Episode 144 – PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition: A Principles-Based Approach

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36 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 144 – PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition: A Principles-Based Approach

About This Episode

Jesse Fewell

The 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide “represents the most disruptive redefinition of project management in my lifetime,” according to Jesse Fewell. Jesse was part of the core team writing this 7th Edition. We ask Jesse to explain the principles-based approach in this edition, as well as why, and how frequently, PMI releases a new edition. Jesse clarifies what has changed and what has not changed in the 7th Edition. Hear why some evergreen content is best for the printed PMBOK® Guide, while other dynamic content is best suited for digital assets, like PMIstandards+.

Jesse also gives his opinion about who, in the project management industry, is most excited about this change, and who is most challenged by the changes. If you are a project manager starting out and overwhelmed about where to begin with the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide, take a listen to Jesse’s advice with regards to domains and principles, versus following a predefined set of steps.

Jesse Fewell has mentored thousands of technology professionals across 14 countries to improve their teams & companies using Agile methods. He’s founded several startups, contributed to three industry certifications (PMI-ACP, CST, CEC), and authored publications reaching over a half-million readers in eleven languages. His industry contributions have earned him an IEEE Computer Society Golden Core Award. Today, he helps agile champions get the reward and recognition for transforming their chaotic overcommitted workplace from worst job ever into the best work of their careers, in just 3 months.

Learn more about our Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam Prep options

Favorite Quotes from Episode

"…the intent here is to guide the practitioner through the value we offer as project managers, domains; the principles that guide how we do our job; and then we look at the details. Too many times in our profession we get it the other way around. And we go straight to a risk register, and go straight to a work breakdown structure, and forget to ask would anybody benefit from that."

Jesse Fewell

"The purpose of project management tends to be around organizational outcomes to help accelerate, for example, more revenue, cost savings, better employee engagement, infrastructure. So, like, what is our mission? And my advice to my younger self would be start taking the big picture into picture."

Jesse Fewell

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Jesse Fewell was part of the core team writing the PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition. Hear about the new PMBOK® Guide’s principles-based approach. What has changed, what has not changed, and how this influences project management today.

Table of Contents

02:41 … Meet Jesse
04:13 … Why Do We Update the PMBOK® Guide?
07:08 … Are There Changes to the Agile Practice Guide?
09:07 … The 7th Edition Changes
11:26 … A Revolution in the Profession
13:46 … A Grassroots Movement to the Principles-Based Approach
16:32 … Who is Excited about The 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide?
19:07 … Standards Plus
23:56 … The 7th Edition and Agile Project Management
26:16 … The PM’s Role in Predictive vs. Adaptive Projects
30:24 … 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide for a New Project Manager
33:38 … Get in Touch with Jesse
35:08 … Closing

JESSE FEWELL:  …the intent here is to guide the practitioner through the value we offer as project managers, domains; the principles that guide how we do our job; and then we look at the details.  Too many times in our profession we get it the other way around.  And we go straight to a risk register, and go straight to a work breakdown structure, and forget to ask would anybody benefit from that. 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and in the studio with me is Bill Yates.  We are so excited to talk to you today.  Our guest is Jesse Fewell, and we’ve had Jesse on before.  He’s got a lot of energy and a lot of good advice.  He founded several startups, and he’s contributed to three industry certifications:  PMI-ACP, CST, and CEC.  Jesse Fewell has mentored thousands of technology professionals across 14 countries to improve their teams and companies using agile methods.  Jesse was also part of the core team writing the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide .

BILL YATES:  Yeah, Jesse was putting in I can’t even imagine how many hours in coming out with a new edition, especially one like this that is a big shift.  And we’ll get into that shift.  One of the things that we’ll talk about with Jesse is the principles-based approach in this 7th Edition.  Just to help people get a sense for what we’re talking about, I’m just going to quickly list off those 12 principles. 

So these are the 12 principles that are in the PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition that really drive decisions that project managers make, things like stewardship, the team, stakeholders, focusing on value, systems thinking, leadership tailoring, quality, complexity, risk, adaptability, and resiliency and change.  So that gives you a sense for the principles that help drive project managers in the roles that they fill.  We’ll talk more with Jesse about that.  That’s a key shift in the 7th Edition.

