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3 Rules to Put the Ideas of the PMBOK® Guide into Practice

Jack Grabovski
July 12, 2012

Mix your academic knowledge with real-world PM environment

rules to implement PMBOK Guide ideasRecently I heard from my colleagues (who’re project managers just like me) that after passing their PMI PMP certification exams they found it difficult to implement the ideas of the PMBOK® Guide within their projects. The point was, my colleagues didn’t realize that real-life project management (PM) was something different than the content of the PMBOK® Guide. Just memorizing and learning situational ideas and typical case studies of the manual didn’t allow them to practice effective PM.

So, in this article I wanted to highlight three main rules that allowed my friends to put the ideas of the PMBOK® Guide into practice. I hope my suggestions will help you do effective PM as well.

The Main Standard for PM

pmbokguide Anyone involved in learning or practicing project management is aware of PMI’s global standards library that determines how to best manage projects. The PMBOK® Guide is the major component of that library, and it represents the “preeminent global standard” for effective PM. It is a guide book that includes a great inventory of ideas, principles, terms, and process-based best practices for managing various and different projects. This book has been republished several times since 1983, and currently we have the PMBOK® Guide, 4th edition.

The Challenge

the challengeThe current edition offers a wealth of detailed knowledge that can help project managers develop and lead an effective PM process. However, it is complex enough and designed as a reference guide, which is sometimes cryptic and confusing. Besides, the content highlights the theory rather than practical approaches. And that’s why for some certified PMPs it is hard to realize how to best define the PM process and how to translate the ideas into practice.

The book is challenging and requires PMPs to do their best to follow best practices of project management. The challenge is that the book does not provide a clear pathway for doing a project from start to finish but rather focuses on explaining what should be considered during the journey. A great project leader can’t just collect knowledge of what’s been considered “best practices” and then use that knowledge “as is” to build an effective PM process.

The Solution

solutionInstead, that manager should mix the academic knowledge of the PMBOK® Guide with his/her own project management experience in order to develop a customized approach for delivering projects in organizations

In other words, the solution means the ability of a project manager to recognize that the PMBOK® Guide is just a reference manual and that the implementation is up to that manager. When you’re going to put your academic PM knowledge into practice first be sure you understand that the right approach to project development is based on how well you are able to prioritize, streamline and tailor the ideas of the book to fit your business drivers and values.

3 Rules

Considering the mentioned above, I conclude that the right solution for putting the ideas of the PMBOK® Guide into practice can be summarized into these three rules:

  1. Use a stage-gate model
  2. Prioritize processes and tasks
  3. Add relevant details to your roadmap

Rule #1. Use a Stage-Gate Model

Such a model means that you should move on to the next process stage only if the exit requirements of the current stage have been fully considered and met. This model creates gates between related stages or phases of a process, and your team must move forward after all necessary approvals from the gatekeeper (a person, group or committee that decides on the continuation of the process) have been received.

Here’re a few tips to implementing the stage-gate model for your project processes:

  • Create a high-level description of the project life-cycle and share it with every person involved in the implementation
  • Provide a detailed roadmap of the processes to the team so that the team will know what’s expected from them
  • Establish stage exit requirements to have a critical element of control to your PM processes
  • Build in reviews and approvals at each gate in order to ensure the team can move on to the next stage

Rule #2. Prioritize Processes and Tasks

The PMBOK® Guide offers 42 processes (organized into 5 groups). But your project doesn’t necessarily include all those processes in order to be complete. Your goal is to define and select processes that really essential to your project. And prioritization will help you with accomplishing that goal.

Prioritization states the principle “first things come first”. By prioritizing and selecting core processes, you are able to refine your project, accelerate work and keep your team following the new requirements of the process they’re involved in.

I suggest you follow these tips when prioritizing your project work:

  • Review your project at the highest level to define the strategic processes that drive the project
  • Break down every process into smaller processes, sub-processes and tasks
  • Rank each task by how it will contribute to the overall objective of the parent process
  • Determine dependencies between the tasks
  • Skip any tasks that don’t provide value

Learn more ideas about prioritization

Rule #3. Add Relevant Details to Your Roadmap

The content of the PMBOK® Guide can be presented as a great inventory of templates and checklists that explain how to perform typical work. But real PM process (including its phases, scope, deliverables, milestones etc.) cannot be managed by a template, so within your project environment you must have a roadmap driven by the ideas of the guidebook but supplemented and adjusted with all those details (business drivers, values, skills, deadlines, requirements, competition, and so on) that make your project unique.

You need to add relevant details to every facet of your project plan. You must provide your team with specific tools and best practices to help them get the job done.

In this regard, I suggest the following ideas:

  • Use meetings and face-to-face communications (the Agile approach) with your team to share and agree on the contents associated with the processes
  • Follow the 4C rule to keep your project documents Clear, Concise, Complete and Credible
  • Communicate with the key stakeholders (the sponsor and the customer) on work progress and whether the project is being performed as defined and expected
  • Regularly review, revise and correct your project agenda


If you want to put the ideas of the PMBOK® Guide into practice, you must recognize that there should be a realistic approach, a prioritization layout and a clear understanding of your own business drivers and project values. While your PMI PMP certification grants you a wealth of knowledge about PM it doesn’t necessarily help you with managing your projects.

The point is that you must combine your academic knowledge with your real-life working environment in order to be able to drive your project in line with the ideas and best practices of the PMBOK® Guide. Don’t assume that frantically referencing the PMBOK® Guide in your PM practice will make you an expert. Instead, try to create your own unique approach to PM adjusted to your environment but based on the ideas and principles of the manual. Good luck!

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