PMI’s Models of Project Management Knowledge

Life Cycles, Process Groups and Knowledge Areas



By Crispin ‘Kik’ Piney

Southern France


  1. Foreword

I started to think about these points in 2010, when all of the PMI® standards used a process-based approach. Over the years, I exchanged a few emails with Max Wideman who provided useful comments and encouraged me to complete the analysis. On reading the Sixth Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, I have found that my ideas are still valid. So, I have done my best to follow his advice.

  1. Abstract

The Standard for Project Management and the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) [PMI, 2017] present knowledge using three overlapping models, as follows: life cycles, processes clustered into process groups, and knowledge areas. Analysis of these models shows that, although life cycles are a stand-alone concept, the other two models should be presented in a hierarchical manner, with knowledge areas as the highest level, subdivided with respect to the generic set of process groups, and these process groups containing the processes specific to the corresponding knowledge area. It should be noted that this structure is not how the concepts were first developed for the early editions of the PMBOK® Guide; however, the original structure was well-meant but incorrect. This note proposes a reworking of those initial ideas, to provide a consistent model that avoids the current – and damaging – confusion between process groups and life cycle phases.

  1. Introduction

PMI® uses a three-dimensional model for structuring the knowledge required in order to apply best practice in project management. This model comprises processes, process groups (PGs), and knowledge areas (KAs). This three-dimensional view can be confusing even to practitioners in the field. Experience shows that this is definitely the case for life cycles and process groups (this is even the case with books and training courses aimed specifically at PMI’s PMP® certification). The “Devil’s Dictionary of Project Management Terms” [PM World Journal, 2017] provides a concise view of this confusion, as follows: “Process Groups – Formal assemblages of processes based on characteristics of use to the assemblers rather than to the users of the concept. Its greatest benefit is as a basis for identifying people who do not understand project management, as they think that the process groups equate to project life cycle phases”.

Many organizations attempt to base themselves on PMI’s PMBOK® Guide – and do it wrongly. Much of the responsibility for this confusion lies with the way in which the PMBOK® Guide addresses the concept of PGs. For example, Figure 2-1 in The Standard for Project Management increases this confusion around the role of PGs (see Figure 1). In this diagram, the PGs (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Closing as well as Monitoring and Controlling) are presented as a cohesive sequence spanning the entire project space; that, of course, is exactly the role of a life cycle.

Figure 1: Despite its Appearance, This is Not a Life Cycle

Many books and courses describing PMI’s standards also talk about PGs as if they were life cycle phases. The authors of the PMBOK® Guide recognize this, and, in a number of places, state explicitly that “process groups are not phases”. However, by defining PGs in this way by what they are not may be an entertaining surrealist approach to the world (see “Ceci n’est pas une pomme” by René Magritte in Figure 2) but cannot be relied upon to reduce confusion in a technical area.

Figure 2: René Magritte’s painting “This is Not an Apple”

However, phases and PGs are valuable concepts if used correctly, and this confusion is damaging to the profession.

This article is designed to clear away the confusion and provide a basis for better understanding by proposing changes to the way the PMBOK® Guide and The Standard for Project Management address these concepts.


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About the Author

Crispin Piney




After many years managing international IT projects within large corporations, Crispin (“Kik”) Piney, B.Sc., PgMP is now a freelance project management consultant based in the South of France. At present, his main areas of focus are risk management, integrated Portfolio, Program and Project management, scope management and organizational maturity, as well as time and cost control. He has developed advanced training courses on these topics, which he delivers in English and in French to international audiences from various industries. In the consultancy area, he has developed and delivered a practical project management maturity analysis and action-planning consultancy package.

Kik has carried out work for PMI on the first Edition of the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3™) as well as participating actively in fourth edition of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge and was also vice-chairman of the Translation Verification Committee for the Third Edition. He was a significant contributor to the second edition of both PMI’s Standard for Program Management as well as the Standard for Portfolio Management. In 2008, he was the first person in France to receive PMI’s PgMP® credential; he was also the first recipient in France of the PfMP® credential. He is co-author of PMI’s Practice Standard for Risk Management. He collaborates with David Hillson (the “Risk Doctor”) by translating his monthly risk briefings into French. He has presented at a number of recent PMI conferences and published formal papers.

Kik Piney can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Kik Piney, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/crispin-kik-piney/