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The PMBOK® Guide contains globally recognized standard used to manage individual projects to successfully achieve organizational results on consistent basis. It describes ‘project management’ in terms of 47 Project Management Processes considered to be good practice.  Project Management Process Groups, as the name suggests, is one way of logically grouping these processes.

These processes are considered building blocks of project management framework presented by the PMBOK® Guide’s. They are categorized in five Project Management Process Groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing.

The categorization is fundamentally based on nature of work involved across basic flow of a project or a phase of project from start to end in organized manner.

What do we mean by Project Management Process Groups?

The term is defined by the PMBOK® Guide as follows:

A logical grouping of project management inputs, tools, and techniques, and outputs. The Project Management Process Groups include initiating processes, planning processes, executing processes, monitoring and controlling processes, and closing processes. Project Management Process Groups are not project phases.

Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2013, Page 554.

The definition highlights three important points.

First, the process groups are in fact logical groupings of Project Management Processes (inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs mentioned in the definition are basically characteristics of a process). Here you might have a question: what forms the basis of this ‘logic’? 

Second, there are five Project Management Process Groups: Initiating Process Group, Planning Process Group, Executing Process Group, Monitoring and Controlling Process Group, and Closing Process Group. Can you sense a basic flow from initiating to closing?

Third, Project Management Process Groups are NOT project phases. What do we mean by this?

Let’s discuss each of these points or elements in detail.

What do we mean by Project Management Processes?

In project management, a process is fundamentally a group of interrelated actions or activities meant to create something (commonly reffered to as a deliverable). You are right, just like the process of making a cup of tea!

Every process is characterized by:

  • Inputs: These are things you need to have to carry out the process. (What do we need to have to be able to carry out the process of making a cup of tea?)
  • Outputs: These are deliverable(s) you intend to create with the process. (Right! The desired output in our case is the tea.)
  • Tools & Techniques: These are things you need to transform inputs to outputs. (What tools and techniques we use to make the tea?)

In short, a process comprises of a set of interrelated actions or activities which utilize inputs to transform them with help of different tools & techinques into outputs.

There are two categories of processes in a project. The processes that we need to create product(s), service(s), or result(s) to be delivered by the project. They are called product, service, or result-oriented processes. Then there are processes we need to manage the project. For example, management processes required to initiate a project, planning it, monitor and controlling its progress etc.  These are called Project Management Processes. As mentioned earlier, there are 47 Project Management Processes in the PMBOK® Guide. 

For detailed discussion on this topic, please visit: What are Project Management Processes?

How many process groups do we have?

As discussed earlier, there are five Project Management Process Groups. The 47 Project Management Processes are distributed among them as follows:

Initiating Process Group 2
Planing Process Group 24
Executing Process Group 8
Monitoring and Controlling Process Group 11
Closing Process Group 2

What are the 5 process groups meant for?

In Initiating Process Group we are concerned with initiating a project or a phase of a project by defining its boundaries and getting formal/documented approval from sponsor(s); Initiating Process Group brings a project or a phase formally into existence. Key deliverables of Initiating Process Group are Project Charter and Stakeholder Register.

In Planning Process Group we detail the blueprint of the project created in the Initiating Process Group. Based on the requirements and expectations of stakeholders, we refine objectives of the project; in order to achieve the objectives, we determine overall scope of work that we need to carry out; and we devise a comprehensive course of action considering different aspects of implementation. Key deliverables of Planning Process Group are Project Management Plan (its subsidiary plan and baselines) and Project Documents.

In Executing Process Group we carry out work and create deliverables based on the Project Management Plan created in the Planning Process Group.

In Monitoring and Controlling Process Group we deal with progress and performance issues of our project. We track our progress with respect to what was planned; we review our progress and analyze our performance; and then based on our findings, suggest and initiate changes in order to make necessary adjustments.

In Closing Process Group we bring our project or a phase of our project formally to an end by finalizing all activities.

Important Concepts

Project Management Process Groups are Interdependent

The project management process groups are dependent on each other. Deliverables of one project management process group becomes input to another. For example, Initiating Process Group provides input to Planning Process Group, whereas Executing Process Group depends on output of Planning Process Group.

Project Management Process Groups Interact

The interdependency of project management process groups necessitates frequent interaction.

This interaction can be at different level: one process group interacting with another process group; project management processes interacting with each other with in a process group; or project management processes of one project management process group interacting with project management processes of another process group.

The interaction indicates project management processes are linked. This linkage is based on input-output relationship. Usually an output of one becomes an input of another.

Project Management Process Groups are NOT Project Phases

Project Management Process Groups should not be confused with project life cycle. It is wrong to call a project management process groups as project phases: the two are different. In fact the five project management process groups, collectively, are repeated for every phase of project life cycle.

Project Management Process Groups Names

Names of all the five project management process groups ends with ‘ing’ – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

Initiating and executing are different from initiation and execution respectively. While the former represents project management process groups, the later refers to project phases usually of a generic project life cycle.

Project Management Process Groups are Globally Applicable

Project life cycles are industry or application area specific. For instance, a project life cycle for a construction project would be different from project life cycle of an application software project.

But one of the things common among project life cycles across all industries and application areas is that they have phases. According to the PMBOK® Guide, the five process groups are repeated for each phase of a project. This is how the PMBOK® Guide maintains it claim to be ‘generally recognized as good practice’ (Page 2).

In simple words, no matter to which ever industry or application area your project belongs to, the five process groups, and their constituent project management processes, are applicable to your project and you can benefit from them.

They are typically performed in each project.

Project Management Process Groups have Basic Flow and Sequence
Project Management Process Groups have a basic flow, and are performed in a specific sequence:

  • Initiating Process Group is the starting point. It produces Project Charter and Stakeholder Register as outputs.
  • Outputs of the Initiating Process Group becomes inputs to Planning Process Group, which produces Project Management Plan and Project Documents as its outputs.
  • Outputs of the Planning Process Group are used as input by Executing Process Group wherein work is carried out. Executing Process Group often creates updates to outputs of Initiating Process Group.
  • When Executing Process Group completes and gets confirmed by the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group, we move on to Closing Process Group where the project or a project phase phase is closed.
  • Monitoring and Controlling Process Group overlaps all the other four process groups. However, major portion of the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group happens in parallel to Executing Process Group. It takes outputs of all other process groups and produces its outputs.

Project Management Process Groups Iterate
Though we have seen above that there is a basic and specific sequence in which the five project management process groups are performed. However, practically a process group is not performed only once. The five project management process groups may iterate a number of times.

For example, as we discussed earlier, Planning Process Group provides inputs to Executing Process Group in the form of Project Management Plan and Project Documents. The inputs serve as basis for carrying out work in the Executing Process Group. However, as the work progresses on the project, Executing Process Group often recommends or initiates updates to the Project Management Plan and Project documents.  The recommended updated, if approved, might require us to iterate back to Planning Process Group to make changes to its outputs.

Why is it important?

Project Management Processes and their categorization in the 5 Project Management Process Groups is considered to be backbone of the the PMBOK® Guide. As a matter of fact, these elements are considered key to the project management framework presented by the PMBOK® Guide. Equally important is their interaction and relationship with other elements of the framework.

Therefore, understanding of these concepts is fundamental to be able to truly appreciate the standard framework, and implement it in a project or an organiztion for gaining competitive edge through successful deilivery of projects.

Similarly, it is also crucial from certification perspective. In fact, the very format of the PMP® exam, and its content, is based on it. If you are aiming for PMP® Certification, your success heavily depends on it. 

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