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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Is Everything Really Important? Procurement And The New PMBOK®

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

“What an odd thing a diary is: the things you omit are more important than those you put in.” Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

As I reread the PMBOK® Sixth Edition, I keep thinking about the concepts of inclusion and exclusion. I believe the PMBOK is a Renaissance document in the sense that it contains the knowledge of those who worked projects before us, and what worked is included and what didn’t is discarded.

Reasonable people can disagree on what is in and what is out! As I so eloquently stated in an earlier article, I think dropping the triple constraints is a mistake. But that is one man’s opinion. That article can be accesses at www.projectmanagementforum.net if you are interested.

The PMBOK Guide itself says that it doesn’t contain everything related to projects. If you are doing an international project you would be well advised to look at other documents such as ISO 21500. With all that as a backdrop, lets discuss the Procurement section.

I am an executive with over a 17 years involvement in delivering large IT projects and it is not unusual for multiple vendors to be involved. I have also been involved in IT projects that were international and multilateral in nature.

Have I ever actually done a procurement? No! Have I ever decided if the contract should be FFP, FPIF or FPEPA? No! Although they are fine PMP® exam questions! Have I ever determined who should be on a preapproved seller list? Nope! And why not?

There are specialists for that! Contracts are complicated legal things often worth millions of (pick your currency and insert here)! As a Project Manager, I’m not going to have the expertise to do that any more than I would have the expertise to determine the structural load limits of a bridge! I am a Project Manager, not a Subject Matter Expert.

I think that PMI® was on to something when they state on page 649 of the PMBOK that: “market research shows that very few project managers actually close out procurements. Someone in contracts, procurements or legal departments usually has that authority.” Yes! But it is like that for the entire procurement process!

I think that this is a section in need of a diet.

I suspect that most organizations do procurements with procurement experts. There may be a liaison who helps you navigate the process, but the actual details of awarding and administering the contract are best left to the pro’s.

This section needs to focus on the most likely role of the Project Manager. They will probably be involved in a “make or buy” analysis and they will certainly need to integrate the work of the contractor into their change control/configuration management process. But all that other stuff? Probably not.


On some level I feel bad about critiquing the new PMBOK, especially when I look at how many people contributed to the document. However, if we are going to adopt an iterative approach we must look at what was done and ask for candid feedback on what worked and what didn’t. That is how we all get better. Speaking of getting better (shameless plug follows) – check out a new online PMP Exam Prep site. A colleague of mine has just launched it and it has over 10,000 questions (with references) in the answers, all based on the PMBOK 6th Edition. For the launch he is offering 10% off. Let me know what you think. www.ezpmpractice.com.


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