Whenever there is a body of knowledge, it helps to divide it up. So, we have Knowledge Areas. These are domains within the wider body.
The PMI famously divides Project Management knowledge into 10 Knowledge Areas (or KAs). But there are more.
- Some, the PMI omits in its most recent (6th Edition) Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide)
- Others, the PMBOK Guide discusses in other ways.
But the choice of 10 Knowledge Areas is arbitrary. Although it may owe a lot to the ‘special number fallacy’. This leads authors to prefer special numbers like 5, 7, 10, or 12. At best, it’s just the way one group of experienced project professionals divide up their world.
So, in this article, I’ll discuss all of the Project Management Knowledge Areas I can think of. Do you aspire to a Project Management career? If so, this should be your lifetime minimum syllabus. There’s loads more you could learn, but you will definitely need all of this!
How We’ll Cover Knowledge Areas
I think we need to start with the PMBOK Guide. That’s what a lot of people will know and where many will have heard the term, Knowledge Areas. Aspiring PMI Project Management Professionals talk about ‘learning their KAs’.
However, the PMBOK Guide is not the be-all and end-all of project management knowledge. Other organizations and methodologies are available. And, let’s not forget that the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide is due out in late 2021. And all the evidence suggests it will be substantially (maybe radically) different from editions 1 to 6. Will it be organized by knowledge area? We simply don’t know yet.
So, here’s how I shall organize this article:
- What are Project Management Knowledge Areas?
- The 10 PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas
- Other Primary Knowledge Areas
- Secondary Knowledge Areas
- Are There any Other Knowledge Areas?
What are Project Management Knowledge Areas?
A body of knowledge is everything anyone knows about a topic and has taken the trouble to document. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has one, and so does the Association for Project Management (APM)
Learn More about the PMI
- What is the PMI? (video)
- What is the PMBOK Guide? (video)
- I Want to Study for Project Management Professional
(A roadmap and collation of all of our PMI/PMBOK Guide resources)
- What is New in the PMBOK 6th Edition? The Changes
- PMBOK 7 is on its way. What we Know…
Learn more about the APM
Any substantial body of knowledge will quickly grow and become unwieldy. So, we need to divide it up… into Knowledge Areas. These are domains of knowledge that together form the whole body of knowledge.
Necessarily, these domains will interact and overlap. The skill of carving up a body of knowledge into sensible and useful knowledge areas is to make the set of all KAs ‘MECE’.
So, what is MECE?
MECE stands for ‘Mutually Exclusive and Completely Exhaustive’.
As I said, any domains of knowledge within one discipline – especially a complex one like Project Management – must overlap and interact. However, the goal must be to try and define a set where each is as self-contained as possible. Ideally, knowledge within one knowledge area will not need to appear anywhere else. That’s an ideal!
This is less of an ideal. It’s more of a requirement, if you want a comprehensive body of knowledge. Between them, your set of Knowledge Areas must cover everything that someone will need to know. Otherwise, your final Body of Knowledge will not be complete.
The Necessary Reality of MECE Knowledge Areas
Because Project Management is a large and complex discipline, the reality is that our KAs do overlap. And they cut across the stages of a project and its processes. By the way, stages and processes are different even though the process groups in the PMBOK Guide and PRINCE2 often have names that sound like stages!
It’s also a sad reality that no methodology or Body of Knowledge document can be completely exhaustive The PMBOK Guide certainly is not, and neither is the APMBoK nor the PRINCE2 manual, ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’. The latter, by the way, does not attempt to be a body of knowledge – although it is a substantial set of PM knowledge.
The PMI’s PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas
For many project managers, the term ‘Knowledge Area’ is uniquely linked to the PMI’s PMBOK Guide. Indeed, the 10 Knowledge Areas occupy 65 percent of the 6th Edition. There, PMI define KA’s:
A Knowledge Area is an identified area of project management defined by its knowledge requirements and described in terms of its component processes, practices, input, outputs, tools, and techniques.A Guide to the Project Management ody of Knowledge, Sixth Edition
What I note from this definition is the intimate link that PMI draws between Knowledge Areas and…
Although Knowledge Areas and Process Groups are distinct in the PMBOK Guide and cut across one-another in a matrix form (see below). There is no other indication that processes in the PMBOK are any the ‘property’ of the KAs than they are of the Process Groups.
The table also introduces the ten KAs, which we’ll look at properly, soon.
Knowledge Areas and Processes
There is content in the five PMBOK Guide chapters on Process Groups that is not in the 10 Knowledge Area chapters. This means that the 10 KAs do not contain all of the body of knowledge.
