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I have a problem with the Body of Knowledge. Not the APM Body of Knowledge in particular, but with project management BoKs in general.

In this post Im going to pick out two specific concerns. Im still working out exactly what my overall concern is, so this is work in progress and, I hope, a continuation of the conversations around the recent post by Jon Whitty and the news story on the APM website

My first concern is readers understanding of what a BoK is and what its for. A few weeks ago, an experienced knowledge management practitioner told me about a conversation hed had with a project manager colleague.  The conversation went roughly like this:

Project manager: What youre doing isnt proper knowledge management. We should be doing more of this stuff thats in the APM Body of Knowledge 6th edition.

Knowledge manager: What do you mean?

Project manager: The BoK says knowledge management is all about capturing knowledge and experience. So that it can be shared.

Knowledge manager: Thats not my view of knowledge management.

Project manager: Its in the APM Body of knowledge, so it must be right.

Knowledge manager:  Theres more to knowledge management than writing things down.

Project manager: The BoK says knowledge management is about capturing knowledge. We should be doing more knowledge capture.

Somehow I dont think this is what Andrew Bragg meant when he wrote that the APM Body of Knowledge is the beginning of the debate, not the end. Is there a danger that the standard terminology of BoKs stifles development of knowledge and understanding rather than providing a starting point for debate? Have you had any similar experiences with any BoK?

My second concern is to do with the difference between knowledge and knowing. This might seem rather picky. The point is that to be good at project management requires more than an individuals possession of knowledge about project management. The problem is that we tend to confuse the knowledge we possess with being good at what we do. How do we know what makes a good project manager? In practice we measure being good at project management largely by the ability to pass exams in other words the knowledge possessed by individuals. And the primary reference source for this knowledge is the relevant BoK.

Taken together, what effect (if any) do my two concerns have on the development of knowledge about project management? And on the development of project management professionals?

On 28th of November 2012 Judy Payne and Jon Whitty will be leading an interactive discussion that invites participants to challenge preconceptions about project management knowledge.


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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 01 December 2012, 10:51 AM

    The example quoted in the blog is not about terminology its about an idiot of a PM not understanding the purpose of a BoK and clearly having no idea about stakeholder engagement or the spectrum of knowledge management. Rules are for the blind obedience of fools the mythical PM has proved he/she is a fool. Lexicography is vital if project management is ever going to become a truly effective global profession. If the same word has two meanings and the same meaning can be arrived at by using two totally different words you have a mess (otherwise known as English). A good post on this is at: Project management already suffers from two people hearing exactly the same thing and receiving completely different messages. We desperately need standardise terminology at the global level one word, one meaning within our domain

  2. Benedict Pinches
    Benedict Pinches 29 November 2012, 05:03 PM

    Thank you Judy for the excellent evening's conversation yesterday, and for inviting Jon Whitty to provoke the PM community. It was my first experience of a Knowledge SIG event, despite being active in the APM for the past 7 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other practitioners who are wrestling with Paradox. I would like to see more of these interactive events, and more creative ways of sharing project management knowledge, and I look forward to attending many more Knowledge SIG evening.