WENDY GROUNDS:  And Bill, we also, if project managers are looking to pass their exam, we do offer some help, too, don’t we.

BILL YATES:  Absolutely.  The PMP Exam is our specialty.  That’s really what inspired Andy to start Velociteach back in 2002.  He wanted to write a book that would help people pass an exam and achieve this goal of earning their PMP.  That is a true focus of our business, helping people pass and earn the PMP, and then helping people get better at their job.

WENDY GROUNDS:  And you’re going to get some free PDUs from listening to this podcast.  Listen up at the end, and we’ll tell you how to do that.

Meet Jesse

Hi, Jesse.  Welcome to Manage This.  We’re really glad that you’re talking with us today.

JESSE FEWELL:  Oh, I always love hanging out with the Velociteach people.

BILL YATES:  Love having you.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  It’s been a while since we’ve last talked with you.  What have you been up to in the meantime?

JESSE FEWELL:  Oh, my goodness.  So we last chatted in the 2017 promotion of the PMBOK® 6th Edition.  And what I’ve been up to since then is I’ve been moving further and further into the world of agile leadership and helping professionals, managers, executives, anybody at any level, better understand what does it mean to build an agile organization, and what does it mean to become the person that drives that journey and thrives in that journey.

And in just the last year or so I’ve been super excited to build a Platinum Mastermind Mentoring Program around exactly that.  We have our workshops that we’ve been doing that give people cool concepts that they can understand, but then also people kept coming back saying, “I need help.  I need help making this happen on the ground.  And my boss is not going to pay for it.  But I know that I need results.”  So that’s what I’ve been up to is just helping project portfolio program product professionals rise into their fullest leadership potential and the impact they can have on organizations delivering value to sponsors and missions.

Why Do We Update the PMBOK®Guide?

BILL YATES:  So one of those small projects that you’ve been working on as a volunteer, you were part of the core team on the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide.  First of all, congratulations and thank you.  I cannot even imagine the countless hours you put into that big of a project.  But give a little bit of background for those who are listening who maybe they’ve heard about the PMBOK® Guide.  They know about PMI.  This is the 7th Edition.  Why does PMI release new editions, and how frequently do they do it, why do they do it, that kind of thing.

JESSE FEWELL:  So traditionally the mission of the Project Management Institute has always been about formalizing and upgrading the profession of project leadership, whether we’re talking about projects, programs, or portfolios.  So that’s part one of what are we even talking about.  Defining it, formalizing it, and then broadcasting out to the world at large, the business industry, the governments and nonprofits, about how to practice this profession.  So this has been the mission of the Institute since day one in the middle of the 20th Century.  And it’s what appealed to me when I signed up as an entry-level project manager wanting to find a community, but also a community that’s connected to some clarity around what is it that we do, how might we do it with excellence, and maybe get a little recognition along the way with one of the certification programs.

And so one of the things that has consistently been part of the DNA of the community is continuous improvement and growth.  So as we learn more about the profession, it only makes sense to share out to the industry, to the community, to the membership, to the practitioners, hey, guess what we learned?  We learned that there are some things that consistently really need to happen on most projects, most of the time.  And we think that your projects will go a lot more effectively if you take a look at some of these, maybe adjust and tailor, as opposed to winging it.

And so the big news, the last time we were talking with the 6th Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge, back in 2017, was the formal articulation of agile methods and agile approaches for the first time.  There was some mention in the 5th  Edition, and there was also the joint release of the software extension that mentioned adaptive and agile approaches.  But really the 6th Edition was an absolute turning point as far as adding to the conversation the state of the practice that included more than what had been traditionally included.  And so that’s the mission and the pattern.

Are There Changes to the Agile Practice Guide?

BILL YATES:  So Jesse, thinking back on 6th Edition, there was the Agile Practice Guide.  So I remember then if you purchased or downloaded the PMBOK® Guide, there was an additional document that you received, and it was the Agile Practice Guide, which you had great influence on.  You were one of the writers of that.  So for just a little teaser here, for the 7th Edition, did the Agile Practice Guide get bigger?  What does it look like now?

