A Guide to the PROJECT MANAGEMENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE (PMBOK) Fifth Edition “We use the PMBOK methodology”

I have heard this many times in my travels across North America.   It’s never been true. The PMBOK methodology does not exist.  PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge has never been, and does not claim to be, a methodology.  It is a consensus based guide to what is accepted in most projects, most of the time. To quote from the PMBOK itself:

  • “…this standard is a guide rather than a specific methodology.”  (PMBOK 5th Edition, Page 2)

Or as Greg Balestrero, former CEO of PMI, put it to PMI’s Registered Education Providers:

  •  “our speciality is frameworks, not methodologies”

What is a methodology then? A methodology is a system of rules and procedures to solve a problem.  That’s different to a framework or guide.  In the field of project management, the PMBOK is a framework or guide.  PRINCE2 is a methodology. This subject is well discussed on the web but, to sum it up in a few bullet points:


  •  PMBOK is consensus based and documents the sum of knowledge in the project management profession.
  •  The PMBOK covers what is ‘”generally accepted set of good practices that may be used on most projects most of the time”
  •  PMBOK is descriptive, it is what a project manager should know

PRINCE2 Methodology

  •  PRINCE2 is a methodology of activities, processes and templates to be completed.
  •  PRINCE2 is based on 7 Principles which are universal to all projects, self evident and empowering for project managers
  •  PRINCE2 is prescriptive, it is what a project manager should do

So I should not refer to the “PMBOK Methodology” ? Correct.  Don’t say it – it just shows what you don’t know.   The PMBOK is good stuff though – there’s lots of useful information in there and organizations around the world rely on it to help deliver their projects.  It’s just not a methodology

Do I need PRINCE2 and PMBOK then? Yes.  Neither covers everything.  PRINCE2 does not get into leadership, HR and details about techniques, such as critical path or earned value.  It regards those as well documented elsewhere, or specific to different parts of the world.  The PMBOK does cover many of these areas.  Similarly, while the PMBOK does not provide systematic and precise steps, PRINCE2 does.   Complete project managers benefit from certification in both the knowledge and practice of the profession.   The PMBOK 5th Edition specifically refers to PRINCE2 as an example of a methodology to help implement its guidance.

Paul Atkin