The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently published the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK®), Seventh Edition which is radically different from previous editions. In this article, let’s see how the PMBOK® Guide, Seventh and Sixth Editions differ, explore the Risk Principle in the Seventh Edition, and look at how risk management methods relate to principles.
PMBOK® Guides, Sixth Edition and Seventh Edition
PMI took a decidedly different approach when developing the PMBOK® Guide, Seventh Edition. Unlike the Sixth Edition (and previous Editions), they developed a principles-based guide rather than a methods-based guide. Rather than spelling out project management processes with inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs, PMI defined the few project management principles that matter most.
What is a Principle?
What do we know about principles? First, principles are primary; methods are secondary.
As one understands a principle, an individual may use different methods to achieve the principle. For example, once a project manager understands the importance of evaluating risks, he or she may perform their risk analysis using different techniques such as the probability and impact assessment.
Second, principles are universal. Consider this principle: What a person sows is what they shall reap. Simple but powerful. If you sow corn, you get….(drum roll) corn! If we show kindness to others, others reciprocate kindness.
Third, principles are few. There are not thousands of principles. As a matter of fact, PMI has identified only 12 project management principles in the PMBOK® Guide, Seventh Edition.
Fourth, it may take more time to understand a principle than a method. However, once you understand how something works and why something happens, you can exploit the knowledge again and again, in many different ways.
Principle : a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens –Merriam Webster Dictionary
If you understand the principle of compound interest, you will likely save money over time and let the principal and interest grow. Understanding why something happens provides the motivation to take action.
Steven Covey famously shared the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Each habit is a principle. Notice that he did not have 75 habits, only seven.
One of the habits is: Begin With the End in Mind. What does this mean?
Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen. –Franklin Covey
Wise project sponsors and project managers engage their key stakeholders and define a clear vision for their projects. This is often accomplished by developing a project charter.
The Risk Management Principle
A project manager who learns the fundamental principles of project risk management can apply the understanding in a variety of ways over time. One of the twelve project management principles is:
Optimize Risk Responses
"Continually evaluate exposure to risk, both opportunities and threats, to maximize positive impacts and minimize negative impacts to the project and its outcomes" (PMBOK® Guide, 7th Edition, The Standard for Project Management, p. 53).
Here are some takeaways from this risk management principle. Notice first that we are to continually evaluate exposure to risk. It’s not a one-time activity. Rather, we evaluate our risks throughout the life of the project.
And notice that we are to focus on opportunities and threats. Look for upside and downside risks.
Lastly, we see that the reason that we undertake risk management activities is to achieve the desired outcomes.
What is a Method?
PMI defines a method as, “the means for achieving an outcome, result or project deliverable" (PMBOK® Guide, 7th Edition, p. 153).
The means to the end includes tools and techniques, project management plans, and strategies, among other methods. Methods enable us to reach our desired destination. What are the steps and actions that we will undertake?
"As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble." –Harrington Emerson, American Efficiency Engineer
Some project managers have lost their way in the past. Someone like the PMO told them they had to use a particular method but they did not understand why. Consequently, the results were trouble, confusion, lack of motivation, and poor execution.
Is the PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition Still Relevant?
So, now we have the project management principles contained in the PMBOK® Guide, Seventh Edition. Does this mean that the Sixth Edition is no longer relevant? Not at all. Seek to understand the principles first. Then select your methods. That is to say, look to the Sixth Edition (and other resources) to find the tools you wish to employ.
Related Article: 12 Project Management Principles Explained By Experts