is unimportant, but remember, we are reading the PMBOK for clues on how to pass the PMP exam. Understanding the Project Management "Bible" will help give the necessary context for study, notes and answering exam questions. As with any test, you have to understand the test from the point of view of the test giver. THe better you understand their ideals and how they think, the easier it will be to recognize what they consider the correct answer. In this sort of exam it is not so important what you think as it is what they think.

The Purpose of the PMBOK Guide. Hmmm... it used to be called Guide to the PMBOK (PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge). Here we see that the PMBOK is meant to identify a "subset" of all that is known about project management, specifically that which is "generally recognized" as good practice. Sorry to take issue with this PMI, but knowledge and practice are two different things. If I am an architect I have knowledge of say Borromini's baroque "San Carlo alle Quattro Fontana" and may be able to apply some of that knowledge to a current design, but knowledge is by definition a different thing than practice. I would suggest that indeed, the PMBOK guide is becoming more of a practice guide than the taxonomy which it began as. It is becoming more prescriptive than descriptive. Despite the disclaimer (in BOLD) that "the project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project" it would appear that the PMBOK is specifying a lowest common denominator for project management. But let's leave that alone now. It won't help in taking the test - except the part in bold.

Here are some other things that the PMBOK does:

  • Provides and promotes a common lexicon
  • Serves as a reference for professional development

OK, but then they call it a "standard". Stretching PMI, stretching... Is it a guide to a body of knowledge or is it a standard? It really can't be both. For the purposes of the exam I'm going with their view that it IS a standard, a standard way to do things, a standard way to name or describe things. Forget about it being a guide.

What is a Project? Good question. Looks almost certain that some questions will be based on this so get memorizing:

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

Key words are Temporary, Unique,. Temporary in this sense refers to the effort involved in creation, not the end result. Building a permanent base on the South Pole of the Moon is a temporary endeavor and is a project. Unique is a difficult term too. Fortunately, almost everything is unique if you define it widely enough. Different teams, different places, different clients all make something unique. I'm expecting thie "unique" part of the definition to wither and die one of these days, but know it for now.

Bundled up in the definition of what a project is, is a section on "progressinve elaboration. I'm not sure if this is a cut and paste error or what. I think it is perhaps trying to stretch the definition somehow for some purpose. My best guess is that there are projects which do not initially have complete definitions at the start. Fine. expand the definition to things where the general outcome is sort of defined, but the means to get there are not completely known. The two examples they give are both sorts of efforts in a general direction, a chemical plant and economic development. To me this appears to be some sort of quibble about what level scope needs to be decided on prior to calling something a project. For this exam, know the term means "developing in steps, and continuing by increments." It is a bit like playing pool. Name the ball and the pocket and take the shot. Do this often enough and the game is eventually over.

Project or operations? PMI considers operations to be ongoing and repetitive. We already know that a project is... temporary... yes... and... Unique! Very good! The project is over when it is over. Operations are never over. This is not to say an operations group can not undertake specific projects, they can. But such projects must be temporary (they must end sometime) and they must generally create something (product, service or capability) that was not there before. Implementing a new cost accounting system is a project. Maintaining that system is operations. So sayeth the PMBOK.

The last section on what a project is concerns how and why organizations perform projects. I disagree with the assumptions here, but my opinions dont count on the exam. Just remember that a project is meant to address a need that can't be addressed within the "organizations normal operational limits". They go on to contend that they are often part of an organization's strategic plan. I can think of counter-examples... no. I better not. Project are authorized to meet one or more of these considerations:

  • Market Demands
  • Organizational Needs
  • Customer Requests (how is this different from market demand?)
  • Technological Advances (getting foggy here. How is this different from market demand or organization needs?)
  • Legal or regulatory requirements (RoHS - regulation of hazardous substances, or corporate governance laws for example) - Once again I'm not sure this is strategic, but not to quibble. Just know these five.

That was a pretty good batch of stuff. I'll try and get around to making some cheat notes from this to boil down the concepts to a couple of key phrases.

Next time: What is Project Management?

  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 9 - Areas of Expertise
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 8 - What is Project Management
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Appendix B - Contract Types
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 12 - The PMP Examination Specification
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 6 - Downloading the PMBOK
  • Taking the PMP Exam N*ked - Part 0
  • Taking and Passing the PMP Exam Part 16 How I passed the PMP Exam
  • PM Web #001 - Glen B. Alleman's Herding Cats
  • Books to Consider – Decision Making
  • PMP Certification Exam Experience Requirements Spreadsheet

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