The Periodic Table of Project Management

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This article will discuss the field of project management and different ways used to divide the field into smaller parts in order to obtain good oversight in projects. The possibility to make a periodic table for project management to acquire oversight in projects will be explored and two different versions of tables for project management will be presented. The periodic table of project management competence elements developed by the international project management association (IPMA) and the periodic table of project elements developed by Dr. Mike Clayton. The most famous periodic table is the periodic table of chemical elements that has been used and developed for 150 years. The biggest reason for its success is that it is useful for both scientists and modern students as it helps to predict the types of chemical reactions for its elements. Only by looking at the table many characteristics of elements can be determined which is one of the key factors for its wide usage all over the world. With this much success of one periodic table, it raises the question if this could be done for other fields to simplify the content and display it in a table where a glance would tell several characteristics of the content (elements). The article will first discuss project management and two different methods (standards) that are used to divide the field of project management up in order to get an overview of a project. Next, the periodic table of chemical elements and the reasons for its wide distribution and usage across the globe will be explored and finally, are two periodic tables of project management examined. [1]

Project Management

Projects are a valuable component to increase profits and benefits in organizations. The modern world is changing rapidly, and managers need to be able to stay on top with less budget and shorter timelines. Therefore, are companies embracing project management to remain competitive, staying consistent and deliver business values. In order for projects to succeed a certain number of factors have to be fulfilled and depending on the project along with its requirements, the factors can vary between projects. Each project is considered to have six performance aspects, often called the six vital signs, that need to be managed. The aspects are costs, time, quality, scope, risk, and benefits. The goal of project management is to meet project requirements by applying knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities. It is necessary to accomplish appropriate application and integration of the processes identified for the project which enables the execution to become effective and efficient. To be able to deliver the desired results standards are used to guide the project manager/team in the right direction by covering all the aspects of a project. Two project management standards will be examined with a focus on how the field of project management can be divided into sections to facilitate and simplify the work for management teams. [2][3]

The Project Management Knowledge Areas

The project management institute (PMI) standard divides project management into 10 areas of specialization which are generally used when managing projects. Each area has a distinct topic within project management that contains a set of processes. In the standard it is mentioned that the knowledge areas are used on most projects most of the time however, as each project is unique, it may require an additional knowledge area depending on the project. This demonstrates that the standard tries to cover all projects with the knowledge areas, but it is in the hands of project managers to identify relevant knowledge areas for their projects. The 10 project management knowledge areas covered in the PMI standard are:[2]

Project integration management
This category contains the processes and activities to define and coordinate various elements of a project. This topic includes characteristics of unification, consolidation, communication, and interrelationship. All of the actions need to be applied from the beginning of a project and until it is completed. Examples of decisions that need to be made in this category are resource allocation, balancing competing demands and examining any alternative approaches.
Project scope management
This category consists of the processes needed to guarantee that all the required work is done in order to complete the project successfully. Additionally, it is ensured that no unnecessary, extra work is done. As a result, are the project boundaries defined. The primary objective is thus to define and control what is included in the project and what is not.
Project schedule management
The category includes the processes to ensure that a project is finished according to schedule. It contains various tools to assist project managers to complete the tasks within the given time frame. Information given in this category is for example how to plan and develop a schedule and how activity resources are estimated.
Project cost management
The category includes all the processes covering costs to guarantee that the project is completed within the provided budget. The costs need to be planned, estimated, financed, funded, managed and controlled in order to succeed.
Project quality management
This category contains the processes where quality policy is incorporated to ensure certain quality within a project. An inevitable expectation towards the quality of a project is within stakeholders who prospect certain results. It is determined how to set up policies and procedures to assure that the work done throughout the project is up to standard and will fulfill the requirements.
Project resource management
The category consists of processes to guarantee the successful completion of a project. This category was previously named project human resource management. Now it covers more resources than only human resources for example facilities, equipment, supplies and more resources necessary in projects. The processes assure the appropriate resources for the project manager and project team at the right time and place.
Project communications management
This category is to ensure suitable ways for information flow within the team and how to collect and manage information concerning the project. The category consists of two parts. The first part is to ensure effective communication by developing a strategy on how to do it for stakeholders. The second part is the execution of the necessary activities to put the communication strategy into effect.
Project risk management
The category includes processes to identify possible risks and monitor them during the project. The objectives are to optimize the possibility of project success by increasing the probability/impact of positive risks and decrease the chances/impact of negative risks. In order to do so, a risk analysis is implemented to identify possible risks to ensure that the project is not harmed.
Project procurement management
This category contains the processes used to purchase or obtain materials, products, services or results from outside the project team. Contracts are made in order to obtain necessary goods and/or services required for a project by authorized personnel, which can be project team members, management, or if applicable to the organization’s purchasing department.
Project stakeholder management
The category includes processes to identify relevant parties of the project and manage their interest and expectations in a project. The relevant parties can impact or be impacted by the project which makes it necessary to analyze their expectations and develop appropriate management strategies in order to get stakeholders to participate in project decisions and execution.