JESSE FEWELL:  The Agile Practice Guide is still there.  It has not been updated the way that other PMI publications tend to get refreshed.  The same way that the PMBOK®Guide itself as the flagship standard gets refreshed every few years, so does the Practice Standard for Program Management or the Practice Standard for Estimation and Scheduling.  Those periodically get refreshed because there is sufficient evolution and improvement in the broader industry around those specific parts.  But the Agile Practice Guide itself is still in its 2017 state of being and will probably stay that way because we just celebrated last year the 20th anniversary of the formal launch of the agile movement, which started in 2001.  And so what has not changed as much in the last couple of years, as opposed to 20 years ago, is the state of practice on the ground with respect to agile methods.

So the state of practice on the ground with agile methods is probably relatively stable.  What is changing is the broader conversation and the broader dialogue about what it means, particularly to project management.  And that’s why this Seventh Edition represents, and for my money, the most disruptive redefinition of project management in my lifetime.  I think that’s what is changing relative to the technical practices on the ground.

BILL YATES:  Got it.

JESSE FEWELL:  Which are relatively stable.

The 7th Edition Changes

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  That’s a powerful statement. So let’s get to the 7th Edition.  There’s a pretty big change.  What does it look like?

JESSE FEWELL:  Let’s start actually with what has not changed.  What has not changed is that there are two parts to the document.  There is an ANSI accredited standard in the opening of the document, just like there was in the 6th Edition, just like the ANSI standard of previous editions.  And the second half of the document is referred to as the Body of Knowledge, which is still extremely rigorously reviewed, but not to the level of the ANSI standard that the first half of the document is.  So what has not changed is that there’s two parts, ANSI standard, followed by Body of Knowledge.

What has not changed was the actual process of pulling this together.  There was a core team that would put together a draft.  That draft would be reviewed by subject matter experts.  That would be refined for a public exposure.  That public exposure would invite feedback from God, the Universe, and everybody.  Thousands upon thousands of feedback would be rigorously adjudicated by triple, each comment would be triple reviewed.  And then that would go in front of a formal review body, after all was said and done.  That has not changed.

The other thing that has not changed is the member input.  This document was built by members.  It was built by project managers who do the work.  This was not an ivory tower initiative.  The PMBOK® never has been.  So I think it’s important to emphasize what has not changed.  The exact same process was followed as always has been followed.  And it’s always been member driven.  It’s always been a bottom-up process, and still ANSI accredited.  What has changed is we are no longer formalizing 44 processes used on most projects, most of the time.  We are instead formalizing 12 project principles that are used on all projects, all the time.  And that is what is I think the most disruptive change.  There are a couple of other major changes, as well.  But I think let’s just meditate on that for just a hot minute.

A Revolution in the Profession

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s a huge one because this reminds me of the Agile Manifesto.  It reminds me of, like, even the standard for program management.  I think maybe the standard for risk management, one of the others has recently gone through this shift, too, from kind of a process-driven to a principles-based approach.

JESSE FEWELL:  And that’s exactly correct because what was happening, this was a concurrent revolution in the profession.  And I call it a “revolution” because it was grassroots, bottom-up, from our listeners.  Right now on this podcast project managers on the ground saying – actually there were workshops that were run in literally every continent, minus Antarctica.  But out of every continent workshop that was done, one of the questions was asked, hey, project program portfolio manager, what advice would you give to your younger self?

And what started emerging were some patterns around what we do is not why we do it.  What we do in the way of planning and estimation and governance is not the value or the purpose of project management.  The purpose of project management tends to be around organizational outcomes to help accelerate, for example, more revenue, cost savings, better employee engagement, infrastructure.  So, like, what is our mission?  And my advice to my younger self would be start taking the big picture into picture.  And another one would be things like focus on the stakeholders.

I’ll tell you what was not coming up was Step 42.  Step 42 is the most important step of the 44 processes.  That was not coming up.  And this was concurrent with the update to the program standard, the update to the risk standard.  So there is an emerging conversation about differentiating between what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.  And that started to settle into the categories that are relatively consistent with the project principles, project domains, and the methods, models, and artifacts that we use to do our job.  So I’m glad that you highlighted that because the PMBOK® Guide was actually the third product that was a part of this massive revolution.

A Grassroots Movement to the Principles-Based Approach

BILL YATES:  Jesse, I’ve got a specific question on this.  So I’m understanding from you this was like a grassroots movement.  This is from the project managers that are working, you know, boots on the ground.  Was there not someone, is there one person who said, hey, for the 7th Edition we’re going to go to principles-based.  Figure it out.

