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What Does PMBOK v6 Mean For the Future of Project Management?


PMBOK version 6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide signal a new direction for project management that, for the first time, starts to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. What does that mean for the future of project management?

I’ve written a number of articles on the future of project management and I still get a lot of questions from project managers who are confused about the impact of Agile on project management and ask questions like “What Agile certification should I get?”. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just going out and getting another certification like PMI-ACP and suddenly you are an Agile Project Manager.  The PMI-ACP certification is a step in the right direction and it’s not an easy certification to get but it’s just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and is not aligned with a particular role. In fact, the role of an Agile Project Manager Is not well-defined and there is even some controversy among some people that there is a role for an Project Manager In an Agile environment.

Confusion Over Project Management Direction

It’s totally understandable why there would be a lot of confusion among project managers as to how Agile and the future of project management impact their career direction.

  • There are some project managers who are in “denial” and want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management, will go on forever unchanged, and Agile isn’t really a valid form of project management at all.
  • On the other hand, there are people in the Agile community who believe that there is no need at all for traditional plan-driven project management at all and Agile is a solution to almost any problem you might have

I’m not an Agile zealot – I try to take a very objective and pragmatic approach. In one of my courses I have a slide that says “Saying Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat”. They both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment. You have to be able to fit the approach to the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to one of those extremes. I am convinced that project managers who only know how to do traditional, plan-driven project management and try to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a severe disadvantage relative to other project managers who know how to blend Agile and traditional project management in the right proportions to fit the situation.

What’s Wrong with Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management; the problem is in how its applied. The primary problem with the traditional, plan-driven approach is that it works for situations where the requirements are well-defined and the primary concern is planning and managing a project to meet those well-defined requirements within a given budgeted cost and schedule. That approach just doesn’t work well in situations where the requirements are much more uncertain and the primary concern is not just managing costs and schedules but taking an adaptive approach to maximize the business results and value that the project produces.  In today’s rapidly-changing business environment the need for taking that kind of approach is becoming increasingly common.

The Future of Project Management

There’s essentially two sides of this equation: value and cost – in the past, with most traditional plan-driven projects, the value side has been assumed to be well-defined and fixed and project managers only needed to worry  about the cost side.  In this new environment, that is no longer true – project managers now need to worry about both maximizing value as well as managing costs and schedules.  That’s a fundamental shift in thinking for many project managers – it means:

  • Taking a broader focus on maximizing the business value that a project produces and using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) that makes sense to achieve those goals
  • Fitting the project management approach to the nature of the business problem rather than force-fitting all projects to a standard, plan-driven approach.

That raises the bar significantly for many project managers.

What Certification Should I Get?

Some people seem to think that it is only a matter of getting another certification and I’ve participated in several discussions lately where project managers were asking questions like: “What certification should I get in order to get into Agile (CSM/PSM, CSPO, or ACP)?”  The answer to the question of “what certification should I get” depends on what role you want to play and it requires some thought and planning because there is no well-defined role for a project manager in Agile at the team level.  There are several possible career directions for project managers with regard to Agile.  You may not have to completely throw away your project management skills, but you would have to rethink them considerably in a very different context and you may not use some project management skills very fully at all depending on the role you choose.

  1. Become a ScrumMaster –  A ScrumMaster is what’s known as a “servant leader”. The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a ScrumMaster as follows:
    • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
    • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
    • Removes barriers
    • Shields the team from external interferences
    • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint planning
    • Facilitates the daily scrums

    There’s a few project management skills that might be useful (at least indirectly) for that role but it doesn’t utilize much of the planning and management skills that a project manager typically has.  For that reason, becoming a ScrumMaster may or may not make sense as a career direction for many project managers.

  2. Become a Product Owner –  The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a Product Owner as follows:
    • The product owner decides what will be built and in which order
    • Defines the features of the product or desired outcomes of the project
    • Chooses release date and content
    • Ensures profitability (ROI)
    • Prioritizes features/outcomes according to market value
    • Adjusts features/outcomes and priority as needed
    • Accepts or rejects work results
    • Facilitates scrum planning ceremony

    The Product Owner role actually includes a lot of project management functions but it is actually much more similar to a Product Manager than a Project Manager.  The major differences are that:

    • The Product Owner is a business decision-maker and requires some business domain knowledge that a project manager may not have.
    • The Product Owner role doesn’t typically include many team leadership skills. In an Agile environment, team leadership is more a function of the ScrumMaster and the team itself.
  3. Hybrid Agile Project Management Role – For a lot of good reasons, many companies will choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach that blends the right level of traditional plan-driven project management with Agile. This is a very challenging role for a project manager to play because it requires a deep understanding of both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management to know how to blend these two seemingly disparate approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  4. Project/Program Management of Large, Complex Enterprise-level Agile Projects – There is a legitimate role for project managers in managing large, complex enterprise-level projects; however, there are several things to consider about planning your career in that direction:
    • This role is limited to large, complex projects that typically require multiple Agile teams and require blending together some level of traditional plan-driven and Agile principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation. This role doesn’t exist at all on most small, single-team Agile projects.
    • This role requires some very significant skills that can be very difficult to attain. Many people may assume that the PMI-ACP certification qualifies you to perform this role. It is a step in the right direction, but a lot more experience and knowledge is needed to perform this role including:
        • Knowing how to blend traditional, plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given project,
        • Adapting an agile approach to fit a business environment, and
        • Scaling Agile to an enterprise level.

