Advancing the governance and management of projects with the complete set of ISO standards

With the recent publication of ISO 21500, the series of International Standards for governing and managing projects, programmes and portfolios is mostly complete. Work on this series of international standards began in 2007, when, as an initiative of the British and American Standards Bodies, a project was set up at ISO with the aim to develop the first international standard on project management. Up to that point, this did not exist. It then took until 2012 for this standard to be completed and to be published as ISO 21500:2012 “Guidance on project management”.

The standard at that time was essentially a process model that described in detail the management of a single project from the beginning to the end of the project life cycle, with inputs, outputs, and key activities. However, since at that time the view of the embedding of the projects in their respective context was already of interest, this was placed in a conceptual part at the beginning of the standard. This then gave rise to interest in deriving further standards from it. Thus, in addition to a standard for management of programmes, one for management of project portfolios was also developed and subsequently published. In parallel, a standard for governance of projects, programmes and portfolios was prepared and a technical report on the essential terms of the standards was issued. Furthermore, two practice standards were added to the series, one for Earned Value Management, and another one for Work Breakdown Structures in project as well as programme management.

The further developments progressed, the clearer it became that an overarching standard was needed to describe how the entire series fit into the organizational context and how the standards interrelate. This has now been published as ISO 21500 “Project, program and portfolio management – Context and concepts”. The content of the previous ISO 21500 standard for the management of projects has been renewed and presented in ISO 21502. The following international standards are available:

  • ISO 21500, Project, programme and portfolio management — Context and concepts
  • ISO 21502, Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on project management
  • ISO 21503, Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on programme management
  • ISO 21504, Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on portfolio management
  • ISO 21505, Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on governance
  • ISO/TR 21506, Project, programme and portfolio management — Vocabulary
  • ISO 21508, Earned value management in project and programme management
  • ISO 21511, Work breakdown structures for project and programme management

Projects and programmes play an essential role in implementing strategic goals and ambitions as effectively as possible and achieving corresponding benefits for the embedding organization as a result. Project portfolio management is used to select and prioritize projects and programmes based on the strategy and resource availability, among other things. At the same time, this also ensures alignment with strategic objectives, especially if these should change during project implementation. Governance sets a framework for the management of projects, programmes and project portfolios and defines the principles that guide actions for those involved. With these short statements, it is clear that the establishment or optimization of governance and management of projects, programmes and portfolios has to be tailored to the individual situation.

Here, I am also concerned about a point that is widely misunderstood in the marketplace. ISO standards were not written for the purpose of certification; rather, they were written as a guide for application in an organization, as a blueprint, so to speak, or as a way of helping people to adopt them by themselves. ISO 21500 states that the general benefits of using the series of standards is, among others, “providing a common and internationally recognized frame of reference for concepts, guidelines, frameworks and processes regarding the application of project, programme and portfolio management, and related governance.“

Organizations should analyze the initial situation themselves, or with help of an external consultant, define strategic objectives for the professionalization and then, together with internal specialists, successively develop the appropriate processes and methods, organizational structures and culture, technologies and tools, as well as the necessary competences and mindset of those people involved in projects. The more projects an organization carries out, the greater is the need for an organization to professionally govern and manage projects. Organizations evolve from “management of projects” to “management by projects”. Get in touch with Tiba, we´ll support you and your organization on the road to professionally implementing your strategy through projects.

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Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba Management Consulting

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