JESSE FEWELL:  No.  It wasn’t just one person making a mandate in a dark void and say please fill the dark void with whatever you come up with.  It was instead, here’s a lot of what’s happening in the world of work.  Here’s what our members are saying.  Let’s put together a team and figure it out.  In fact, what was really happening, the Seventh Edition project had already been chartered.  And Cindy was already going to co-chair it again, and I believe Mike was also selected as the co-chair.  And they had a regular old PMBOK® plan.  It was going to be another incremental update to the 6th Edition.  And then the rebels started mounting.  And in particular the rebels were everyday project managers at these workshops.

So PMI put together a strategic plan that said we’ve got to find a way to be change-proof.  We’ve got to find a way to be more resilient to all of the disruption that’s happening across the globe.  This is in 2019 that this conversation is happening, before COVID.  And the rise of more VUCA in the world – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity – was really highlighting the fact that the current PMBOK® model was not going to survive the 21st Century.  It just wasn’t.  So some crazy ideas started percolating up, like what if we actually started talking to our membership about what does it mean to be a project manager in the 21st Century?  What would be more effective and helpful to you?  And how would you mentor your younger self?

And so one of the patterns that came up was how about a little bit more digital than paper?  How about a little bit more dynamic than fixed?  You know, why do I have to wait five years to learn what the latest and greatest state of the industry is?  What if there was a way where we could have – wait for it – a hybrid format where we could have some things that are a little bit more eternal that are in print, and some things that are more dynamic online. 

And so that’s what was happening.  And it ended up being a fundamental redefinition of the Seventh Edition after it had already been chartered.  I did a webinar for ProjectManagement.com where I used the PMBOK® Guide project itself as an example of the domain of navigating uncertainty because it started off with a particular fixed plan, and it had to completely upend that based on the feedback we were getting from our customers, our membership, and the industry at large.

Who is Excited about The 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Jesse, some people embrace change, and they’re happy to go along with it, and they’re excited about it.  And then there’s others who are not very fond of change.  In your opinion, who’s most excited about this change, and who’s most challenged by the changes?

JESSE FEWELL:  Well, you’re going to love one answer and not love the other answer.  Who’s most excited about this change by far and away is everyday project managers.  The feedback that we’ve been getting has been deeply gratifying, that oh my gosh, common sense finally in print.  I finally now have permission to think for a living as to how we’re supposed to run projects, instead of blindly following this template that doesn’t work for us.  Oh my gosh.  You put into paper what I’ve always been thinking and feeling, and I felt like I was the only one.  Things like focus on outcomes instead of outputs.  Things like, hmm, practice teambuilding.  Yes.  Project managers actually are in the teambuilding business.  What?

So that has been the most gratifying and the most rewarding is that it’s not so much that we have inflicted change upon project managers, but we’ve rather acknowledged, formalized, and recognized the change that’s already been happening.  And getting the validation from rank-and-file project managers has been really rewarding.  And I’m wondering if you’re hearing something similar from project managers that you serve.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it’s interesting, Jesse, because this is such a shift, going to principles-based.  I think at first people thought, wait a minute.  Back in the day, if you look way back to like 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition, we sort of had a how-to guide.  These are the steps that you take.  Take step one, step two, like you said, you step through the processes.  Maybe some of them don’t apply to you.

And so there was some pushback at first, going, well, I don’t have my step-by-step.  Now I have principles-based, you know, what do I like about that, what do I not like.  I think for some people they could be accused of project management color-by-numbers.  And it’s like, okay, that doesn’t really exist anymore.  Maybe you’re in this completely enclosed cocoon where your projects don’t get interference from outside factors.  But, you know, most people are having to figure it out as they go.  Like you said, they’re having to deal with uncertainty, with complexity.  So then we had these guiding principles.  But hey, what about all this great content we used to have, all the templates, all the OPA, so to speak; you know?  But like you said, that went…


Standards Plus

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that went, yeah, the ITTOs.  So let’s talk about the digital piece.  Talk about Standards Plus, and talk about that shift of some of the content because the PMBOK® Guide shrunk for the first time in forever.  Now it’s smaller.  Now it’s principles-based.  But we’ve got a digital asset or assets that are out there for the ITTOs.  Talk about Standards Plus.