      You have to be a “rock star” Agile Project Manager to perform this role.

In many industries and application areas, the project management role associated with small, single-team projects may be completely eliminated by Agile. There may be some project managers who are not significantly impacted by this such as project managers in the construction industry, but even in those industries some knowledge of Agile principles and practices may be essential.

This creates difficult choices for a Project Manager to make, but the key message for any project manager should be that Agile will force them to make some significant choices about their career direction and it isn’t as simple as just going out and getting another certification (like ACP).

Agile Project Management Training

That’s exactly the challenge for the future of project management profession that the courses in the Agile Project Management Training I’ve developed are designed to address:

The Future of Project Management

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

PMI recently published PMBOK version 6 as well as a new document called “The Agile Practice Guide”.   The Agile Practice Guide is a totally new kind of document for PMI and raises some questions about “What is the purpose of the new PMI Agile Practice Guide?”

For a long time, PMI has treated Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.  A major goal of these two new documents is to start to develop a more integrated view of these two areas and I think this is a major step forward to begin to close this gap.

A lot of people may have thought that integrating these two areas might be as simple as adding more content about Agile to PMBOK version 6 and that PMBOK version 6 would become a universal guide to both of these areas.  I don’t believe that to be a realistic way to accomplish that goal at all (See my article on Does PMBOK Version 6 Go Far Enough to Integrate Agile? )  As I mentioned in that article, that would be like trying to get Christians and Muslims to develop a unified view of religion by adding more words about Christianity to the Koran or more words about the Muslim religion to the Bible.  That approach just wouldn’t work.

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are two radically different approaches to project management that each require significant individual focus; however, at the same time, we need to build a much more unified view of these two areas and I think that is exactly the role that the Agile Practice Guide attempts to fill.  Here’s how I see these various documents fitting together:

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

Here’s how I see this all fitting together:

  • PMBOK has become well-accepted for many years as the “bible” for a traditional plan-driven approach to project management; and, to some extent, some (not all) of the practices in PMBOK provide a general foundation for a general project management approach
  • Documentation related to Agile takes on a very different format which is based on some very simple and succinct values in the Agile Manifesto as well as other more specific documentation related to Agile practices such as Scrum, Kanban, etc.

Those two formats are very incompatible with each other in my opinion, but there is some commonality and we need to start to developing a more unified view to tie these two different worlds together.  That is the major purpose that the PMI Agile Practice Guide attempts to serve in my opinion.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Project Management?

This strongly reaffirms what I’ve been saying for a long time. The way of the future seems very clear:

  • There is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people have seemed to think and those two areas are actually complementary to each other rather than competitive.
  • There is a continuous spectrum of different approaches ranging from to heavily plan-driven (predictive) at one extreme to heavily adaptive (Agile) at the other extreme and the right approach is to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem rather than just force-fitting a problem to some predefined methodology (whatever it might be).
  • The project manager of the future needs to be proficient in both of these approaches and also know how to blend the two approaches as necessary to fit a given situation.  In the not-too-distant future, any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management and attempts to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a serious disadvantage.

What is My Review of the Agile Practice Guide?

Here’s a brief summary of my review of the Agile Practice Guide:

General Comments:

  • Overall, I think this document is well-written and really helps to close the gap between Agile and traditional plan-driven (aka predictive) project management; however, that is a huge gap and there is still a lot more work to be done to create a truly integrated project management approach.
  • Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are two very different ways of thinking and it will be very difficult to fully integrate the two.  This is a great step in the right direction but it’s not the final step to close that gap.

Specific Comments:

  • Agile PM Role – I don’t think this document has gone far enough to address the real “elephant in the room” of “What exactly is the role of a Project Manager in an Agile environment?”. There are many project managers who are in denial about that and think that their project management role will go on indefinitely unchanged.  There is a need to address this issue more directly so that project managers can plan their future career direction.

In the back section of the document where it talks about the PMBOK Guide knowledge areas, in a number of different places it says that the role and expectations of a project manager don’t change in an Agile environment.  I don’t agree with that at all – the role of a project manager at the team level (if there is one at all) will likely change radically to more of a coaching and facilitation role than a traditional PM role.

  • Organizational Perspective – The authors of The Agile Practice Guide made a decision to limit the scope of this document to project and team-level work and to exclude discussion of the context of implementing Agile at an enterprise and organizational level.  I think that is serious a mistake.

Treating it as a project level function is much too limiting because most Agile implementations cannot be successful without some level of organizational transformation.  Furthermore, the role of a project manager is either non-existent or very limited at the team level and that will force many project managers to move up to more complex enterprise-level projects.

