The PMBOK (or PMBOK Guide) is the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, one of the key sources of PMI (Project Management Institute) standards and guidelines. This comprehensive project management document describes the norms, methods, processes and practices involved in professional project management. As described in the PMBOK Guide itself, these standards and guidelines are developed through a consensus standards development process through consultation with volunteers and project management experts. PMI is the administrator of the process but does not write the PMBOK nor does it test or evaluate its accuracy; the information contained in the PMBOK is a culmination of the information put together by these experts and volunteers.
The PMBOK was first put together over 25 years ago, in 1983, and there are currently over 2 million copies of the PMBOK in circulation. As of this post, the latest version of the PMBOK is the 4th edition, published in late 2008. The fourth edition of the PMBOK replaced the 3rd edition as the version tested on the PMP (Project Management Professional) exam in July of 2009; that is to say that in June of 2009, PMP certification candidates were tested on the 3rd edition of the PMBOK, and in July of 2009, the 4th. As of January, 2013, PMI has released the fifth edition of the PMBOK.
The contents of the PMBOK include an introduction to project management (including a definition of what constitutes a project), a vision of the project life cycle, and a detailed overview of the project management processes that take place during PMI-based project management. The five Project Management Process Groups are covered:
- Monitoring & Controlling
As well as the nine Knowledge Areas, where the skills and techniques of project management are applied:
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Time Management
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Human Resource Management
- Project Communications Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
Although I’ve listed these Knowledge Areas from 1 to 9, in the PMBOK they are listed from 4 to 12; this is because these numbers correspond to the chapters within the PMBOK where you can learn about these knowledge areas.
The PMBOK is a thorough document; the 4th edition copy I hold in my hand (I don’t have a 5th edition version handy), including the Index, comprises a hefty 467 pages. Nevertheless, in order to pass the PMP exam you will need to understand this document. It can be a little dry (each input, tool or technique and output is described in rigorous detail for each project management process), but only by understanding each process intimately can the PMP exam be passed. I should also note that some things that you need to know in order to pass the PMP exam are not featured in the PMBOK; for example, PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The examination itself includes questions about the proper ethical behavior of project management professionals that you will need resources above and beyond the PMBOK to understand, and though you may think that questions on such a topic would take simple common sense to figure out, for the PMP exam this is not the case.
When studying for the PMP exam I would personally read the PMBOK second in your reading list; it focuses on minute details of project management that might make it difficult to obtain a proper high-level understanding of project management if it is the first document you’re reading about the discipline. I personally read Andy Crowe’s book “The PMP Exam: How to Pass on your First Try” first; then the PMBOK; and finally, Rita Mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep”. This progression worked well for me.
If you’re interested in learning more about preparing for the PMP exam and about how I myself studied for it, I have documented the method that I personally used to pass the PMP exam in this post.