JESSE FEWELL:  Yes, and I’ll also try to bring it back to who else might be negatively impacted.  So the positive impact has been that what is good is still good.  What is old is not bad.  And I think that’s a huge thing to embrace.  And this is particularly true when people are going through an organization transformation for trying to build a projectized organization, for example, trying to add more structure, and are we going to need to throw away everything you’ve ever done?  Not throw away everything.  Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Which is why the entire 6th Edition is in Standards Plus right now.

So the framework, the traditional PMBOK® framework of 49 processes that are used on most projects, most of the time, well, just because that’s five years old doesn’t mean it’s fundamentally bad.  It can be helpful.  And it’s on Standards Plus.  The reason why it’s not in the 7th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide is because it’s no longer sufficiently comprehensive of the world of projects in the 21st Century.  In the 21st Century, well, what about the other projects some of the time?  Do we just not care about those?  What if I’m stuck on one of those?  What works on all projects, all the time?

Also, when I have those 49 processes, how do I tailor that down?  How do I tailor it up, if I need to?  So, well, let’s put that in print because tailoring is a skill set that we need to promote, and probably somewhat of an evergreen skill set that we can put in paper.  And then in addition to what’s not in paper, but in the website, everything that’s in paper is also in the website.  So there’s an entire section of methods, models, and artifacts that is printed in the Seventh Edition.  Methods matter.  Methods matter.  Methodologies matter in operationalizing our principles.

Brené Brown is one of my big heroes, and she said this great quote.  She said:  “If you don’t operationalize your values, it’s just a cat poster.”  And I think that’s one of the fears; right?  It’s one of the fears that the PMBOK® Guide has become a cat poster.  And actually, if you look at Section 4, there is a whole lot of goodness there for people who are much more structured in their thinking and their approach to their work.  So with that, let me just say that there are two groups of people that are rather distressed.  The people that are most excited are experienced project program portfolio practitioners.

There’s two groups that are a little bit distressed.  The first are the beginners.  Where do I start?  Tell me what to do.  I’m kind of moving into this profession.  Well, the good news is we have everything we’ve always had.  And not only that, but then there’s this really cool group of training providers that can fill the gap between the theory, the options, and to give you a concrete direction.  And that’s the second most unhappy group.  The second unhappy group are all of the project management vendors.  I got into a bit of LinkedIn flame war with one in particular who said that his entire training business is now dead.  And I had to say, “Yes, and?”  Yes, you have to refactor your curriculum, kind of like you have to do every five years anyway.


JESSE FEWELL:  Doesn’t matter that the change is a little bit more substantive.  It’s just change.  And, oh, by the way, aren’t we the change masters?  Don’t we take current state into future state?  And so there is a truth that this is going to be very confusing for a lot of vendors out there, whether you’re consultants or trainers or methodologists.  And yet I view that as a massive opportunity to add value, especially to beginners.  Because it’s the experienced project managers I think who will take a look at the Section 4 methods and be like, I know exactly which of those I’m going to use in order to do stakeholder engagement.  I know exactly which of those I’m going to do for building a team. 

And it’s good to see an inventory for me like a menu, like a restaurant menu that I can choose from and play with it.  But you know what?  Isn’t it great that excellent firms like Velociteach can build out programs for beginners, not just passing the exam.  You could probably rant on this for days.  Passing the exam is not the same as practicing project management.

BILL YATES:  That’s right.

JESSE FEWELL:  And so I think that’s an ongoing conflation that’s a bit of an issue.  So people who are excited about it; people who are a little bit concerned about it.

The 7th Edition and Agile Project Management

BILL YATES:  Jesse, I’ve got a follow-up question.  This is really related to agile.  So one of the common questions that you probably heard is how is this any different, the Seventh Edition, how is this any different than just a full sellout to agile?  And then a follow-up question on that, which I think is nice and practical, which says, okay, given the 7th Edition, what’s the role of a project manager in an agile project?  So defend the first one, and then let’s talk about the practical with the second one.

JESSE FEWELL:  So let me first acknowledge some conspicuous similarities.  Wait a second.  Agile has four values, 12 principles. PMBOK® 7 has 12 principles and a handful of domains.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, like eight domains, I think.