Think about the requirement ‘Completely Exhaustive’. This means, to nit-pick, that any logical, non-PMI-specific interpretation would have the Process Groups as knowledge areas. (I used lower-case to deliberately distinguish the generic term from the PMBOK Guide’s usage.)
PMBOK ITTOs – Inputs, Tools and Techniques, and Outputs
ITTOs are a framework the PMBOK has used for many years. They contain the bulk of the knowledge about ‘how to do’ project management.
If you like this video and also want a short (2 minute) video describing the PMBOK Guide’s definitions of Input, Tool, Technique, and Output, check out ‘What are ITTOs Part 2: Definitions’.
How do Other Bodies of Knowledge and Methodologies Treat Knowledge Areas?
The Association for Project management (APM) also publishes a Body of Knowledge, the APMBoK. This takes a very different approach to the PMBOK.
It seems more comprehensive in the breadth of its coverage, though far less so in-depth. Rather, it uses references to a huge number of other resources to provide the depth. It also organizes the knowledge in a very different way (see our article for the detail).
The four Chapters represent big themes:
- Setting up for Success
- Preparing for Change
- People and Behaviours
- Planning and Managing Deployment
These each contain three sections, that, to me, seem to be the APMBoK’s knowledge areas. Each one has between 5 and 10 subsections, detailing that knowledge area.
APMBoK Knowledge Areas
If my interpretation is reasonable, the 12 knowledge areas of the APMBoK are:
- Implementing Strategy
- Life Cycle Options and Choices
- Establishing Governance and Oversight
- Shaping the Early Life Cycle (overlap with #1?)
- Assurance, Learning and Maturity (two here, surely)
- Transition into Use
- Engaging Stakeholders
- Leading Teams
- Working Professionally (a bit of a portmanteau)
- Defining Outputs
- Integrated Planning
- Controlling Deployment
PRINCE2 has 7 Processes, 7 Themes, and 7 Principles. The themes are the most like the PMI’s and APM’s knowledge areas. However, the PRINCE2 Manual, ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’, is full of project management knowledge. So, by my definition, the principles and processes must also be knowledge areas!
However, the seven PRINCE2 Themes are:
- Business case
Learn More about PRINCE2
- I Want to Study for PRINCE2
This is a roadmap and guide to all of our free and paid resources. The other links below are here for convenience. They are among the many in the roadmap
- PRINCE2 Certification: Everything you Need to Know
- PMO or PRINCE2? Unraveling the Knot.
The 10 PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas
Let’s start with a list of the 10 PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas:
- Integration Management
- Scope Management
- Schedule Management
- Cost Management
- Quality Management
- Resource Management
- Communications Management
- Risk Management
- Procurement Management
- Stakeholder Management
The PMBOK guide Sequence of Knowledge Areas
This sequence seems to me to have nothing to commend it. It is not alphabetical (in English anyway). And, neither is it in any logical order that I can discern. Maybe the decision was because all are free-standing from one-another and equally important. So, a random order was best. I simply cannot say why the authors chose this order and not any other.
All I can tell you is that it matches (with a few minor terminology changes) the order of the 9 Knowledge Areas in the first edition (1996). The tenth, Stakeholder Management, appeared in the 5th edition (2013).
The Project Integration Management Problem
There are many people who find this knowledge area confusing, unnecessary. Some even don’t like it. I think it deserves its place on the list. But I would put it last (rather than first). Because this is the Knowledge Area that ties everything else together. It seems to be harder to understand upfront. But it’s easier once you have all of the other knowledge under your belt.
But, if you argue that this is the framework within which all of the other KAs and Process Groups fall, so it should come first… Well, I can respect that argument too.
Remembering them in Sequence
If you are studying for your PMP or CAPM exam, you may want to memorize the ten PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas. If so, there are many mnemonics (memory aids) out there. Some are good and some are bad. And some seem to me to be harder to remember than the original list!
To avoid picking and stealing someone else’s, here is my own. I suggest you make up one for yourself, as the best way to memorize them.
I suddenly stopped chasing Queen Rosalind. Courtiers run pretty swiftly.Mnemonic for: Integration, Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, Stakeholder. Note that the word Rosalind is longer than the word run. And Courtiers begins with ‘Co’.
Let’s work our way through the ten Knowledge Areas.
Project Integration Management
This is the Knowledge Area that covers the coordination and integration of all of your project management knowledge. The processes, tools, methods…
To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Tailoring in this one.
