Gaining a New Perspective on the PMBOK® Guide

You’ve been studying diligently for PMI’s PMP® Certification Exam to become one of the rapidly growing number of Project Management Professionals in the world.  You read through your book, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), 5th edition from cover to cover.  That’s done.  Check that one off the list.

Now what?  Read it again.  What?  No!  Don’t put me through that again.  What more can I get out of it.  I already read it with purpose like you said to do.

This time, read it differently.

One of the confusing aspects of the PMBOK Guide® is that it is structured by Knowledge Area, which does not represent a project in any kind of chronological order.  So, when you read through the book as it is printed, you must remember that each time you start reading a new Knowledge Area (chapters 4 through 13), you are repetitively reading through the entire life cycle of the project from beginning to end.  The value in having the book structured this way is to be able to concentrate on each Knowledge Area, one at a time, and dive in to see how that particular nuance of the project will be managed.  The problem is that most people think chronologically.  So how do I put this together?

One way to solve this problem is to jump around in the book by reading each process by Process Group instead of by Knowledge Area.  Here is a practical way to do it:

  • Start at page 1 and read through to page 61.  Page 61 is the page that maps all 47 processes into their Knowledge Areas (by row) and Process Groups (by column)
  • Bookmark page 61 and use it as your guideline
  • Instead of reading each process by row (left to right, top to bottom), read each process by column (top to bottom, left to right)

By skipping around the book and reading all the Initiating processes first, then the Planning processes, then Executing processes, and so on, you will gain an entirely new perspective on the book. The processes will flow more as they do when they are performed on a real project.  You will be able to see outputs of one process being turned into inputs of the next process, without having to remember where that process was created.

For the more adventurous, you can take this one step further.  Map out the processes yourself in chronological order by connecting up the outputs-to-inputs.  This works especially well with the planning processes.  Put the name of each planning process on its own sticky note.  Go to a blank white board and create a network diagram (of sorts) by drawing arrows between processes (sticky notes).  Each arrow would represent a major deliverable or document.  A connecting arrow shows where a document/deliverable is an output from a previous process then becomes an input into a following process.  Label each line with the name of the deliverable/document.  When are done, you will have a better idea of a natural order for these processes to be completed.

Make your own guideline and read the PMBOK Guide® your way.  Sure you can cheat and use someone else’s recommended order, but there is far more value in gleaning that information from the book yourself.

This seems like a lot of extra work.  Is it really worth it?  Yes, I think it is.  Many of the questions on the PMP exam are situation-style questions.  A scenario will be set up for you and the simple question that is asked is “what should you do next?”  If you have a good working understanding of the order of these 47 processes, then it will be far easier to correctly answer the question.  Isn’t that the point of taking the exam in the first place?  Get as many right answers as possible!

In summary, reading the book once to gain an understanding of what is in there and why it is in there is a good thing.  Reading it twice to understand how everything fits together is an even better thing.  If you are going to invest time in reading a book, make the most of it and get different information from it each time you read it.  Read it differently!

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at

About the author:  Ms. Barbara J Zimmerman started working in the Information Technology industry over 30 years ago and has project management and training experience in a variety of fields.  She is PMI certified as Project Management Professional (PMP®), Schedule Management Professional (PMI-SP®), and Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP®).   Ms. Zimmerman develops and instructs Project Management courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to