JESSE FEWELL:  Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.  Wait a second.  Is this just old wine in a new wineskin?  And I did a little bit of a fun exercise, and I kind of did a mapping.  Does this principle correlate to a natural principle?  And there was.  There was some overlap there.  But there are some principles that are just outside of the agile mandate.  And the more you start kind of looking at them, the more you start to realize that agile has a specific approach to delivering a specific kind of value; whereas the PMBOK® 7 principles are really about focusing on a universal approach to any kind of value for a consumer customer.

So it could be argued that, if we’re building a bridge, for example, this has been my favorite example, you can’t agile a bridge.  It’s either there or it’s not.  Cars are running across it, or they’re not.  And yet, if you’re building a bridge, do you need teamwork?  Yes or no?  If you’re building a bridge, do you need stakeholders onboard?  Yes or no?  If you’re building a bridge, do you need to exhibit strong leadership? 

And these are like commonsense universal principles, whether you’re building a digital technology with agile or whether you’re building a bridge with a predictive approach, that you kind of need.  So that’s how I approach the, yes, I acknowledge there are some conspicuous similarities.  But 12 is a nice round number; right?  You know.  But when you look more deeply at it, you start to see that the PMBOK® principles really are much broader in scope.

The PM’s Role in Predictive vs. Adaptive Projects

BILL YATES:  Okay.  See, I think you started to answer the second part of that question, too, which is, if I’m a project manager in an agile environment, how is that different than how I behave in a predictive environment?  And I think some of those things you’re saying, okay, some of these leadership abilities transcend.  It doesn’t matter what method you’ve chosen to apply to your project.  You still need to have stakeholder engagement.  You still need to have authenticity, safety within your project team and things like that.  Are there any fine lines that are defining what’s the difference in the project manager’s role in the 7th Edition for a predictive versus an adaptive project?

JESSE FEWELL:  So, yes, Bill.  There is a different take on leadership in PMBOK® 7 relative to the agile conversation.  So the core principle in PMBOK® 7 is to demonstrate leadership behaviors.  And that’s really simply a call to intent as a project professional.  Is your leadership approach intentional or reactionary?  And this has been where I’ve been spending the bulk of my career activities over the last half decade is zeroing in on what does it mean to be a leader in the 21st Century at any level in the organization, as a tech lead, as a project manager.

And that intent thing is huge.  In the description, in the PMBOK® 7, we call out the difference between centralized leadership and decentralized leadership.  In an agile context there is absolutely an expectation of decentralized leadership.  And there’s a lot of science, and there’s a lot of reasons around this.  And yet in PMBOK® 7 we’re saying that’s one way to do it.  Another way to do it is with centralized leadership, particularly in high chaos environments where we need strong, firm decisions without the delay of dialogue.

So my favorite example is when Sully Sullenberger lands his jetliner in the Hudson River.  Probably not the best time for a collaborative standup meeting.  Would anybody like to volunteer to self-assign a task to throw a life preserver in the Hudson River?  Would anybody volunteer to dial 911 right now?  Looking for some collaborative self-leadership, organized leadership here.  No.  There are contexts where we need strong, firm leadership in order to make things happen.

And so that’s how the PMBOK® 7 expands that beyond just the agile conversation.  But if you’re a project manager, and you’re on the ground, and you’re hearing a lot of chatter, “Agile has no project manager unit.”  So step one, just recognize the bias there.  Recognize that arguably the entire agile movement was spawned and inspired by bad project managers who were very autocratic, very much about what we do is all that matters, and I don’t care.  Scope, schedule, cost, I don’t care whether or not it adds any value to the customer.  And that kind of bad project management inspired the agile movement.  And unfortunately, it sucks, but we all got blamed.

So, number one, recognize the baggage, and maybe even acknowledge it and offer to help wherever the help is needed.  So look in the mirror, project manager.  Do you have preconceived baggage of your own about what a project manager’s supposed to do?  The project manager decides the process, unless it’s already decided.  And then what are you going to do?  I don’t know, maybe execute.  Maybe deliver value, maybe do teambuilding, maybe lead.

