The Hitchikers Guide to the PMBOK

“The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

cover of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; available on‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, would be over 30 years old today, a phenomenon born in London around the same time that the Project Management Institute (PMI) was created in a kitchen in Philadelphia. The four books in the Adams trilogy became so universally famous, that they were frequently shortened to simply, ‘The Guide.’

One wonders what Douglas Adams, or more interestingly, one of his amazing characters would make of the current version 4 of the PMBOK® Guide?

His terrific intellect, sharp sense of humour and strong science background allowed him, before his untimely death in 2001, to tackle a wide range of topics from a ‘universal’ perspective. Perhaps he would even have stretched all Project Management standards into areas beyond the reach of their contributors.

Adams had brilliant ideas about our physical universe, expounded by the twin headed ‘ Zaphod Beeblebrox’,  the nerdy ‘Ford Prefect,’ the amazing ‘Marvin the Paranoid Android,’ and several others. He helped many people, including the eminent scientist, Richard Dawkins, to make sense of this complex world and also to just simply enjoy the humor in his stories, as a way to get through a frustrating day.

He wrote in a time before Dilbert, The Simpsons and The Office – but his books and quotes are still as readable today as when he first created them. One of the most famous ideas from the original book is the answer given by ‘Deep Thought,’ the biggest computer in the universe, to the question – ‘What is the answer to life, the universe and everything?’ If you remember the book well, you would know that the answer was an illuminating – ‘42’.

Perhaps, as a project management community, we are finally coming close to the answer to our own universal question – “How do we get something big done in this complex world of ours?

As many old timers reading this blog will know, the first PMBOK in 1996 had 37 steps and Version 2 in 2001 had 39 steps. Version 3 in 2005 increased the number of steps to 44 and now finally Version 4, 2009 has reduced the steps and appears to have aligned with the answer to ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’.

And so finally, our PMBOK® has 42 steps too.

Could there be a fellow hitchhiker deep inside the organization of the PMI? Or is it perhaps a belated coincidental example of the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive,’ that Adams used to power his ships across the galaxies.

Perhaps if we look deeper into the ‘tools and techniques’ sections of the individual  PMBOK® steps we will find a mirror to ‘the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster,’ a drink with the alcoholic equivalent to being mugged. It certainly could have uses in the HR area. Maybe we could also find something like ‘The Total Perspective Vortex,’ which humbled all great men except Zaphod himself. It would come in handy during the stakeholder analysis.

The ‘Point of View Gun,’ which does exactly what it says on the label might be useful during the ‘Collect Requirements’ step. Perhaps we should even copy the transient idea of renaming our elevators to ‘Happy Vertical People Transporters’. Altering our vocabulary would make a nice diversion if included in our bullet ridden, PowerPoint driven, status reports.

A ‘Crisis Inducer’ would certainly come in useful during the ‘Acquire the Team’ step, as would a ‘Thinking Cap’ (lemon powered), during the decision making part of the ‘Define the Scope’ step. And finally before I go absolutely crazy here, we should consider the use of ‘Vogon Poetry,’ or at least the threat to use it, as an acceptable form of torture in ‘Manage the Team,’ and ‘Manage the Stakeholders’ steps.

I hope that this article inspires you to read any of the 4 books in the Hitchhiker trilogy, or at the very least to look at our PMBOK® Version 4 in a new light.


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