Our resources on Project Integration Management are:
Project Scope Management
This covers the scope of the work you need to carry out and the products (deliverables) you need to deliver. It also covers the all-important change control processes that manage shifts in scope throughout the life of your project.
Our resources on Project Scope Management are:
- What is Project Scope? | Video
- Project Scope: What you need to Know
- Scope Management Plan: Everything You Need to Know
Project Schedule Management
This is the time-based planning and management knowledge area. It’s also where you need to understand programmatic logic. So, it includes knowledge about dependencies and constraints.
Our resources on Project Schedule Management are:
- Project Scheduling: Your Essential Guide
- Three videos, answering What are…
- Are You Making Proper Use of Dependencies and Constraints?
- Project Planning Process – How to Build Effective Project Plans | Video
- Project Planning Process: Navigate the Many Steps You Need
- What is Milestone Planning? | Video
- Milestone or Deadline? What’s the Difference? | Video
Project Cost Management
This covers everything from the first estimates of cost,
- through budgeting,
- cost control, and
- to finalizing project accounts.
Our resources on Project Cost Management are:
- Project Cost Management – The Essential Things to Know and Do
- How to Deliver Effective Project Cost Management | Video
- Project Financial Management – 5 Tips for Good Cost Control | Video
Project Quality Management
From the design of your project to the sign-off of its deliverables, you have an obligation to get the quality right. This knowledge area gives you the understanding and tools to do it.
Our resources on Project Quality Management are:
Project Resources Management
In the original versions of the PMBOK Guide, this was focused on Human Resources. Now, it covers all aspects of all forms of resources.
To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Project Organization in this one.
Our resources on Project Resources Management are:
- Project Resource Management: A Comprehensive Guide [Part 1]
- Project Human Resource Management: A Complete Primer [Part 2]
- What is Resource Levelling? | Video
Project Communications Management
This focuses on the management of project information. It’s everything from what messages and documents to create to how to store them. And everything in between, like design, dissemination, and version control.
Our resources on Project Communications Management are:
- How to Get Project Communications Management Right… Every Time
- How to Build a Great Project Communications Plan | Video
- Challenging Communication Tips for Better Project Communication | Video
- Visual Communication for Better Project Results
- Communication Skills for Project Managers | The Best Books
- Great Team Communication. The 10 Commandments
Project Risk Management
Projects are inherently risky. So, risk management is one of the first knowledge areas people think of. Indeed, it is very much a specialist project management discipline in its own right.
To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Issue Management in this one.
Our resources on Project Risk Management are:
- What is Project Risk Management? | Video
- Hear Risk Management Explained on this short Podcast
- Ultimate Guide to Project Risk Management
- Project Risk Management. How to Manage Project Risk | Video
- Risk Management – 5 Tips to do it right | Video
- What is Risk Tolerance? | Video
- 10 Step Risk Management Kick-off for Your Project
- Indispensable Guide to the Sources of Project Risk
- The Project Manager’s Guide to Simple Risk Analysis
- Risk Response Strategies. Full & Revised Roundup
- How to Build a Robust Project Risk Culture [8 Steps]
Project Procurement Management
Projects need resources and you need to buy them. That’s what procurement management is all about. Everything from selection to purchase to managing the contractual relationships.
To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Contract Management in this one.
Our resources on Project Procurement Management are:
Project Stakeholder Management
The only one of the ten KAs that was not in the original PMBOK Guide back in 1996, stakeholder engagement appeared in the fifth edition. That was one hell of an omission (and there are more coming up, below).
Our resources on Project Stakeholder Management are:
- What is Stakeholder Management? | Video
- Project Stakeholder Management Knowledge Area. A Guide to Stakeholder Engagement
- Stakeholder Leadership. Leading Bystanders as well as Followers
- Stakeholder Engagement Tips: 5 Tips For Project Managers | Video
- Do You Know the Top 20 Techniques for Stakeholder Analysis?
- This Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies will Power You up
- How to Plan Your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign
- 4 Steps to Engage Difficult Stakeholders
- How to Handle Stakeholder Objections
- Good Customer Service. How to Keep Your Client and Stakeholders Happy
- The Game of Projects. How to Win at Project Politics
- Podcast: Politics and Stakeholders
Other Primary Knowledge Areas
PMI is not the sole authority on project management. And their Body of Knowledge is not complete. Here are my thoughts about primary Knowledge Areas I’d like to see included among their existing ten.
There is woefully little reference to and even less guidance about governance in the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition. To my mind, this is an absolutely vital knowledge area for project managers to learn and understand.
