ISO 21500 Shrugged?

Carl Pritchard

Labor Day 2012.  This should have been a banner holiday for project management.  At long last, the confluence of the Project Management Institute and the International Project Management Association were to have come to a head.  ISO 21500.  Advertised for months as “under development,” was to have been released August 31, 2012.  Its 36 pages promise to provide a bridge between the Guide to the PMBOK and PRINCE2. After years of professional wrangling, jockeying for position and lobbying by a host of different parties, ISO 21500, Guidance on Project Management, was to be the solution.

And today is Labor Day.  And we have no guidance.

This really doesn’t bode well for a document that promises to tell the rest of the profession, globally, just how they’re supposed to conduct projects.

I’ve been reading the Ayn Rand classic, Atlas Shrugged (which should be a project manager’s essential reading), and I can’t help but draw some analogies.  For those who have never read Rand’s work, it’s rife with story after story of folks claiming to know what they’re talking about and then doing everything they can to dodge the blame for what might go wrong.

My e-mail to the International Organization for Standardization drove me to the analogy.  I had asked:

ISO 21500 was scheduled for release today (8/31).  It is now listed as “under development” with no scheduled release date.  What is the new intended release date?

The response could just as readily have been written by Rand:

Unfortunately our Technical Programme Manager is away on training until Wednesday so I should have an answer for you then.

As professional project managers, there are only three primary metrics by which we are judged.  Time, Cost and Requirements.  Time and Cost tend to get the most attention early on, because they are the most visible.  And while only missed or failed requirements can never be forgiven, first impressions are borne of time and cost.   In most situations, the missed cost or time can be explained away or clarified to the stakeholders.  But the primary stakeholders for ISO 21500 are over a million project managers across the globe.  Our forgiveness should be nominal, at best.  Why?  Because we consistently preach the gospel that if there’s bad news, provide it early and often.  August 30?  The release date was still listed as August 31.  That’s a problem of epic proportions for guidance on project management, from people who claim to be authoring the standard.

By the time most of you read this, the ISO Guidance should be released.  But the new PMBOK Guide is scheduled for release in December.  Let us hope that PMI will fare better than their counterparts on the international scene.


Carl Pritchard was one of the chapter authors of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 4th Edition (which, like the other PMBOKs, was released on time).   He welcomes your insights here or at