Understanding the 5 PMP Process Groups

I have a big secret regarding my preparation for the PMP exam, and I’m only going to share it with you because I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I honestly did not know the PMP Process Groups before I started studying for my PMP exam.

There, I said it! Now you know the truth.

You might say, “It’s okay, Rich, you didn’t know how important the process groups are when you started studying.” But you’d be wrong to say it. I knew how important they were, but I chose not to study and learn them anyway. I think I wanted to just dive right in and get started, but that was a mistake.

pmp process groups

If you’re just getting started studying for your PMP exam, you may be wondering why the PMP process groups are so important. Well, every project management process throughout the PMBOK Guide takes place in one of the following process groups.

The 5 PMP Process Groups

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

Can you think of a mnemonic to remember the PMP process groups? How about this one?

  • I
  • Paid
  • Edna to
  • Make & Cook
  • Cake

By knowing the PMP process groups in advance of getting started with your studies, you have automatically given yourself a head start. That way, when you read about a process for the first time, you can contextualize that process in its correct process group and remember it more easily.

For example, the “Define Activities” process in the “Project Time Management” knowledge area takes place in the “Planning” process. Thinking about “Define Activities” this way helps you start to understand and remember (not memorize!) the interaction of all of the process groups.

May Table 3-1 on page 61 of the PMBOK Guide become your new best study buddy. Table 3-1, aspiring PMPs, shows you how each process fits into a particular process group. I highly recommend that you print this table and keep it next to you while you study.

The PMBOK Guide will remind you again and again that the process groups are not sequential; they are iterative and overlapping. PMI literally puts the following sentence in bold text in the PMBOK Guide: The Process Groups are not project lifecycles (52).

Besides the mnemonic, you’ll need to understand the basics of each process group before starting your studies. Let’s take the following sample project:

You are the project manager for a project and business venture your pet store is launching: Kitty Obedience School. The project sponsors have chosen you to lead the project, from beginning to end, of setting up this new venture.

Remember, though, that this silly project is meant only as a memory tool. There are some nuances to the process groups that I’m not diving into here. A key one is that large, multi-phase projects repeat these processes for each phase.


In the initiating phase, senior management at the pet store makes the strategic decision to start the Kitty Obedience School, though ideally the project manager is appointed as soon as possible. The project charter, which gives the project manager the authority to use organizational resources on the project, is developed in the initiating phase. The strategic vision as well high-level budget and risks are developed during this phase too.

In this phase, the idea and high-level assumptions for Kitty Obedience School are born and the general idea begins to take shape.


Planning is the only process group that must take place in a particular order. Once you learn more about the planning process group, you’ll remember this key concept easily. You can’t start detailing activities before you have define the scope of the project.

For Kitty Obedience School, your plan would include deciding whether the business will stand alone or take place in your existing pet store, what activities you need to accomplish before opening the store, how you’ll plan costs, how you’ll staff and communicate on the project, what your risks are on the project, and more!


Executing is where the work really happens. Don’t spend a ton of time here, because all you really need to know is that this is where the work on a project actually happens.

For Kitty Obedience School, this is where you build the kitty playpen, order the cat training toys, and lead your staff to carry out the Project Management Plan.

Monitoring & Controlling

Monitoring and controlling happens throughout the project. Monitoring and controlling ensures that all of the project work is happening satisfactorily. It is worth noting that all knowledge areas except for Project Human Resource Management have a process that occurs in the Monitoring & Controlling process group.

Activities for the Kitty Obedience School project including ensuring that all work meets quality standards, checking that all toys are orders, ensuring that costs are kept under control and the project stays on-time.


Now that you have succeeded on your project — or perhaps failed… Kitty Obedience School sounds like a terrible idea to me — it is crucial that you document all of your lessons learned for future projects. Closing deals with make sure that you properly store all of the organizational process assets for future use. While executing your project, did you develop an efficient way to order yarn and other cat toys? Make sure it is documenting so you can use it in the future!

Are you ready to start your studying with a solid foundation of the PMP process groups? Do you have a better way to remember them besides “I Paid Edna (to) Make & Cook Cake”? Share with us in the comments below.

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One Response to Understanding the 5 PMP Process Groups

  1. Edna Jones March 22, 2018 at 4:03 pm #

    I am studying to take PMP in July 2018! My name is Edna so I love the mnemonic!!!

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