Our resources on Project Governance are:
- What is Project Governance? | Video
- What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]
- 5 Project Governance Tips | Video
- What are Stage Gates or Gateways? | Video
- Why the Stage Gate Process will Make You a Better Project Manager
- How to Run an Effective Stage Gate Review | Video
- Do You Know What your Project Sponsor Wants?
- Eight Approaches to Engage Your Project Sponsor
- A Difficult Project Sponsor. How to Handle Them [6 Different Types]
- Rogue Project Sponsor. What to Do when Sponsorship goes Bad
Leadership is rising up the Project management agenda. It’s been important for as long as I can remember and more. But with the new PMI PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO), and their Talent Triangle, PMI is now taking it seriously. It’s time to bring leadership to the forefront.
Our resources on Project Leadership are:
- Project Manager or Project Leader? What’s the Difference?
- What is Situational Leadership? | Video
- How to Get the Best from Your Project Team with Situational Leadership
- The Four Essentials of Project Team Leadership
- LEAD: Your Four Project Leadership Priorities
- What is Servant Leadership? Project Leadership at its Best | Video
- Project Leadership Wisdom. Your Guide to the Seven Pillars
- Get Better Project Results with Personal Leadership
- Three Project Leadership Challenges for Tough Times [and what to do]
- What is Transformational Leadership? | Video
- How Coaching Skills will Make You a Better Project Leader
- What does Cross-Cultural Leadership Mean for Project Managers?
- High Profile Projects. How to Lead a Project with a Massive Public Profile
- Stakeholder Leadership. Leading Bystanders as well as Followers
- Book Review: Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani
Project Benefits Management
Project Benefits Management is just emerging into the conversation. We all know the importance of a business case to establish the value proposition of their project. And Program Managers have been practicing Benefits Management since the mid-1990s. But for us, as Project managers, this is still new. And I am still working on a comprehensive article!
Our resources on Project Benefits Management are:
- What is Benefits Management? | Video
- What is a Business Case? | Video
- Great Big Guide to the Project Business Case
- Project Business Case. Write an Effective Project Proposal | Video
Project Progress Management
Bothe PMI, in its PMBOK Guide, and PRINCE2 have Monitoring and Controlling as a process. So, I don’t say they miss this. But, in our listing of Knowledge Areas, we must acknowledge this as a clear skill-set. And therefore, treat it as a Knowledge Area.
Our resources on Project Progress Management are:
Project Knowledge Management
This could form part of Project Communications Management. But the whole discipline of:
- managing, and
- maintaining under strict version control the vast archives of data that large projects spawn
is a huge one. And then there are data security and knowledge sharing. I think there is enough here to merit a separate Knowledge Area in itself.
Secondary Knowledge Areas
These last few suggestions are not core to the day-to-day job of Project Management. So, I have labeled them as secondary Knowledge Areas. But they are all important areas of knowledge for a Project Manager to master. Especially if you aspire to make a long-term and senior-level career from the profession.
Project Management Approaches and Life Cycles: Agile, Predictive, and Hybrid
Maybe this is core. But for some Project managers today, you will stick with one methodology and that’s all you’ll need. But I do think that, for full credibility at a senior level, you need a good working knowledge of multiple project paradigms. And you need the ability to select and hybridize from among them to find the best approach for the project at hand.
All the references above here are about predictive (traditional) project management. So, our resources on Project Approaches and Life Cycles Management are all about Agile Project Management:
- I want to study Agile Project Management
This is our roadmap and guide to our free and paid resources.
The resources below are selected from among those that the roadmap links to.
- What is Agile Project Management? | Video
- What is Agile and Why is it Important to Project Managers?
- Agile vs Waterfall. Which one is Right for Your Project?
- Agile Principles. The 12 Keys to Adaptive Project Management
Project Management Software Tools
I would never expect any project manager to be familiar with every tool. And I don’t consider this Knowledge Area to be about detailed knowledge of any one tool. Rather, this is about an understanding of:
- the range of tools available
- what these tools can do
- approaches to tool selection
- good practices in implementing and using them
Project Context: Business Acumen
Business acumen is about understanding the wider contexts in which your projects sit.
Are There any Other Knowledge Areas?
I have worked hard to draw the balance between:
- Not missing any areas of project knowledge that are truly essential. Whether to all or the vast majority of project managers, and
- Creating loads of small or insignificantly niche knowledge areas that can easily be wrapped into others.
But that is not to say I have got the balance right. Nor that I haven’t missed something important. So, please do tell us what you think, below. As usual, I’ll respond to all comments.