Process Group and Knowledge Area in the PMBOK Guide


Do you know what the most common question that every new PMP aspirants think about is?

I am sure that you had the same question when you started preparing for the PMP exam, or you may be thinking of it now if you just started your exam preparation.

Yes, this is about the process group and knowledge area. In fact, when any PMP aspirant starts his exam preparation, probably the first question that comes into his mind is: What are the process group and knowledge area, and what is the difference between these two?

I also had the same doubt, and many questions came into my mind such as:

  • What are the process group and knowledge area?
  • What is the difference between these two?
  • Why is the PMBOK not organized as per the process group instead of knowledge area?
  • Why is the knowledge area needed and how did it come up?

These questions bothered me a lot in the beginning.

I believe that there will be many of you having the same doubts as me, and are struggling to understand the relationship between process group and knowledge area. Since I have now passed the exam and know the difference between them, I am writing this blog post to explain my understanding to you. I hope it will help you understand the difference between the knowledge area and process groups.

Okay, let’s get started.

(Please open page-61 of the PMBOK Guide fifth edition, if you have access to it. It will help you follow this blog post.)

Process Groups

The project management process groups are a logical categorization of tasks or activities that are organized in the way that the projects are being performed.

For example, to complete the project you go through the following processes:

  • First of all you initiate the project, which includes developing and approving the project charter.
  • The second step is to create the project management plan which helps you execute various project activities.
  • The third stage is to execute the project. Here is where the real work is done and most of the time and money are spent.
  • Monitoring and controlling is a continuous process which happens throughout the project life cycle till it ends.
  • The last step is to close the project. Here you close all procurement contracts, update the lessons learned and release the team.

So, you see the process groups are arranged in the way that the project activities happen, and the order is: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing. All these five process groups are required to complete the project.

Now, you may be thinking that:

  • What about the knowledge area?
  • How are they grouped?
  • Do they also have any logical relationship?
  • What is the relationship between knowledge area and process group?

Okay, let’s discuss them as well.

Knowledge Area

Knowledge areas are designed to group processes which have common knowledge characteristics. This means that knowledge areas are divided to keep the same type of skill set (or knowledge) in one group.

For example, let’s say that you are in the planning process and are developing the plan for your project. In this process, to calculate the budget you will use two processes: “estimate costs” and “determine budget”.

Now you come to the monitoring & controlling process. In this process you have to monitor the project activities to keep control of them. Here, control cost is the process to control the project costs.

Now, look at these processes: estimate costs, determine budget, and control cost.

The first two processes belong to the planning process group, and the third process belongs to the monitoring & controlling process group.

Now, let’s have a look at these processes again. Did you find anything common among them?

Yes, they are talking about things related to the “cost”.

Therefore, these processes are grouped together and are named the project “cost management” knowledge area in the PMBOK Guide, even though they belong to different process groups.

Likewise, if you look at these three processes:

  1. Plan quality process
  2. Perform quality assurance process
  3. Perform quality control process

You will notice that plan quality is a member of the planning process group, perform quality assurance is a member of the executing process group and perform quality control is a member of the monitoring & controlling process group.

Now tell me, don’t they talk about the same thing – quality? Although they belong to different process groups, they all have to do with quality. Therefore, these three process groups are collected together and named the “project quality management” knowledge area.

So you can see that there is no logical relationship among the knowledge areas. Knowledge areas are grouped according to the skill required to manage that particular process. Moreover, there is no relationship between knowledge area and process group.

Before I end this blog post, let’s have a quick look at the key points:

  • Process groups are logical categorizations of the project management processes in the way that the project moves from initiation to closing.
  • In knowledge areas, processes are grouped as per their similarities on the subject.
  • The PMBOK Guide is organized as per the knowledge areas to ease the process of acquiring the skills for project professionals.


The PMBOK Guide is written based on knowledge areas. For the PMP exam, it is important for you to know the processes in each process group, as well as their itto. Although most of the reference books available for the PMP exam are written based on the knowledge area, Kim Heldmen’s book is based on process group. So I would suggest you keep one reference book based on the knowledge area and one based on process group. It will help you prepare well and understand the logical relationship among processes.

