Demystifying the PMBOK Process Groups

Generally speaking, projects require five process groups — initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. These are known as the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) process groups. Though widely used, this form of process management can often be confusing for managers and team members who are new to formal project management

Here's an overview of what the process groups are and how to successfully incorporate them into your projects. 

An introduction into PMBOK process groups and knowledge areas

The Project Management Institute (PMI) created the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). It consists of guidelines, recommended practices, standard principles, and common terminology for managing projects. 

The contents of PMBOK were initially consolidated into a book called “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (commonly known as the PMBOK Guide), back in 1996. The sixth edition of this guide was released in 2017, and the seventh edition is expected in 2023

The PMBOK guide embraces a process-based approach to project management. It breaks down project management into 49 processes, which are then grouped under PMBOK process groups and knowledge areas. 

Think of process groups as what you need to do and the knowledge areas as what you need to know. These come together in a matrix format to encompass the 49 individual processes. The processes intersect with each process group in such a way that each of the 49 processes falls under one knowledge area and one process group. 

What are the process groups of PMBOK?

The five PMBOK process groups are:

  1. Initiating Process Group: Processes required to launch a new project or a new project phase. 
  2. Planning Process Group: Processes related to defining and planning the extent of the project, as well as planning how it will be executed. 
  3. Executing Process Group: Processes related to the actual completion of project activities and tasks. 
  4. Monitoring & Controlling Process Group: Processes covering everything related to tracking, monitoring, reporting on, and controlling project performance and progress. 
  5. Closing Process Group: Processes required to finalize and complete a project or project phase. 

Initiating

The initiating process group is generally when a project is formally approved and assigned a project manager. The group includes two primary processes: developing the project charter and identifying the project stakeholders. 

The two outcomes of this process group are the project charter document and the stakeholder register. The stakeholder register lists who the project stakeholders are, what their stake in the project is, and what they expect in regards to frequency and form of communication. 

The project charter should include the business case for the project (why it should be completed), as well as a high-level overview of the project’s scope, deliverables, and objectives.

Typically, a project charter will also include:

  • Resources required
  • Key stakeholders 
  • A high-level timeline with key milestones
  • A high-level cost estimate
  • Any known risks, issues, or dependencies 

Planning

The planning group is the largest of the five process groups, consisting of 24 processes in total. This group of processes is designed to help you plan your entire project in detail, from the scope, schedule, and budget, through to how you will manage the key stakeholders. The primary outcome of this planning stage is a project management plan (PMP).

For larger projects, the PMP may have sub-plans to further outline some of the critical areas, such as the project schedule or quality management. For smaller projects, processes may simply be covered in separate subsections or fleshed out in an appendix. 

The PMP is a “living document” that is updated and revised throughout the project as changes occur. 

Executing

The executing group is where most of the action happens on a project. It is also where most of the budget is spent and where the actual project deliverables are produced. 

The executing process group includes ten project management processes. It is primarily focused around managing project activities and tasks to ensure progress is occurring, communications are happening, risk responses are being implemented, and stakeholders are being engaged. 

The most significant role for the project manager during this phase is directing and managing the project work and managing the project knowledge (requirements documentation, meeting minutes, lessons learned). Other typical responsibilities of the project manager include acquiring project resources, developing and managing the project team, and managing communications. 

Controlling and monitoring

The controlling and monitoring process group is the second largest, containing twelve project processes. These processes happen throughout the entire project and are in place to ensure there is sufficient oversight. This will also help identify and mitigate any potential issues. 

Inevitably, something unexpected will come up during the project life cycle. The processes in this process group are designed to help you update the plan, modify your team’s activities, and get everything back on track. 

One of the essential processes in this group is monitoring the project work. This requires the tracking of the overall project and its key aspects. This process is critical in limiting overages and project errors. Often, project management software is used to monitor and report on progress. 

Closing

The closing process group only has one primary process: close out the project or phase. This process involves ensuring the customer has accepted all final phase or project deliverables. Documentation should also be completed and stored and any loose ends of the project or phase should be tied up.

Choosing your methodologies with Wrike 

There are many different ways to manage and organize a project. Traditional methodologies like Waterfall are designed to lay out every task in sequential order before project execution begins. Initially, this was the methodology that the PMBOK processes were designed around, while the five process groups were often treated as sequential phases. 


Over time, people have recognized that the structured approach does not work well for every project. Sometimes, a more agile methodology can work better. Just as methods have grown and changed over time, so have the PMBOK processes. They have adapted to work with many mainstream project management methodologies. So, no matter what project methodology you select, you can still successfully incorporate the PMBOK process groups. 

Selecting software that supports your project methodology of choice and also aligns with the five PMBOK process groups is essential for project success. 

Fortunately, Wrike project management software is designed to help you incorporate the PMBOK process groups into your projects, whether you’re using Waterfall, Agile, or another methodology. Why not try it out for free today?

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