The New ISO 21502



By Pier Luigi Guida and Maurizio Monassi

Rome, Italy


The new ISO 21502 “Guidance on project management” international standard has been released recently by the International Standardization Organization. It supersedes the previous ISO 21500, releasing the same number for a new standard which in turn becomes the head of the ISO “3P” (project, programme and portfolio management) series. Being more voluminous than the previous document, the standard changes from a process-based to a practice-based approach, aligning to the other series documents. Being the authors representatives of the Italian standardization body, who participated in the ISO Technical Committee for project management, they portray a review of the new standard, trace its evolution and outline some topics which, according to the authors’ view, may deserve some attention for the thorough interpretation and application of the new reference.

Keywords: ISO 21500, ISO 21502, project management standards, processes, practices.

A new project management standard

The new standard ISO 21502 “Guidance on project management”, has recently been published by ISO, the International Standards Organization – for the complete title see [Ref. 1] -, which replaces the former ISO 21500, active since 2012 [2]. Co-edited by the representatives from several countries, the new standard would represent – as it is always the case – the best compromise reached at the ISO working table[1], where the authors also participated as representatives of UNI (the Italian Standardization Body). The final result was a general satisfaction for this deliverable, which took several years to be finalized, and was likely accelerated in the final stages by the “smart working”, which also developed among ISO circles due to pandemic constraints.

At first sight, the new standard is significantly more voluminous than the previous edition, with the number of pages almost doubled (more than 60), the reason why the representatives of some countries initially objected to the final draft, in view that such a kind of documents should provide a thinner reference. Needless to say, these different views may express, besides personal positions, the various levels to which project management has matured in various world regions, where some countries already possess other national or de facto standards, that are also adopted internationally.

The new document was issued a few days before the end of the last year, just to keep the “2020” reference in its title. The change of number, which advanced by 2 units, also makes way for another new standard, ISO 21500 “Context and Concepts” [3], which now becomes the leading document of the ISO “3P” series, i.e. project, program, and portfolio management. The “double 0” standard, as it is commonly cited, represents the first document in an ISO thematic series, such as ISO 9000 for quality [4], ISO 31000 [5] for risk management, and alike. Thus the former ISO 21500 has been split into two documents, the new “21500” and “21502”, as mentioned. The new ISO 21500, which is already being published at the time of this writing, elaborates the first and introductory part of the superseded one and represents a generic introduction to the 3P discipline, while ISO 21502 can focus on the specific project management topic[2].

One may refer to the ISO institutional website[3] to look at the complete table of contents of the new documents, while this paper is focusing on the ISO 21502. The standard, besides some introductory clauses – as usual, dedicated to the document purpose and terms and definitions -, is made up of four main clauses, respectively addressing:

  • project management concepts
  • requirements for formalizing project management
  • integrated project management practices
  • practices for managing a project.

In this paper we portray a review of ISO 21502 in the same order, summarizing its contents, highlighting and commenting on the main differences compared to the previous edition[4]. We may also invite other experts to express their own opinions and contribute to the very interesting debate on the role of international project management standards.

Let us first recall that ISO 21502, as the previous edition, aims to be a high-level standard of project management, and should not be taken as a more operative instrument, nor it is focused on techniques and tools; moreover, it does not have the project manager as its single client, but more generally all the institutions and organizations that manage projects, including senior management and other bodies that can issue more specific standards in turn.


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How to cite this paper: Guida, P. L. and Monassi, M. (2021). The New ISO 21502; PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Guida-Monassi-the-new-iso-21502.pdf

About the Authors

Pier Luigi Guida

Rome, Italy


Pier Luigi Guida, a graduate in engineering and post-graduate in informatics, devoted his initial career to aerospace industry, then worked for some decades at Italian railways, holding several positions and senior management roles, for mission-critical systems, traffic management and corporate business re-engineering. Finally, he became consultant and trainer; currently chief editor at “il Project Manager”, leading Italian journal, coordinates UNI project management committee (Italian Standardization Body), and participates in ISO TC258. He earned PMP, PgMP credentials, is a university lecturer and a Certified Project Manager and assessor for project manager certification, according to the Italian regulations (Accredia).  He has authored two books on project management and several refereed papers, and is currently conducting academic research on schedule delay analysis. Pier Luigi lives in Rome, Italy, and may be contacted at pl.guida@alice.it.

Maurizio Monassi

Rome, Italy


Maurizio Monassi, a graduate in engineering, has held several management positions in leading Italian companies in defense, shipbuilding and computer industry. After being quality manager, he became an advocate of project management and member of the founding team of ISIPM (Italian Institute of Project Management), where he currently is a member of the management board. Currently a consultant and trainer, also for corporate and public agencies, he is member of UNI technical committee (Italian Standardization Body) for project management. He earned the PMP credential and he is a Certified Project Manager and assessor for project manager certification, according to the Italian regulations (Accredia). He authored several papers and co-authored a book on project management based on ISIPM advanced qualification framework. Maurizio lives in Rome, Italy, and may be contacted at monassi@isipm.org

[1] Technical Committee TC258-WG9
[2] The “21501” position remains empty and open to possible new proposals, which however have not been announced at this moment.
[3] https://www.iso.org/standard/74947.html
[4] The authors declare that this article represents their personal views only and does not report any other institution or community’s positions.