Here is where the discussion about the project management process group and knowledge area finishes. If you have something to discuss further, you are welcome to do so in the comments section.

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  1. Ramesh R says


    Your Blog is very nice and easy to understand the complex. The way you write the articles in simple english is highly appriciated. Keep going…. Thanks…

  2. Ramesh R says

    “…all these five process groups (e.g. Initiating, Planning, Monitoring & Controlling and Closing)…”

    Executing is missing (just to improve the quality of this content… pls delete this comment)

  3. Ahmad Huzri says

    Project Management process groups are logical categorization of tasks or activities…

    Can you explain what do you mean by logical categorization?

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Initiation process group contains the processes relating to Initiating of the project and planning process group has the processes which will help the project manager to build the plan for the project.

  4. Ahmed Giwa says

    I had issues with “Process Group and Knowledge Area” while preparing for the PMP exam too.
    You did a good job in breaking it down, and using the Table 3-1 of PMBOK Guide 4th Edition.

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Not only you, I also had the same issue and more interestingly I did not find solution of it in any book referred by me. I think that this is the one of basic question that any new PMP aspirant may have…

  5. Omer says

    I loved this explanation. I just started out preparing for PMP, and was very confused. You have no idea how you have removed that one mental block I had stuck in my head.

  6. Maha says

    I love your blog – its really easy to read and understand. Im currently reviewing Capter 3- Project Management Processes for a Project and I have a question .
    Does each Process group have Input tools and techniques and outputs. because the same thing is also listed in chapter 4 and its confusing me.

    Why do they list ITTO in both chapter under the Knowledge and the process groups. I dont know the difference. do you mind explaining it to me please.

  7. Maha says

    I love your blog, its really easy to read and understand. Im currently reviewing Chapter three and Im a bit confused to when it comes to the ITTO of the process groups and later on in chapter 4 they do ITTO for knowledge groups. I dont understand the difference. can you explain it to me please

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Hello Maha, thanks for visiting and liking my blog.

      I have gone through all your three comments and I can say that I understand your problem very well.

      You have two doubts, first one is about the difference between process group and knowledge area and second one is difference between process groups and phases.

      Regarding the difference between knowledge area and process group, please read my this blog post about it again.

      Regarding your second doubt – A project has five phases and each phase has several processes and each process has input, tool & technique and output.

      PMI has divided the PMBOK in nine knowledge areas and each knowledge area contains the relevant process in it.

      Chapter three of PMBOK guide gives you a general idea about all processes in short and then all remaining chapters talk it in details; therefore, you are seeing processes from chapter three repeating in other places.

      I also advice you to first read any good PMP exam reference book then go to the PMBOK guide. It will help you a lot to understand the PMBOK guide better.

  8. Sathish says

    Hi Fahad,

    I visited your blog while searching meaning for PMP process. The way you explain concept is really amazing. Since then I become regular visitor of your blog. Can you explain what are we doing in integration knowledge area with process group wise?

    As per my knowledge in Planning process group under integration, we are integrating all the knowledge area plans into one cohesive whole. But I don’t have idea what we are doing under integration in Initiating, Execution, Monitor & Control & Closing. Please help

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Hello Sathish,

      Direct and Manage Project Execution process is about exercising the work defined in planning group,

      Monitor and Control Project Work &Perform Integrated Change Control are about the monitoring the change and approving/rejecting the change request. Finally, Close Project or Phase is about the activities related to formally closing of phase or the project.

  9. Sathish says

    Hi Fahad,

    Thanks your explanation. It gives general idea of what we are doing in each process group. Can you further explain what we are doing under Integration management for each process group.

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Sathish, I would recommend you to refer chapter four of the PMBOK Guide, i.e. project integration management to find in-depth detail of each process..

      I believe that after reading it you will have better understanding about each process.

