The launch of The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition brought with it some big changes.
With a shift from being process-led to becoming more principle based, the focus of The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition is now much more about the whats than the hows of successful project management.
With this change also comes the incorporation of agile, iterative, and hybrid workflows that span the multiple industries that project managers work across.
Along with the 12 project delivery principles that guide how to execute a project - the 8 project performance domains further guide behaviors and best practices.
In fact, you’ll find some noticeable similarities between the 12 principles and the 8 domains. These similarities serve to emphasize both their importance and relevance for project management success.
Project performance domains replace what were previously known as knowledge areas.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project performance domains as “a group of related activities that are critical for the effective delivery of project outcomes.” In other words, project performance domains are essential activities that ensure successful projects.
Designed to work together throughout your project, these project performance domains are less concerned about rigid processes, and more about guiding your behaviors and practices for the desired outcomes.
Whether you’re studying for your PMP certification, or currently in the middle of a project, these domains help you to focus on the things that lead to success.
This article explores each of the 8 project performance domains with expert thoughts on what the domains mean and insights into how they can be used in real life scenarios to manage project performance. Helping to develop your understanding to study for the PMP certification exam.
Don’t worry, lots of it is what you already know, and there are tips throughout to help you apply your knowledge to the exam.
“It is essential to note that all performance domains must always be considered within the scope of a project. Since there are multiple interdependencies between the Performance Domains, none of them can exist in isolation and independently of the others.”
- Markus Kopko, Project Management Plus
The Stakeholder domain goes beyond any immediate team members to include the wider stakeholder community. Covering everyone involved in the project, this domain encourages you to focus on engaging and collaborating with these stakeholders for effective decision making.
“For me, this is the most important domain as without people, there is no project.” says Elizabeth Harrin, author of Engaging Stakeholders: How to Harness People Power.
“Project managers need to engage with stakeholders across the life of the project to ensure that they know why we are doing the work, what needs to be done, and how they can contribute… In practical terms, this means carrying out stakeholder identification, looking at how stakeholders can contribute to project success, regular meetings and keeping the communication channels open.”
As Elizabeth goes on to say, “Working with stakeholders is an active state, not something that can be done once and forgotten.”
“Project managers have to deliver to stakeholders' expectations,” says Dr Raman K Attri from XPert Research.
“Consider how the project management deliverables could impact stakeholders. And decide the type of communication style required to work effectively with each,” he adds.
As well as setting and managing expectations, project managers are also expected to speak their language.
“You need to negotiate with the decision-makers, navigate the complexity of decisions and meet competing or even conflicting expectations.” adds Dr Attri. “Show partnership with stakeholders to execute the project to success.”
Project performance metrics for stakeholders tend to be difficult to gather, but there are ways to do it. “Look into Net Promoter Score,” suggests Elizabeth “Surveys and informal conversations are also ways to measure how people feel about how the work is being run so you can change up what you are doing to keep it effective.”
“This domain revolves around taking care of everyone involved in the project,” says Antje Lehmann-Benz from Antje Lehmann Training & Consulting.
“Not only the team and all the people hoping to get results from them. But also, often forgotten stakeholders such as legal entities or people who are in some way affected by the result of a project.”
She adds, “The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition talks about Stakeholder Engagement and not Stakeholder Management anymore, which is important. While we might be able to manage their expectations to a certain degree, we cannot manage them as people – but we can engage them to bring about better outcomes.”
Agreeing with Elizabeth, Antje goes on to say, “Stakeholders need to be thoroughly identified and taken care of in an iterative way throughout a project – once is not enough. They can also change, and in some cases (e.g., with key stakeholders), such a change has a deep impact.”
When it comes to the exam take a close look at what is meant by stakeholders in the questions, “People may use the word differently.” says Oliver Lehmann MSc, ACE, PMP:
“Stakeholders can mean different things in each project. It could be those who simply have an investment in the project, those who are active participants or have claims to the project, or those who interact and exert influence over the project. It also includes the Scrum - those that stakeholders develop a product for – that need to be factored in. Remember, some may have been ‘selected’ as stakeholders - with a ‘vested’ interest - and those not selected may feel rejected which can cause issues.”