  • Agile Mindset – The section on “Agile Mindset” is really important and probably could be beefed up a lot. There is a big shift in mindset that is needed but it’s not just a matter of a choice between adopting an “Agile Mindset” or a “Traditional Project Management Mindset”.

In many cases, you need to blend the two approaches and take a broader view of what “project management” is that fully embraces both of those approaches.Many people would not view “Agile” as “Project Management” because it doesn’t fit the normal stereotype of what “project management” is; however it’s just a different form or “project management”.  That’s a big mindset change that PM’s need to make – we need to rethink what “project management” is in broader terms that include all forms of project management including Agile.

  • Relationship of Lean and Agile – I don’t agree with the graphic on page 11 showing that Lean totally encompasses Agile.  It does not – there is a lot of overlap between the two; however, taken to an extreme, each would tend to pull you in somewhat different directions.  Both are focused on customer value but lean is more heavily focused on efficiency where Agile is more heavily focused on flexibility and adaptivity.
  • Agile versus Predictive – The document talks about a spectrum of alternatives with predictive at one end point and Agile at the other end point.  The idea of a spectrum of approaches is right on but I don’t think that the use of the word “Agile” for an end point is the right choice.  Agile should not be an end point because there is not just one way to do Agile – there is a range of choices for Agile.  This spectrum should reflect different levels of planning and I think the end-points are “adaptive” and “plan-driven” (or “predictive”).
  • Hybrid Approach – The section on hybrid approaches needs to be improved. This is a critical area for PM’s to understand and, as it is currently written, this is too high level and not specific enough to help a PM understand how to really implement a hybrid approach.
  • Team Roles – I would like to see the discussion of team roles expanded.  One particular subject that is not covered is how many project functions that might normally be performed by a project manager have been assimilated into other roles in an Agile environment.  Agile uses a distributed form of project management.

Overall Summary

If you are a PMI member, you can download a copy of the Agile Practice Guide from the following link:

I am very pleased to see the PMI Agile Practice Guide being published.  It is definitely a step in the right direction and is very consistent with the integrated approach to Agile Project Management that I’ve developed in the Agile Project Management Academy.

This raises the bar significantly for project managers and will require a lot of retraining of project managers and rethinking of what “project management” is in much broader terms.


Free Agile Project Management Webinar

Free Agile Project Management Webinar – Traditional, plan-driven project management has not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s; however, the rapid proliferation of Agile Project Management practices will bring about a transformation that will cause us to re-think what “project management” is in much broader terms.  There are many difficult challenges that must be overcome to make that transformation:

  • Agile and traditional plan-driven project management (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”) are seen as binary and mutually-exclusive choices; and, as a result, many people tend to think they need to force-fit a project to one of those extremes when the right solution is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the nature of the project. It can require a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done.
  • In the world we live in today, technologies tend to be much more dynamic and rapidly-changing and projects may have very high levels of uncertainty that make it very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully apply a traditional, plan-driven project management approach in many situations that call for a much more adaptive approach.
  • The convergence of these approaches raises the bar for the project management profession and will likely have a significant impact on the careers of many project managers.
  • PMI® has recognized the importance of Agile and has created the PMI-ACP® certification which is a step in the right direction; however, it doesn’t go far enough to address this challenge – it is only a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge; Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management are still treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two; and it is left up to the individual project manager to figure out how to blend those two approaches in the right proportions to fit a given situation

This presentation will help you better understand these challenges, the impact it may have on your career as a project manager, and help to begin to develop a broader, high-impact view of what “project management” is that is focused on maximizing business value using whatever blend of methodologies is most appropriate for a given situation.

How Do You Use Agile for Business Processes?

I was recently asked: “How do you use Agile for business processes?” Here’s my response:

Many people confuse Agile with Scrum and when they say “Agile”, they really mean “Scrum”. Scrum is not a solution to every problem but you can apply general Agile principles and Agile thinking to almost anything. It’s mostly just a shift in thinking rather than attempting to follow a well-defined Agile methodology like Scrum.  For example, I have written several books on Agile Project Management and I used a somewhat Agile process to publish the books:

  • I started out with a vision of what I wanted to do with the book and further elaborated it as I went along rather than having a highly detailed outline of exactly what the book would look like to start with
  • I engaged a group of people over the Internet to provide feedback and inputs. These people represented potential customers of the book as well as subject matter experts
  • I took an adaptive approach to adapt the design of the book based on the feedback I received
  • I used an incremental development approach. As I wrote each chapter or section of the book, I put it out for feedback and inputs and made adjustments as necessary based on that feedback and inputs

You can use that kind of thinking process on almost anything without necessarily following all the rituals of Scrum.

A lot of people also want to try to use Agile for business process improvement and that’s not necessary. There are lots of ways to improve business processes that are totally independent of Agile. For example, Agile is based on the ideas of continuous improvement that have their roots in Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, Six Sigma, and other approaches that go back long before Agile. It isn’t essential to fully adopt Agile if what you really want is business process improvement.

Many people seem to want to jump on the Agile bandwagon because it is the latest and hottest buzzword to adopt but it isn’t necessarily a solution to any problem you might have.