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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

This Has Been Done Before??

“Study the past if you would define the future.” Confucius

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.” Michael Crichton

I was in a meeting a few days back with some extraordinarily smart individuals who were trained in some highly technical areas, and we were discussing the best way to govern something. I made the comment that we didn’t really need to come up with anything new. While the fact pattern was unique within my organization, it was in fact common in other places.

That caused me to think about the new Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), an excellent reference for most things related to projects. What exactly is the PMBOK? In my opinion, it is an Enlightenment based document.

Stay with me!

“The Enlightenment” or the “Age of Reason” was a period in history where empirical observations and the scientific method were employed to use reason as the source of truth. In the United States, this movement had a profound impact on the Founding Fathers and the Framers of the Constitution as they sought to learn from history and the great philosophers. History revealed that the fate of most nations was tyranny, and they attempted to avoid that fate for their progeny through the structure and philosophy described in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

What does that have to do with the PMBOK? The PMBOK is the accumulated knowledge of the Project Managers (PM) that have gone before you. It is based on the scientific method as things are tried and either retained, adopted or disposed of! Observation is used to scan the environment for new tools, techniques and areas of emphasis.

An example of this is the increased emphasis on “Agile” methods in the PMBOK 6th Edition. When I teach Project Management Professional (PMP®) preparation classes, I notice an increasing disconnect between the predictive project management methods described in the PMBOK and the real-world experiences of the students. Why? Knowledge based projects are different! In most instances, they are much more suited to an adaptive approach. The PMBOK is embracing this new reality.

When I teach the above referenced classes, I routinely ask a couple of questions:

Does your organization attempt to follow the principles, tools and techniques described in the PMBOK – a significant majority of the time the answer is “no”.

Do you think your organization will change how projects are managed based on the training you are receiving and the certification you will receive – again, the majority say “no”.

Consider the fact pattern: The PMBOK contains best practices, tools and techniques attained through feedback and observation of PM’s attempting to deliver projects all around the world. Thousands of students pay to learn this information, and then have their knowledge tested by passing a difficult test administered by a reputable proctor. Now, armed with this new knowledge and buoyed by their hard-earned certification, they go back to their organizations!

Where nothing changes….


And very expensive.


Clearly I am not "comparing" the United States Founding Documents to the PMBOK, I am making a point. I am huge fan of The Enlightenment, especially as it pertains to thoughts on Natural Law and Government. My current reading list includes “Democracy in America” by de Tocqueville, “Two Treatises on Government” by Locke and (on the lighter side) “Throwing the Elephant” by Stanley Bing. The notion that highly educated people looked back in time to read all the great philosophers, researching history and applying common sense to develop a unique governing structure is amazing to me. I have been wanting include some of those thoughts in my blog, and this is my first feeble attempt.


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