The Team domain covers everything related to the people who are doing the work on the project, and their associated team members. A successful team will work together to deliver the objectives and deliverables of the project.
“Whatever target your project has to achieve, it always starts with building the team.” says Herbert Gonder from Gondor Consulting.
But he also points out, “Naming them ‘team’ may be too much at the beginning of the cooperation, it may be just a group of people.”
“As the project manager, your role is to ensure the team grows into a group that works together effectively.” says Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, and Founder of the Project Management PrepCast.
And it’s an ongoing process he says, “Take a look at The Tuckman Ladder to see the stages a team would normally go through on its journey through the life cycle.”
“Trust-building and empowerment is essential for team leaders to get results from a project.” reminds Antje Lehmann Benz. “Teams might be a small number of people or a huge group. But by respecting the characteristics of each team you enable them to work together effectively.”
A further dimension to the Teams domain is highlighted by Dr Penny Pullan, author of Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for success with remote or hybrid work and teams (2nd Edition, Kogan Page, 2022) who highlights, “The nature of project teams has shifted since lockdowns. Projects often now need to be delivered through fully remote or hybrid teams. What's important is to ensure that teams can work together effectively whether they are in the same office or not.
The project manager needs to be a facilitator: able to engage people across a dispersed network to collaborate creatively. Ensuring a level playing field across remote and in-person team members, so no one is left out in the cold.”
Performance measurement for teams can feel quite subjective. Daily stand-up meetings or team surveys can check how people are feeling. And many agile retrospective tools include informal ‘check-in’ questions so that you can sample the mood of the team.
Tip: Previous students tell us there are often role-related questions on the test. So, use a PMP practice exam like the PMP Exam Simulator that includes plenty of test questions to check your understanding of roles including Scrum Master and project manager before your exam day.
Contemporary project management has moved on from the traditional agile or waterfall opposition - and The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition supports this by moving away from processes to the importance of tailoring - so there is now a whole performance domain related to the development approach and life cycle.
Today, you are just as likely to find businesses running hybrid projects, projects with phases and stages, as well as teams using predictive and adaptive approaches.
The development approach you choose influences both how the activity is run and the cadence of delivery.
But as Antje reminds us, “One size does not fit all: project management should be situational, and each project warrants the type of development, overall approach, and life cycle that fits best.”
A successful life cycle will be one where each phase connects and delivers value from beginning to end and that’s where tailoring comes in.
“Every project is, by definition, individual and different from other projects,” says Markus Kopko PMP, from Project Management Plus.
“Tailoring allows you to adapt and bring in new ideas and practices that perfectly fit the influencing factors of the project, such as company culture, people, results, resources, and politics.“
Performance measurement for the life cycle tend to simply be a reflection on whether the right approach has been chosen for the deliverables.
“As a project manager, it’s important to assess delivery expectations from the client, market dynamics, and nature of work upfront as these can influence which development approach you go for - which will also help you to make early project decisions for other domains.” says Shiv Shenoy, PMP, author of the ‘Ace your PMP Exam’ series.
There are several types of PMP exam questions that reflect different life cycles, so it’s really important to understand those for the test. “Students tell us that you may have to work out the approach from the scenario in the question, and that’s a lot easier to do if you have studied this domain,” says Cornelius Fichtner.
Planning is a giant topic with whole books written on the subject. But this domain helps you to focus on setting up for a successful outcome through a structured approach to working out what needs to be done.
There’s no requirement to use one particular planning approach. Instead, there are lots of ways to organize work and activities from the very beginning of the idea through to achieving the outcomes, and celebrating a job well done.
Some work requires a lot of planning; other initiatives can be planned in a morning. Sometimes plans change frequently; sometimes your original plan stands firm and can be used throughout the project.
But planning is more than simply knowing the dates. It’s also about knowing how the work is going to be done, and that might include a project performance plan, which is a way of ensuring you are on track to deliver something of value.
“The focus has shifted from using planning as a means of controlling project outcomes, to planning as a means to deliver the most value,” says Cornelius Fichtner.
