Can a "Body of Knowledge" be the exclusive source of information?

The BOK Stops Here!

by Conrad Weisert
June 1, 2013
© 2013 Information Disciplines, Inc.


Background

Several years ago we first encounted the Project Managment Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) a publication from the Project Management Institute. Later the International Insitute of Business Analysis produced the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK). Other professional organizations have produced or are planning to produce their own BOKs.

As the titles suggest these volumes are intended to be encyclopedic collections of everything a professional needs to know in order to perform project management and systems analysis respectively. Within their professional orgnizations those books were and still are open to contributions from knowledgeable members. They form the basis for certification programs, whereby individuals can secure coveted credentials that many employers reward with prestigious titles and salaries.

Questions

  1. Q: Should a professional working in these areas obtain, study, and regularly consult one or both of those BOKs?
    A: Definitely yes. They contain highly useful information based upon the deep experience of their contributors. They belong at the top of any bibliography.

  2. Q: Do those volumes contain all (or even most) of the principles and advice that a working professional needs to know about those disciplines?
    A: Definitely no. Dozens of other sources (books, courses, web sites) not only fill in gaps but also offer alternative, often preferable points of view.

Scope

From the point of view of an Information Technology organization, neither volume is exactly what the professional staff needs.

The PMBOK is too broad. An I.T. organization is interested mainly in system development projects. Many of the activities involved in building a nuclear submarine or erecting a skyscraper just don't apply in the constrained, but still complicated, world of designing, building, validating, installing, and maintaining software.

The BABOK is too narrow. The switch from "systems analysis" to "business analysis" may have boosted the self esteem of its practitioners, but many of the most complex and most interesting computer applications fall in areas more close related to engineering, to science, or to operations research than to traditional business activity. Defenders of the IIBA have to keep explaining that "business" must be interpreted unusually broadly.

Both volumes are inappropriately the focus of courses that prepare an individual for certification. But an organization doesn't seek an expert on the contents of PMBOK; it needs an expert in project planning and control. The PMBOK may provide valuable even eseential background, but it isn't an end in itself.

More to come?

We may from time to time address specific issues raised by or missing from the BOKs. Send me (cweisert@acm.org) your candidates.


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Last modified June 6, 2013