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The PMBoK 7th Edition difference - principled portal, not prescribed process

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

I strongly suggest that any change maker out there who wants to get something done to make change in the world invest in access to the 7th edition of the PMBoK, or Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge from Project Management Institute (PMI) that came out last year.

Yup. that’s what it’s really called, “Guide to a Body of Knowledge”.

The 7th Edition is just that, representing 50 years of collaboration in the project management getting-it-done-worldwide community. Okay, but what’s the big deal? A book that people refer to has a new edition. Science, technology, academia, even bees do it, so why this one?

Why PM now?

Here’s why this matters so much right now. Project management is the unsung hero/secret weapon to solving the world’s problems, if it's done right. Every big concept on progress, every new discipline on innovation and elevation, every new major development, all have to stick their landings to make one whit of difference. We are in the recipe for all of it.

  • Study change management as a discipline, and you have a project management component formally baked in to make it work, whether it has it’s own part in the picture, or we use the word “implement” a lot.

  • Go to systems engineering, and you have project management implementing new systems and guiding systems analysis and development, and we're a formal part of the right side of the “V”.

  • Go to leadership/management theories, any of them, and you have programs and delivery streams of project management to land the planes carrying each strategic pillar from idea to operations.

  • Policy-making and structural reforms? What’s the lifecycle on defining coalitions to support proposals and gaining approvals? How do we negotiate mutualism without defining scope and impact from implementing those reforms?

  • Finance reports and projects the life cycles of portfolios of projects and initiatives throughout the enterprise and the realization of those benefits.

  • Non-profits run on being able to show value for investment. Each achievement and capability lift is another project “getting its wings.” Tomorrow’s fundraising depends on success stories from yesterday’s invested projects.

  • And what is technology innovation but the artistry of planned and perpetual releases?

Too current state for you? How about climate change?

  • There’s a reason the UNSDG site is full of example projects showing HOW our progress can be done, because pointing the way and saying “go” isn’t enough.

  • How about implementing ESG reporting in a way that doesn’t distract from the point of doing it? Well, among many, GRI is helping with that, providing frameworks to guide projects to get it done, step by step.

Getting tactical is the only way to move. Without that, it’s all talk and deck chairs.

So..back to this book, the 7th edition of PMI’s Guide. Why this one? There are millions of standards out there telling people what process(es) to follow, what acronym(s) to use, what templates are best (and what software to buy). Each one is sponsored by an organization selling membership, credibility, products or services.

Wasn’t the 6th edition just like that?

Yes, it was. It was a guide to process steps, it defined methodologies as a gold standard, and like its peers, it reinforced inside-speak to divide the followers from the ignorant, and it created “knowers”.

All the wrong things we don’t need.

The 7th Edition difference

The PMBoK 7th edition flat-out is oriented in the idea that project management as a discipline is applied and adaptive, a humble and skillful offering by life-long committed learners of the best of techniques and approaches to meet THIS challenge in the way that best serves THESE stakeholders, with the widest mindset for impact and effectiveness. A huge pivot.

The 7th edition fully embraces project management as a service, not a control function (unless within the service of governance), and serves its name faithfully, a GUIDE to the BODY of KNOWLEDGE related to project management.

It's a curated portal, knowingly NOT the last destination.

It presents thought processes, historical perspectives, sets of techniques, and considerations, organized into 8 project performance domains, areas where projects perform, not proscribed processes and steps.

  • Background on five most commonly used models to guide and manage change and why as a jumping off point to learn more? Got it.

  • Overview of how to consider structuring your project lifecycle that might include hybrid methods to get today’s work done? Clear, with pictures, on how to have that conversation with stakeholders and co-design your path.

  • Vocabulary of testing approaches to consider to manage and measure quality on the way and in the product? Got it.

But that’s not actually what’s most impactfully different. The How is always where PMs are best, whether we tell or ask.

BEFORE that, before jumping into the Guide’s How, a natural PM instinct, go back to the beginning to find the true transformation. The fundamental shift is in the “Standard”, setting the tone, the most important part to frame anything that comes next.

The Standard for Project Management, the first part of the book, used to be where the understood structure and approach, the “method” to PM was defined. Here are the accepted fundamentals of our work, the core of our secret handshakes, the identity of a certified PM. The Guide built on it, going deeper on how to deliver the standardized “method” with processes and details that added to the book’s “thunk factor”, representing the achievement of our discipline to "know".

Now, the Standard, the opener for what project management is about, plays a different role, clearly and intentionally abandoning a prescriptive approach or any one process to define the project management discipline.