The PRINCE2 Themes

The projects in controlled environments (PRINCE2) standard is a British standard for project management. The method is supposed to be applicable to any project type as it is principle-based which provides a framework for all involved in the project for good practice. Similarly, to the PMI standard does the PRINCE2 standard divide project management into specialization parts. The sections are 7 themes to describe the aspects of project management as the lifecycle of the project is progressed through. Different from the PMI standard, should all the themes be applied in a project. The 7 project management themes covered in the PRINCE2 standard are:[3]

Business case
This section is to decide whether the project is achievable, desirable and viable in order to support the decision to invest in the project or not. In this category, a solid and justified reason is found for the project existence which answers the question of why the decision is taken to execute the project.
In this section, the project team is defined, and the structure of the project’s accountability and responsibilities is determined. All projects require effective control, communication, direction, and management. Establishing and specifying roles and responsibilities from the beginning is an essential element of a project’s success.
The section defines and implements the means to verify that the products in the project are fit for their purpose. This is done to ensure that business expectations are met and the requirements towards the project are fulfilled.
This section determines how to plan, what products need to be created and with what activities. The purpose is to facilitate communication and control to deliver products by defining the means. This information provides a backbone in the management of the project and assists in controlling it in the right direction.
The section defines how to identify, access and control uncertainty in the project in order to improve the project’s ability to succeed. Risks can either have a negative impact on objectives if they occur and are then considered a threat or a positive impact and are then looked as an opportunity. The risks can impact the delivering of an agreed scope and benefits to agreed time, cost and quality which underlines the importance of the section.
In this section decision is made in how to react to any possible changes in the project. A systemic approach is determined in order to identify, assess and control any issues that might result in changes. This is implemented to be able to react and continue with the project and deliver as agreed on despite any changes.
The section determines how progress should be tracked during the project and how it should be managed in order to keep it on track. The actual achievements are measured and compared to the project’s plan. It is crucial to control the progress in order to ensure that the project remains viable to its approved business case.

The Periodic Table

The periodic table of chemical elements often referred to as the periodic table, is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements where the elements are organized in a way that it provides various information about the elements and their properties. The table is divided into groups (columns) and periods (rows) that contain elements with similar characteristics. The periodic table of chemical elements was published in 1869 and has improved a great deal since then. The table had a number of gaps in as the elements had not all been discovered at the time. However, could the table predict the chemical and physical properties of the missing elements which have been added to the table through time and the latest update of the periodic table of chemical elements was made in December 2018 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). [1][4]

The Periodic Table of Project Management Competence Elements

The table made by the International Project Management Association (IPMA) contains 46 elements to illustrate the essential factors for project management. The factors displayed are more than only knowledge factors, they are competence factors that project managers can use to provide confirmation of performance with their portfolio. Competence is a collection of knowledge, skills, personal attitudes and relevant experience that is needed to achieve in project management. The collection differs between diverse projects. In the table, the competence is partitioned into competence ranges. The ranges are dimensions that collectively describe the activity and are relatively independent. In each range are the competence elements aspects that are considered to cover the most important elements for the particular range. The competence ranges are: contextual competence elements, technical competence elements, and behavioral competence elements.[5][6]

Figure 1: The Periodic Table of Project Management Competence Elements [5]

Contextual competence elements
On the left side of the table, the contextual elements are shown in yellow. The elements, which are 11 in total in that range, manage the interaction of the project team within the framework for the project and with the permanent organization. This contributes considerably to provide the competencies needed to overcome the risks in projects. The first five elements in this range (3.01 – 3.05) describe the promotion of project, program and portfolio management in an organization. While the remaining six elements (3.06 – 3.11) define what the distinctive support functions in line organizations must know in relations to projects and what project teams must know about the support functions.

Technical competence elements
In the middle, the key parts of the table, the 20 technical elements, are displayed in purple. The elements manage the matter that the project manager is working on and are needed to start a project, to manage the execution of it and to finish a project. It depends on the project, how important the competence element is in order to succeed. The elements correspond to the project management knowledge areas and are without a doubt essential to any project’s success. Nevertheless, does the table display the competence elements not only the knowledge elements. This category shows that the periodic table is more detailed than the six vital signs, the seven prince2 themes and the ten knowledge areas.

Behavioral competence elements
Finally, the behavioral elements are shown on the right side in green. Those 15 elements handle personal relationships between the individuals and the groups managed in the project. The importance of the elements in this range differs between projects as situations are unique in each project. The elements seem often neglected in project management baselines despite the fact that IPMA considers them to have a greater impact on project success than all the technical elements together. [5][6]

The Role of Knowledge

Figure 2: Six steps to gain the desired results [5]

