The New ISO 21500:2012 Guide to Project Management

The New ISO 21500:2012 Guide to Project Management

A new guide by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for project management was finalized and published.  It is listed as the “ISO 21500:2012 – Guidance on Project Management” which can be purchased here.

The ISO sites this rationale for developing and releasing the guide:

ISO 21500 provides high-level description of concepts and processes that are considered to form good practice in project management. New project managers as well as experienced managers will be able to use the project management guidance in this standard to improve project success and achieve business results…

Additional benefits of ISO 21500 include:

  • Encourage transfer of knowledge between projects and organizations for improved project delivery
  • Facilitate efficient tendering processes through the use of consistent project management terminology
  • Enable the flexibility of project management employees and their ability to work on international projects
  • Provide universal project management principles and processes

With frameworks, practices and methods such as the PMBOK guide, Prince 2, etc. already widely adopted and standard in many organizations around the world, why would the ISO work over 5 years to develop their own guide?  Well, since the ISO is the world’s largest and leading organization for standardization, I think they felt they had to have their own standard for this growing and important field.  As they state on their own site, “project management is now big business. According to the Anderson Economic Group study commissioned by the Project Management Institute, over 24.4 million employees were participating in projects in 11 major economies in 2006. By 2016, this demand will exist to support 32.6 million employees in the same countries.”

I don’t have a copy myself, but the Ten Six consulting site outlines how similar it is to the PMBOK guide.  For example, there seems to be a nearly one to one mapping of the ISO 21500 and PMBOK processes:



  Initiating   Initiating
  Planning   Planning
  Implementing   Executing
  Controlling   Monitoring and Controlling
  Closing   Closing

The differences are very minimal with only the names being different in two processes.  This should not be surprising, since even PMI’s site states that it “acknowledged the release of the new ISO 21500 global project management standard today and commended its alignment with PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), the oldest and most widely used formal global project management standard.PMI played a leadership role in the development of ISO 21500, serving as Secretariat of the ISO Committee during the five-year process.  Several PMI documents were used as its foundation, including Chapter 3 and the glossary from the PMBOK® Guide.”

So what does this mean for the practicing project manager looking to keep up with the latest and the greatest?  The bad is that you have to know and learn about yet another PM standard, process and BOK.  The good is that the field has become so popular that another standards organization felt compelled to develop its own standard which was over 5 years in the making.

To me it’s another indication of the growth of this profession and industry and I welcome it and will explore it more.

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