To hit that over the head, the standard replaced the process framework that used to be front and center (now rightfully placed as one of several models for planning way down in Guide section with 12 Project Management Principles that govern PM engagement in a system that delivers value.

Not to go too Sinek on it, but these principles make up the big PM “Why”, why we are even in the room.

  • With these principles, you can shop the curated Guide, and the extended digital universe of resources that it’s attached to and beyond, with confidence, optimism, and curiosity that the community and body of knowledge has the tools you need to make this work.

  • Without these principles, the guide is actually scary, because it doesn’t tell you what to do, and really, you’re scary because you don’t know why you’re doing what you do.

The people who get it have loved the new edition. The people who don’t get it can be spotted with one complaint. “It doesn’t tell you WHAT to do anymore!” Exactly.

The Principles

What are the principles? No embellishment needed:

  • Be a diligent, respectful and caring steward.

  • Create a collaborative project team environment.

  • Effectively engage with stakeholders.

  • Focus on value.

  • Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions.

  • Demonstrate leadership behaviors.

  • Tailor based on context.

  • Build quality into processes and deliverables.

  • Navigate complexity.

  • Optimize risks responses.

  • Embrace adaptability and resiliency.

  • Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state.

Does this sound like project management to you? Well, this is what it has always meant to me, so I’m so glad the PMBoK caught up. And as for that complaint, I see EXACTLY what I’m supposed to do!

(And I can see my PM heroes walking this every day. I'm looking at you, Densford!)

  • Nowhere does it say distribute all status reports on Fridays before 3pm.

  • Nowhere does it say there is one right way to do a work breakdown structure, and it’s not done until every single task of more than 15 minutes is captured.

  • Nowhere does it say only those who use the right PM template will be heard.

  • Nowhere does it say that failure is acceptable as long as we did the right analysis model beforehand.

  • Nowhere does it say I can browbeat others because they don't use my favorite earned value calculations.

Project management has been how amazing things get done. Project management has also been a mechanism for wasteful bureaucracy, unnecessary constraints on contribution and collaboration, and crucially, for failing to create respectful environments welcoming to all voices, in the name of process and control. Project management as a function has also been a historical haven for those who have confused relationships with power and accountability.

A project mindset anchored in the 12 principles holds potential and dignity as True North.

  • The balance dignity provides to potential gives us feasibility, respect, and careful design.

  • The balance potential provides to dignity is optimism, hope, and creativity.

From there we co-design, defining for ourselves and THIS work our tolerances for uncertainty, our depth of community, the value we seek to create, the resources we can bring to bear, and the skills and talents we can elevate as we deliver solutions.

But co-designing is also a challenge. Is it a hackathon mindset? Is it art or science? The 7th Guide doesn’t leave us hanging. It’s most powerful gift, I think, is Chapter 3 of the Guide, on Tailoring.


Tailoring as an assigned function in Project Management does two things to shift the traditional project management thinking.

  1. First, it blasts to smithereens the idea that because we did it that way before we HAVE to do it that way now. In fact, it makes that BAD project management on its face by failing to apply tailoring as a standard of our trade. That, among many other benefits, also defangs bullies in the PM discipline who have relied on HOW to cover for not understanding What or Why.

  2. Second, it creates a space for us to intentionally approach the project as a fresh thing. We have a job to do, to tailor our approach to this effort, at this time, with these people. We don’t have to fight for the space, it’s a given that we need to do this.

And the 7th edition doesn’t leave us hanging. We have a gentle 4 step framework for the tailoring process, with #4 as a version of continuous improvement, to demystify it a bit. And then the gold, over 60 sparking questions across the domains and other dimensions to take to stakeholders, from “Are elements of this confidential or classified?” to “Does the project team reflect diverse viewpoints or cultural perspectives?” to “How will the project enable data capture and reporting related to benefits realization?”

Tailoring is not just adapting what we always do to the nuances of today. Tailoring is agreeing to start specific and open and stay that way, realizing this is a bespoke offering from a caring discipline focused on value. It's what we're here to do.


Recapping, so the latest edition of the toolset for those who implement change did what?

  • It replaced standard processes with standard principles of service.

  • It defined domains of performance and used them to map and connect to relevant resources for discussion, design and delivery.

  • It connected the principles and domains with the art of Tailoring, and provided a starting framework to implement tailoring as a core of responsive design and delivery of value.

  • It presented it all with a wide acknowledgement of the complexity and opportunity present in today’s environments, requiring optimism, service, and humility.

Worthy as a reference, worthy as a read.


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