Category: Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam using A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)

The Difference Between Knowledge Areas and Process Groups?

Knowledge Ares vs Process GroupsA Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) structures project management by using both Knowledge Areas and Process Groups. There are twice as many Knowledge Areas than there are Process Groups, and intially it can be rather daunting to understand the difference.

One reason for this is probably the fact that the PMBOK® Guide doesn't actually contain an official definition for either term. So trying to figure this out on your own is difficult for anyone who initially comes across these terms.

Therefore in this Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam tip we want give you a general overview of the difference between them by listing as many qualities as we can for each.

And if you are looking for an in-depth discussion of all the Knowledge Areas and Process Groups, then please take a look at our article about PMBOK® Guide Knowledge Areas, Process Groups and Processes.

Here we go:

Knowledge Areas

They cover what you need to KNOW.

The PMBOK® Guide divides everything a project manager must know into Knowledge Areas.

This allows us to review project management practices by seemingly separate and distinct "buckets".

There are TEN Knowledge Areas*:

  • Integration
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • HR
  • Communications
  • Risk
  • Procurement
  • Stakeholders

Knowledge Areas are used on most projects most of the time. It is up to the project management team to define the appropriate depth of implementation for each project.


Knowledge Areas are not usually associated to the work we do. We may say "I'm planning the project" but we don't say "I'm integrating the project".

Process Groups

They cover what you need to DO.

The PMBOK® Guide divides the project work that must be performed into Process Groups.

This allows us to perform project management work as the same general "steps" on any project type and in any industry.

There are FIVE Process Groups*:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring & Controlling
  • Closing

Process Groups have clear dependencies and are typically performed in each project and highly interact with each other. Methodologies are often based on their names or concepts.

Process Groups are not phases of a project.

We often repeat each Process Group multiple times throughout a project. For example, we must initiate and close both the feasibility study as well as the testing portion of our project.

* Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2013, Page 61.

The PMBOK® Guide also divides the work that the project team performs into separate and distinct processes. An important study tool for everyone preparing for the PMP® exam is Table 3-1. This table maps each process to the appropriate Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area.

It is a good best practice for PMP® exam students to be able to draw this table from memory onto an empty sheet of paper.

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