“When I originally started in project management, planning was usually a massive, upfront effort used to ‘control’ the overall project. Everything needed to be written down in stone as a baseline. This meant that if a change request was received, then the content of the request, as well as the ‘sanity’ of the requestor, would be questioned. Statements like ‘Why didn't you think of this earlier?’ or ‘We can't implement this now, it's far too late’ were common.
And whilst planning everything early on worked relatively well for ‘slow-moving’ physical projects (say in construction) and even for early IT projects on centralized mainframes - it soon became clear that we needed a different approach. The constant friction between customers changing their minds and us ‘refusing’ to accept and implement these changes often led to frustration and failed projects.”
Fast forward to today and “...the world of project planning has fundamentally changed. Ongoing, iterative, or rolling wave planning are the norm.” adds Cornelius.
In contemporary projects, planning is no longer something that is only done as a big effort upfront. “Instead, we accept that the project environment is in constant flux and that we need to be prepared to plan and replan on an ongoing basis to account for evolving and maturing customer needs and expectations.”
When planning projects, and preparing for your PMP exam, it’s helpful to understand and consider the following:
When it comes to measuring the success of planning a project, “there are different ways to evaluate project tasks from a high-level perspective” says Ryan Fyfe, COO of Workpuls, Inc. Consider these questions:
The Project Work domain covers everything that’s involved with ensuring projects can operate within the organization.
“The project work gets done by the team – so these two domains work together. A happy, effective, and high-performing team will do better project work,” says Antje-Lehmann Benz.
This domain touches on the processes for running projects, resource management, and creating a culture of project delivery within the organization - by making sure that project managers have the option to learn from each other and from their projects.
And it’s where strategic alignment plays a big part. If you have a PMO, their work will shape this domain. From choosing the right project performance metrics to making sure you have the available resources to deliver this year’s strategic priorities, there’s a lot to consider if your organization wants to achieve its goals.
Ask questions like, “Do we have the capability, or do we need external help for the project work?” says Shiv Shenoy, PMP. “You’ll get some important insights by asking this at the beginning of your project.”
The Delivery domain helps teams to understand and carry out the business objectives of the current project efficiently. And it’s the domain that links business strategy to project results.
That’s why for many project managers, this is their favorite domain because they get to do what love best - delivering outcomes and seeing the results of their labor.
And by delivering the right things, we can help organizations move closer to their overall goals.
So, what does that look like?
“Getting stakeholders involved is crucial for making sure the team delivers the right outcomes,” says Elizabeth Harrin. “When people feel involved, they are more likely to take action, make timely decisions and provide feedback that helps shape the project in a positive way.”
Shane Drumm of Agile Project Manager agrees, “The one and only rule for managing stakeholders is no surprises.”
This means constant communication is important. “Pro-active communication is critical to a project's success. Creating a stakeholder register with an engagement matrix can help formalize communication to avoid sporadic updates. Regardless of the approach it should be clear to all what they can expect and when.” he adds.
When considering this domain, think about how you can run the project in the best possible way, given the strategic objectives and corporate aims.
For example, it might be advantageous to stagger delivery and release incremental updates at various stages to capture value as early as possible in the life cycle.
Or, the right thing to do might be to bundle up changes and release them together as part of a structured organizational initiative.
And there can be significant benefits to this as Antje Lehmann-Benz highlights,
“…nowadays, iterative-incremental delivery is getting more and more the norm. If done right and with the appropriate quality, frequent and early delivery can allow for fast feedback, quick adaptation to changes, and success moments for the team.”
TIP: Think about benefits tracking and how to make sure it is possible to realize and record what the project has achieved, long after you have moved on to other tasks.
Measuring project performance is essential if you want to know how the work is progressing.
However, project performance measurement gives us much more information than simply are we on track?
Measures like Cost Performance Index to and Schedule Performance Index provide detailed information that helps teams understand whether they are ahead or behind plan, and crucially, helps them pinpoint why that might be.
“Earned Value Management was developed in 1966 and it is still required for the PMP exam,” says Cornelius Fichtner.
“I created the first video on EVM about 12 years ago and if you watched that video today, it would still be relevant for exam prep.”
Part of project management is ensuring that you select the right approaches for measuring performance - and taking corrective action when the performance you see is not aligned to what was planned.
