Is the PMBOK Guide a standard if it is always changing?

That’s the question posed by James Brown (here). He points out that the PMBOK Guide 4th Edition no longer discusses the Triple Constraint — yes, I was shocked it was missing too!  He wonders if the PMBOK Guide:

…is not a standard if it is always changing!… PMI is at risk of devaluing the PMP certification because now you have project managers certified on different sets of terms. When an organization hires a newly certified PMP based on the fourth edition of the PMBOK. they may not know the term triple constraint. A standard doesn’t have to be perfect, but a standard must be a standard to effectively serve its purpose!

In this case, I agree that the loss of the term “triple constraint” is pointless.  It is a powerful way to highlight the choices that one needs to make among competing priorities.  Why not elaborate the concept or point out its limitations instead of dropping it?

However, I challenge the idea that a standard cannot be “always changing.”  For example, should there only be one edition of the Merck Manual or various ANSI standards?

While we should avoid change for change’s sake, project management is still trying to codify the common sense Dr. Brown mentions. We’re a long way from having a stable project management standard, IMO.


5 Responses

  1. Hi Paul,

    I agree with you that no Triple Constraint is pointless.

    I would say it is ludicrous. It’s an extremely simple and effective concept for the majority of non-PM people who need something. I’ve used it in-house to non-PM people and they get it. Not only that, but I’m sure that many of the PMO processes and templates are tied to the Triple Constraint in some form or another. They are to mine.

    With all these seemingly random changes from PMBOK 2nd Ed (2000) to now 4th Ed., I don’t think PMI has done the project management space any service. Trying not to be cynical about PMI as a business, I think that standards, should change, but only if they’re meaningful and helpful. A quick study <a href=”″PMBOK 3rd Ed vs. 4th Ed shows that’s it’s not really a major change.

    I think in terms of being most helpful, a combination of Prince 2 project governance methodology and PMI’s “skills-based” PM framework is good enough for most PMs. And by doing this, it gets into the space that bedevil most PMs and organizations – managing change/complexity. Sometimes PPM but … depends on the ‘project’.


  2. […] bit more in resources to get speed and thoroughness (that pesky triple constraint… here and here).  But there’s also the risk management angle to […]

  3. There are many more important topics that need inclusion but are not there. Its upto the people preparing for PMP exam to use other resources apart from PMBOK – which could be internet or other authors.

    Fourth edition is good – no doubt about it. It looks a lot more crispier and neat. The idea is not to educate people about every word and topic applicable to project management.

    Moreover, is triple constraint a very common word at workplace that it deserves to be included in every version? Not really.

  4. Hi Ishrath,
    Thanks for the comment…the PMBOK Guide is exactly that, just a guide. If one is preparing for the PMP, then one should be prepared to go outside of the PMBOK Guide for the answers. IMO, it was too easy before to simply study the PMBOK Guide and pass the exam.

    The triple constraint should be in every PM’s “explanatory” arsenal…in other words, it is a great way to illustrate the trade-offs most project decisions will force.


  5. Thanks Paul…
    Instead of using the word- triple constraint.. we get more specific in our day-to-day-worklife. Cost, scope, time or anything, we gotta name it. And deal with it.

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