To seek the desired outcome in a project the performance competence needs to be at its best. The IPMA standard embraces performance competence by moving beyond knowledge. In order to achieve the desired performance in a project the knowledge must be used right and can be demonstrated in steps leading to the performance. With only knowledge, nothing is accomplished even though knowledge is an important foundation. As knowledge is applied, a skill develops, and something gets accomplished during this phase. Skill has a longer lifetime then knowledge and when demonstrated skill is rewarded and recognized the learning tends to move to the next step, attitudes. New learning tends to continue as attitudes are strengthen when rewarded and recognized. Combining attitudes with more soft skill, the behaviors and interpersonal skill, the individual develops along with other new technical skills. When an individual is not able to obtain these skills, it results in people not willing to work with the individual. Focusing only on one new skill without combining it to relevant behavioral elements will not lead to long term success. After acquiring the attitudes and behavioral skills the next step is competence. This skill is measurable in projects, as it is demonstrated by project managers how the combination of knowledge, skill, attitudes, behaviors, and experience has been mastered. Different situations call for different approaches and project managers show their competence by being flexible and adapt that combination accordingly to each project. All these steps are essential inputs for project management success however the ultimate results desired is the project performance which the steps lead to if done according to each project. [5]

The Periodic Table of Project Elements

Another periodic table inside the field of project management is the periodic table of project elements where components in project management are thought of as elements and put in a table.

Figure 3: The Periodic Table of Project Elements [7]

The table was made by Dr. Mike Clayton in order to celebrate the publishment of his book. When the table is compared to the periodic table of project management competence elements it relates more to the function of the original periodic table of chemical elements. The columns (groups) are elements that correspond to each other and is seen very clearly in column 9 which would simply be called risks and contains various types of risks that can occur in the project process. Column 1 seems to be the fundamentals of a project where purpose and goal are grouped together. By going from column to column, a linkage can be found between elements along with an appropriate name. The rows (periods) seem to have been categorized in steps of a project. Where in the first step the tasks are to define the purpose of the project and estimate potential risks. The second step is to define the goal, identify the deliverables, review and scope the project and identify the scope risks. The steps then continue one by one.[7]

This version of a periodic table for project management relates to the knowledge areas from PMI and the themes from PRINCE2 as it has a similar approach to dividing the field of project management.


The purpose of a periodic table is to have all the elements easily accessible at one place where the arrangement of the table can describe the properties of the elements in the table as well as undiscovered elements that could be added in the future. For the field of project management, it is highly unlikely that many elements are left undiscovered as the amount of completed, complex projects in the world that did not have any precursor are extremely many. However, as the field is very wide and covers different areas it is possible that terms that are used today could be divided into more detailed elements which would help the understanding of the term.

When comparing the project management knowledge areas from PMI and the PRINCE2 themes to the periodic tables it appears that the periodic table of project management competence elements goes beyond knowledge and displays how to seek the desired results. The table displays the competence elements in a unique way which is easily accessible and covers all the knowledge areas and themes from both standards. It is also explained in the role of knowledge how the knowledge is elevated to embrace performance competence.

The periodic table of project elements is made more for fun rather than practical use. It divides project management into elements similar to the standards. A good relation is between elements both in the columns and the rows which can be helpful in project work. Even though it is made more for fun it has the potential of becoming a useful tool if developed further.

Annotated Bibliography

International Project Management Association. (2006). IPMA Competence Baseline Version 3.0: The book presents the competence baseline used in the IPMA standard. The competence required for a project management certificate is defined and assessed by the IPMA and has been since in the 1990s. The book covers the key concepts of competence in project management, the competence baseline and the competence levels in the IPMA standard. The 46 competence elements used in the periodic table of project management competence elements are described in detail in Chapter 4 where each element has a general description, a list of topics addressed and possible process steps along with main relations where the association with other competence elements are listed. Further reading in this book gives a better insight into the elements and reasoning for their existence in the IPMA periodic table.

Project Management Institute. (2017). A Guide to The Project Management Body of Knowledge: The book presents the knowledge areas used in the PMI standard. Guidelines on how to use and apply concepts in project management are given and a more detailed description of the knowledge areas can be found in Chapters 4-13. Each chapter contains one knowledge area where an overview of the subject is given along with a thorough description and an outlining of relevant processes. Further reading in these chapters give a deeper understanding of the management knowledge areas.

AXELOS A. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2: The book presents the themes that the PRINCE2 standard uses. It gives guidance for project manager/management teams to succeed with a deeper insight into important stages in project management. The themes are given a more detailed description in Chapters 6-11 where each chapter contains one theme. In the chapters are the PRINCE2 requirements stated, key roles described and applicable guidance given for the relevant theme to become effective. Further reading in the book gives a better understanding of the themes and their roles. An interpretation of the processes used in various stages of projects is also given in further chapters.


  1. 1.0 1.1 A.M. Helmenstine. Why Is the Periodic Table Important? Retrieved 09-02-2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute.
  3. 3.0 3.1 AXELOS A. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. (2017). London: The Stationery Office Ltd.
  4. International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Periodic Table of Elements. Retrieved 09-02-2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Stacy A. Goff (2011). Project Management Success and Decision-Making Under Difficult Contexts. IPMA World
  6. 6.0 6.1 International Project Management Association. (2006). IPMA Competence Baseline Version 3.0. Amsterdam: International Project Management Association
  7. 7.0 7.1 Dr. Mike Clayton Periodic Table of Project Elements. Retrieved 09-02-2019.
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