Principles AND Processes



By Crispin ‘Kik’ Piney

Southern France



This article has been triggered by the decision by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) to move two of its foundational standards away from their historical approach based on knowledge areas and processes (see also Piney 2018) towards what they describe as a “principle-based approach”. My feeling is that the choice between principles and processes is not a binary one and that the two approaches can – and should – complement each other. These two approaches should therefore be combined in each of the three standards: projects, programs, and portfolios.

Basic Concepts

To avoid misunderstandings, it is always useful to clarify the meaning applied to key terms.


There are two main meanings of principles in common use:

  • Rules of behaviour based on a particular view of reality or on a strongly-held belief. I call these “behavioural principles”;
  • Assumptions raised to the level of fundamental truths (e.g., conservation of energy). I call these “conceptual principles”

It is instructive to see, as explained below, that PMI uses the first definition for the Standard for Portfolio ManagementFourth Edition (PMI 2017c), and the second one for Standard for Program Management – Fourth Edition (PMI 2017d).

To paraphrase the description in section 7.1 of the Standard for Portfolio Management– Fourth Edition, “the purpose of principles is to provide guidance for practitioners in carrying out all of the steps required for managing portfolios in their organization”.

Section 1.1 of the Standard for Program Management – Fourth Edition adopts the second meaning by explaining that principles of program management are assumptions that are held to be true and should be applied in the management of programs.

So, one standard uses principles for behaviour, and the other uses them as a system of belief. Examples from the corresponding standards are provided later in this paper. But, first, where do processes come in?


The definition of a process, from the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – Sixth Edition (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI 2017a) is: “A systematic series of activities directed towards causing an end result such that one or more inputs will be acted upon to create one or more outputs.” These outputs can be used as inputs by other processes. In this way, a set of processes can be developed to form a system to provide predetermined services. Because of the interactions and feedback loops between processes, the system of processes can display complex characteristics.

Knowledge Areas

A knowledge area is a consistent set of practices within a domain. It calls on a set of specific skills and competencies

Why Abandon a Process Model

I have heard three different explanations:

  • a number of practitioners and candidates for certification disliked the requirement to learn all of the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs (ITTOs) involved in each process.
  • the wish to avoid being prescriptive, and
  • the natural complexity of the program and portfolio environments which, apparently, could be better described by a principle-based description.

Each of these objections to processes is analyzed in turn.


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About the Author

Crispin (Kik) Piney

South of France



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 is the author of the book Earned Benefit Program Management, Aligning, Realizing and Sustaining Strategy, published by CRC Press in 2018

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/