It’s really a two-step conversation.  Number one, acknowledge the baggage that’s coming at you.  And then, number two, look in the mirror and find the baggage that’s inside you.  And then open up your own heart to opportunities to serve, whether it means serving as a deputy to the project sponsor, because that’s where the gap is; whether it means serving as a technical lead on the delivery team because that’s the gap that needs to be filled.  So how can you lead this project to success in the gaps that are there, rather than the preconceived notion of what you thought a project manager was supposed to be.

7th Edition PMBOK® Guide for a New Project Manager

BILL YATES: What if I were mentoring or coaching someone who’s just getting into project management?  Let’s say it’s somebody pretty much fresh out of school.  They’ve had a little bit of work at our company, so they’re familiar with some of our products and services.  And now they’re going to start into project management.  I hand them the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide, and then what do I tell them?

JESSE FEWELL:  So for any project manager starting out, it can be a little bit overwhelming about where do I begin.  And I like to go through a list of concrete steps in order to identify what is it that I should do to have the most value.  So step one, look at the domains.  In the list of domains, the question is do we need to improve how we do planning?  Do we need to focus on what is value for the customers because they’re complaining a lot, and the stakeholders are complaining a lot?  Or is there just a lot of uncertainty around this project?

Ask of all of the areas of things that we do as project managers and the value that we provide around those things, you know, the team performance, the metrics and measurements, if that needs to be improved and added into.  Pick one or two.  Then go check out the principles.  Because in the principles it’s going to give you universal guidelines, for example, exhibiting leadership behaviors, or creating a collaborative project team environment, focusing on value, tailoring to context. 

And so dealing with uncertainty in this situation, probably I should think about what’s the best way to tailor some uncertainty management practices in this context.  Okay.  Then, once I have the why of the domains, why they’re asking me as a project manager to add value to this project, and then we look at the principles, which is how, how might we add value to project planning or project measurements.  Then we get into the what.  In Section 4, there’s a whole restaurant menu of things to choose from when you’re looking at a particular domain.

So if I’m looking at stakeholder engagement, one model that I might want to use would be some kind of cross-cultural communication, or ADKAR, or the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model, if I’m looking at team performance.  And then, if I’m looking at particular methods and artifacts, I can pick out the ones that resonate with me on those domains based on the principle that I am reflecting on.

And so the intent here is to guide the practitioner through the value we offer as project managers, domains; the principles that guide how we do our job; and then we look at the details.  Too many times in our profession we get it the other way around.  And we go straight to a risk register, and go straight to a work breakdown structure, and forget to ask would anybody benefit from that.  And then we get a lot of pushback.  “You project managers are a bunch of bureaucrats.  That’s all you are.”  No, I’m just doing what I was told and trained to do.  So we’re trying to flip that dynamic where instead of going straight to the mechanics, we want to first take a look at those domains that add value, the principles that guide our behaviors, and then look at the detailed mechanics.

BILL YATES:  Awesome.  That’s great.

Get in Touch with Jesse

WENDY GROUNDS:  Jesse, it’s been so good chatting to you.  If our listeners want to reach out to you, which is the best way they can do that?

JESSE FEWELL:  Sure.  I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter.  If you just type in Jesse Fewell, you’ll find me there.  I could talk about this stuff for hours, so if you want to reach out to me that way.  But if you want help kind of figuring your path forward on an individual level, then I would love to chat with you about what that would look like, especially if you’re trying to drive a more mature project environment, you’re trying to drive more effective ways of working.  Particularly if that involves trying to get people to drive more agile ways of working, then I’d love for you to just chat. 

If you want to talk, go to AgileVictory.com/talk, and then I’ll offer you an hour of my best insights, just because, I mean, I love doing this.  I thought I was done volunteering at PMI.  And then they just keep giving me these really cool opportunities.  So, yeah, if you want to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you can look up my name there; or AgileVictory.com/talk, if you’re interested in actually moving forward.

BILL YATES:  Jesse, thank you so much.  It’s always a pleasure talking with you and catching up, and I just appreciate again all the hours and thought that you put into this massive project that influences the community.  Well done, sir, thank you.

JESSE FEWELL:  Thank you guys for having me.  I always enjoy talking shop with people who are in it.


WENDY GROUNDS:  Thank you for listening.  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.  And you have earned those Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com.  Choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and follow through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


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