Earned value metrics are definitely a useful part of that and getting back on track is an important part of this domain.
Of course, projects can be measured in a lot of different ways, as Elizabeth Harrin points out,
“In my experience, how project managers measure success is often different to how customers measure success. Take the Sydney Opera House for example: it’s widely considered a project management failure as it was overbudget and took so long, but what would the city skyline look like without it? As a landmark and a legacy, it has been a huge success.”
Elizabeth goes on to say, “I tend to measure projects by how the customer or stakeholder rates success. When you ask customers what is important to them, you get clarity about what they value and that helps make project decisions later. For example, on one project we knew it was OK to deliver later than expected as long as the output was top quality, and we kept them informed every step of the way. I was surprised they didn’t seem worried about deadlines, but a quality result was more important than hitting an arbitrary date for this project.”
This domain is all about understanding variances - and making sure the team is acting on the information.
“A high-performing team is one who consistently delivers clearly defined goals.” says Shane Drumm of Agile Project Manager.
“Just because a team doesn't argue or have personality clashes but simply gets on with the job at a steady rate, doesn’t make them high-performing.”
Teams need to focus on whether what they’re doing will result in a good outcome: an on time, on budget delivery that meets the client’s expectations (or whatever success criteria or key performance indicators you have decided on during the planning).
And if goals are not being delivered, then measurement data allows you to change how the team is working, giving the project more chance of delivering what is required within the current constraints.
You could argue that all projects must navigate through uncertainty, and that would be true.
“Project managers walk into the unknown with each new project.” says Harry Hall, PMP, PMI-RMP of the Project Risk Coach.
We can’t predict the future, so you don’t know what’s coming next. Your project could go smoothly, or there might be a big market or company upheaval that requires many changes.
And there could be uncertainty within the work too. You might not know exactly what the product is going to look like when you start building it, or the subject matter may be entirely new to you.
“Project managers have to get comfortable with uncertainty on all levels,” says Elizabeth Harrin.
“I’ve led projects where I wasn’t a subject matter expert, and while you do pick things up quickly, being able to keep focused when you’re uncertain about the topic is a key skill when switching to a new project.”
Uncertainty is a given, but this domain, Elizabeth says, “Is more about being able to plan for uncertainty, accept it, and embrace the change management process when you have to accommodate changes to the plan.”
Jeff Furman, Senior PMP Project Management Instructor PMP®, PMI-ACP®, PMI-ATP® highlights that, “Successful Project Managers are always on the lookout for uncertain events that can threaten their project.”
He adds that “Most unknowns are known. So, think about the advance indications of the possibility,” to help minimize any impact.
As well as risk management processes, there are other ways of dealing with an uncertain situation, such as by phasing delivery to spread the risk.
As a team, work together to establish what uncertainty your deliverables are facing and then consider how best to manage that. You may choose to avoid some uncertainty and embrace others.
“When developing the habit of concentrating on the risks that matter most, you will start getting more done than any two or three project managers around you,” adds Harry Hall, Founder of the Project Risk Coach.
“Use your risk analysis threshold to determine which risks merit a response. For example, all risks with a risk score of 20 or greater are urgent risks that require a risk owner and response plan.” he adds.
Harry also recommends to:
Finally, Jeff adds that as a project manager you may often be asked, “Why spend money on threats that may not occur? But it’s important to remember the cost of a disaster is often many times greater than the small spend that could have prevented it.”
Being able to manage project performance is important because it’s a key way to know how things are going.
These project management performance domains allow us to reflect on progress in different ways and to ensure we are always, as project professionals, focusing on what matters most.
They give you a steer as to the most important factors to consider as you lead the work. They’ll also shape how you measure and evaluate the work, from team morale to quality KPIs, hitting milestones, and satisfied clients.
But when it comes to studying for your PMP certification exam it’s important to remember that The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition is only one of the guides recommended for learning.
“PMI is slowly starting to add questions about principles from The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition, but questions about processes are still from the Sixth (mostly because processes are not discussed in the Seventh)” Highlights Cornelius.
Learning about project performance domains isn’t just about being ready for your exam though. Knowing how to use these domains to measure performance will of course continue to help you in your day job as a project manager.
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