The PMBOK Puzzle – Making the Pieces Fit

I have always enjoyed working on jigsaw puzzles—the more challenging the better. Becoming PMI certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) is similar to tackling a highly complex puzzle. Yet this is a challenge like no other.

The PMBOK puzzle becomes increasingly complex as it unfolds. First is the puzzle’s box, “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide).” It’s a plain brown wrapper with no picture of what the finished puzzle should look like and there is also no clarity around the order of assembling the pieces.

Inside the box are:

  • 5 Knowledge Areas (corner pieces)
  • 10 Process Groups (edge pieces)
  • 47 Processes (sections)
  • Many Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs (individual pieces)
  • A note explaining that not all of the pieces needed to successfully complete the puzzle (pass the test) are contained in the box and must be gathered from other sources.

To make the puzzle even more challenging, many of the individual pieces, such as Enterprise Environmental Factors, Organizational Process Assets, Expert Judgment and Meetings are non-descript, have many identical copies, and show up throughout the puzzle. Other pieces appear to be identical but are just different enough that they are not interchangeable.

What has made working this puzzle easier for me is that I have a clear mental picture of what the end result looks like. My many years of experience managing projects and teaching the Kepner-Tregoe (KT) Project Management Workshop have given me a clear understanding of the processes for defining, planning, and implementing a project, and how they work together to manage the performance, time, and cost elements of a project. I know the importance of communication with the project team and stakeholders and the information needed to make key decisions along the way. Where the PMBOK Guide defines each of the processes, the KT methodology actually develops the skills to execute each process and provides a sequence for conducting each step—something the PMBOK Guide explicitly states it does not offer. While the picture I have does not match the PMBOK puzzle exactly, it has provided a framework for me to use in assembling the pieces. In addition, KT has mapped each element of their methodology to the PMI knowledge areas, process groups, and individual processes.

Now more than halfway through a 12-week PMP Exam Prep Course, I have been exposed to concepts I had not previously experienced. I have deepened my understanding of familiar tools and techniques, and I am well on my way to successfully completing the exam. The picture is beginning to take shape.

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