An Introduction to PMBOK Guide: Knowledge Areas, Processes and Process Groups
Absolute Beginners' Guide to the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition
Note: Updated for PMP® Exam 2018 and onwards.
One of the most discussed tables in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI), A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) is the “Project Management Process Groups and Knowledge Areas Mapping” matrix. This table maps the 49 processes of project management (an increase from 47 processes in PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition to 49 processes in PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition) to their corresponding Knowledge Areas, as well as to their corresponding Process Groups.
At first glance, the table seems quite complicated, so let’s break it down and uncover why a solid understanding of the relationships between processes, Process Groups, and Knowledge Areas is important to anyone preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam. It’s so important, in fact, that we suggest you memorize this matrix and the relationships it calls out. Memorizing the table will prove to be a valuable asset to you during your PMP® Exam.
Further reading: my personal PMP® Exam study notes here (updated for PMP® Exam 2018).
What is a “Process” of project management?
Let’s start with the building blocks of the matrix – what is a process?
At its most basic level, a process is simply a way of transforming an input into an output using appropriate project management tools and techniques.
Good processes-based on sound principles and proven practices are extremely important to a project’s success. Processes, like a roadmap, keep the project going in the right direction; they can also help minimize confusion and uncertainty among the project manager and the project stakeholders and can help drive progress from start to finish. Processes are logically linked by the outputs from other process(es). Processes may either be performed once, periodically based on needs or continuously throughout the project life cycle.
The PMBOK® Guide 6th edition identifies 49 processes of project management that are instrumental to project success.
What is “Knowledge Areas”?
The overarching piece of our matrix is the Knowledge Areas. Each Knowledge Area is made up of a set of processes, each with inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs. These processes, together, accomplish proven project management functions and drive project success.
Thus, the Knowledge Areas are formed by grouping the 49 processes of project management into specialized and focused areas.
Knowledge Areas also assume specific skills and experience in order to accomplish project goals.
The PMBOK® Guide currently recognizes 10 Knowledge Areas, each of which includes a detailed description of the processes associated with that area. These Knowledge Areas are
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Schedule Management (naming changed in PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition; formerly Project Time Management)
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Resource Management (naming changed in PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition; formerly Project Human Resource Management)
- Project Communications Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
- Project Stakeholders Management
What is “Process Groups”?
So, where do Process Groups fit in? The 49 processes of project management are also grouped into five categories:
- Monitoring and Controlling
These process groups reflect the logical integration and interactions between the individual processes, as well as the common purposes they serve.
That is, the Process Groups band together the project management activities that are relevant to each project phase and provide a means for looking at best practices within one Knowledge Area at a time. For example, in the Initiation Process Group, you’ll complete the individual Initiation processes like defining scope, goals, deliverables, assumptions, limitations, etc., that make up the project charter. Within the Initiation Process Group, you would also complete all activities and processes for identifying project stakeholders. Similarly, processes required to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project are all included in the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group. So, processes with a common goal or theme are grouped together into a Process Group.
It’s important to remember that Process Groups are not the same as project phases — most projects are comprised of multiple subprojects or phases, and you’ll likely repeat each of the Process Group activities within each project phase or subproject.
Why do we group processes like this? One way to think about this is that the Knowledge Areas encompass what the Project Manager needs to know, while the Process Groups describe the actions the Project Manager (and team) needs to do. Or, put another way, Knowledge Areas are about knowledge on project management topics, while Process Groups seek to apply that knowledge. They provide a logical sequence of steps within the Knowledge Area.
Every one of the 49 processes can be mapped to one Knowledge Area and one Process Group, identifying the proven project management principle(s) behind the process, and at the same time providing the means to accomplish it. As you study the processes within each Knowledge Area, it’s helpful to remember that the processes have a logical connection across the knowledge areas, so try to focus on that, rather than solely trying to memorize which process goes where.
PMBOK® Guide and PMP®
So, why do I need to know this for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam? Recognizing the interdependent nature of the development lifecycle is critical to effective project management. As a project manager, you’ll need to be able to identify ways in which the process groups interact with each other through the life of your project. Execution within some of the Knowledge Areas and processes will accomplish some project objectives directly; delivering on other Knowledge Areas provides a method to achieve other objectives.
Because the project management processes, Process Groups, and Knowledge Areas span the entire project lifecycle, questions discussing their relationships appear frequently in the PMP® Exam. Remember that the Knowledge Areas focus on what the Project Manager needs to know, while the Process Groups describe the actions the Project Manager (and team) needs to do. Understanding and memorizing the hierarchical and yet interdependent relationships between the Knowledge Areas (strategy), the Process Groups (steps), and the building blocks (49 processes of project management) will help you during the PMP® exam.
As a trick, many PMP® exam takers would make use of the first 5 minutes of their PMP® Exam time to draw this table onto an empty sheet of paper (from their own memory) so that they can use it as a reference in answering their 200 exam questions.
Additional PMP® Study Resources
If you find the above PMP® study notes useful, you may want to check out the recommended PMP® Exam study resources on my website (all are free):
- PMP® EVM Formulas Explained in Simple Terms — just enough for PMP® Certification Aspirants to answer PMP® questions correctly
- 20+ PMP® EVM Mock Exam Questions — with detailed explanations and tips on answering PMP® Maths questions
- PMP® Glossary Flashcard
- 47+ Commonly Confused PMP® Terms
- Best FREE PMP® Sample Exam Questions
Wish you PMP® Exam success!
~ Written by Cornelius Fichtner, PMP®, CSM – Instructor and producer of PM PrepCast™ and Edward Chung, PMP®