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