  10. Dwayne says

    Hi Fahad,

    Your clarification on the uncertainties is very helpful. I have referred to your writing to aid me with a report I am compiling for students of mine. I am in the the Civil Engineering field. I however would like to know if you have insight into project management in the field of Construction. I am trying to depict the relationship between the process groups and knowledge areas from the point of view of a contractor, in the form of a matrix chart as in page 43 of the PMBOK.

    Have you got any publication in this regard?


    • Fahad Usmani says

      Tools & Techniques describes in the PMBOK Guide applies equally to contractor and the client.

      Let me know if you have any specific query, I’ll try to find answer for you.

  11. Sanjay Kumar says

    Hi Fahad,

    What is the best book/source to begin with PMP study?
    And later how do I proceed ?

  12. Praveen Devadiga says

    Hi Fahad,

    I got through your blog through google while i was looking out for the ITTOs understanding.
    Your blog is really excellent and easy to understand.
    Actually i am planning for my PMP exam by May 2014 for which i have started my studies.
    I have started by studying from Head First PMP and PMBOK simultaneously.
    A word of advise from you would be really helpful as to whether i am following the right way.

    • Fahad Usmani says

      You are going in good direction. Try to refer one more reference book, and practice some sample questions.

      Read the PMBOK guide as many times as you can.

  13. Praveen Devadiga says

    Hi Fahad,

    While going through the Scope Management chapter i came across a term Project Management Information system in which configuration system is there.Could you please explain this.

  14. Praveen Devadiga says

    Hi Fahad,

    From the exam point what are the topics in Scope Management chapter to be concentrated more on.

  15. Fahad Usmani says

    Hello Praveen,

    Your aim should not be only pass the exam. This is an opportunity for you to excel yourself in project management framework.

    All project management processes are connected to each other and if you miss any of these, you may not get a full picture of it.

    You must concentrate on all knowledge areas and processes.

  16. Praveen Devadiga says

    Sure Fahad, i am going through each and every processes to understand the concept of Project Management.

    Can you please explain Activity Attributes process in Time Management .

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Activity attributes are properties of the activity. For example, when it will start, how much cost this activity will take to complete, what kind of resource this activity will use, name of successor activity, predecessor activity etc.

  17. Praveen Devadiga says

    Thanks Fahad,

    In Cost Management , Determine budget process what does ” Rolling estimates to Control accounts”

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Generally in rolling wave planning or estimate, near term planning or estimate is performed with every detail while the future plan performed at higher level.

  18. Praveen Devadiga says

    Thanks Fahad,

    Sorry to bother you with my queries.Just want to understand the terms as i am studying.

    What do you mean by Requirements Traceability Matrix .

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Requirements Traceability Matrix connects each project requirements to its origin, defines its objective, business needs, etc.

  19. Praveen Devadiga says

    Hi Fahad,

    What does Late start and Early start & Late Finish and Early finish means.
    It a bit confusing.

    • Fahad Usmani says

      This is the activity ‘s flexibility. This shows how early or how late an activity can start/finish without affecting the project delay.

  20. krishna says

    Hi Fahad,

    I have a question regarding the studying pattern for the PMP examination

    We have process groups and the knowledge areas. The knowledge areas are categorized according to the process groups. Will it be helpful to study for the PMP exam process group wise or the knowledge area wise.


  21. Abu Muhammad says

    Dear Fahad,

    Thanks for your blog. Like others it helped me also in differentiating and linking the process groups and Knowledge areas.
    I am planning to appear in the exam at the end of November 2014. Kindly let me know your opinion for the Rita book for the preparation.
    Secondly, Can you give me one practical example of any project that can help us all to link and to remember the process groups and processes.
    Third and lastly, how is primavera P8 software. Is it worth to do after completion of PMI certificate.

    Thanks again

    • Fahad Usmani says

      Rita is good, but I will suggest you go through the head first as well.

      Read these books along with the pmbok guide, it will help you link and remember the processes.

      Primavera is good software, of course it will help you in your career growth.

  22. Bhaskar says

    Blogs like this are very helpfull and clear…It isolates other things and one can concentrate on one process/knowledge area at a time…. I appreciate your blogs Fahad.. Thanks for explaining.

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