Why Should Project Managers Care About Agile? What Is the Impact?

Why Should Project Managers Care About Agile? There are many people in the project management profession who are in “denial” about the influence of Agile. Here are some of the common reasons for a project manager might ignore the influence of Agile:

  • Many people seem to think that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between an “Agile” approach and a “Waterfall” approach and “Agile” really only applies to software
  • Some project managers don’t see Agile as a legitimate form of project management although PMI has slowly come around to recognizing that with PMBOK v6

The truth is that Agile is changing the very nature of “project management” and, as a result, “project management is taking on a much broader meaning.

Why Should Project Managers Care About Agile?

A Modern View of What “Project Management” Is

The table below shows how the very nature of project management is changing as a result of Agile:

Views of “Project Management”
Traditional, Narrow View Modern, Broader View
Traditional “Project Management” is heavily associated with planning and control The competitive environment today requires an emphasis on creativity and innovation in addition to planning and control.

Simply planning and controlling a project is no longer sufficient. Can you imagine a leading-edge, high-technology product like a new iPhone being developed with a traditional, plan-driven project management approach?

Success in project management is defined by delivering well-defined project requirements within an approved budgeted cost and schedule Today’s world has a much higher level of uncertainty which makes it difficult to always start a project with well-defined requirements.

Business value is what is important and costs and schedules are only one component of business value. There have been many projects that met their cost and schedule goals but failed to deliver an appropriate level of business value.

Project management is only done by someone who has the title of “Project Manager” In an Agile environment, there is actually a lot of “project management” going on although you may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager”.

The project management functions that might normally be performed by someone with the title of “Project Manager” have been distributed among all the members of the team and its a different kind of “project management” with an emphasis on producing business value in an uncertain environment.

Many project managers have difficulty accepting this kind of change because it fundamentally changes the definition of what “project management” is which can be very unsettling. They want to hold on to traditional notions of what “project management” is that haven’t changed significantly since “project management” was first formalized as a profession in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but project managers who ignore this change run the risk of being left behind.   In the not-too-distant future, project managers who only know how to do a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management may have a limited future in a number of industries and application areas such as software development.

Similarity to Quality Management

I worked in the Quality Management with Motorola in the early 1990’s and that profession went through a similar gut-wrenching change at that time. The old approach to quality management was heavily-based on inspection and control.

  • Lots of QC inspectors were employed to find defects in products before they shipped and
  • The role of a Quality Manager was to control the quality of products that were shipped and enforce quality standards.

Companies began to realize that approach was very inefficient and resulted in a lot of unnecessary scrap and rework of defective products. A much more proactive approach was needed that involved eliminating defects at the source by designing processes that were inherently reliable.

Implementing that kind of change required a very different approach to quality management…instead of an emphasis on control and inspection, it required coaching and mentoring people to integrate an emphasis on quality into any job and process that had anything to do with producing products.  The results were enormously successful, it resulted in levels of quality that were unattainable with a typical quality control approach, and that was how Six Sigma was originally conceived.

In those days, my manager used to tell me that “Our job as a Quality Manager is to teach, coach, and audit” in that order. In other words, you had to be a missionary to spread an emphasis on producing quality throughout the whole company rather than attempting to be totally responsible for “quality” yourself.  That’s exactly what is happening today with the project management profession – instead of a Project Manager attempting to be in control of all of the project deliverables, he/she needs to teach and coach others to take some level of basic project management responsibility including functions such as:

  • Planning and estimating their own work,
  • Building quality into the product rather than relying on someone else to find defects later,
  • Integrating with the rest of the team as a whole to produce an overall solution, and
  • Reporting on progress

It’s essentially a distributed approach to project management that engages everyone in the project management process instead of one Project Manager attempting to control everything.  In a very uncertain and dynamic environment, that has got to be a much more flexible and adaptive approach.

Why Should Project Managers Care About Agile?

The impact of Agile on the role of many project managers is likely to be significant. On small, single-team Agile projects, you may not find someone called a “Project Manager” at all; however, there certainly is a need for someone to coach and mentor the team on Agile Project Management practices. There is also a need for project managers on larger and more complex enterprise-level projects but even at that level, some understanding of Agile is essential. This “raises the bar” for project managers significantly. It requires project managers to develop a fresh new perspective to see Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive and to learn how to blend the two approaches in whatever proportions are needed to fit any situation.

What’s Needed to Adapt to This Change?

I’ve given a lot of thought to this problem and I am very passionate about helping project managers adapt to this change. Here are a number of articles I’ve written on this subject that should help project managers understand the impact of this change and begin adapting to it:


Articles on Agile Project Management
Article Synopsis
What Does Physics Teach Us About Agile Project Management Training? There’s a lot of similarity between the way that the science of physics has evolved and how project management has evolved:

  • For many years until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, physics was based on what is called “Classical Physics”
  • “By the end of the nineteenth century, most physicists were feeling quite smug. They seemed to have theories in place that would explain all physical phenomena.”
  • “Twenty-five years later, this complacency had been completely destroyed by the invention of three entirely new theories: special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics.”

In other words, the universe turned out to be much more complex, more dynamic, and less predictable than people thought it was. Isn’t that exactly what has happened with the project management profession?

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

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

With the introduction of PMBOK v6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide, PMI has taken a major step towards recognizing that there is a need to integrate an Agile approach with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

Up until this time, “Agile” and traditional, plan-driven project management have been treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

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

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

With the introduction of PMBOK v6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide, PMI has taken a major step towards recognizing that there is a need to integrate an Agile approach with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

The PMP certification, as we have known it for a long time has been the mark of a very professional and well-qualified project manager; however, up until March 2018, the PMP exam has been totally based on traditional plan-drive project management.

PMI has recognized this limitation and in March of 2018 will begin to incorporate more Agile content in the PMP exam.

Is Project Management Obsolete? What Do You Think? Talks about the need to rethink what project management is if it is to thrive in the future.
Learn the Truth About Agile versus Waterfall Helps to overcome some misconceptions about Agile and Waterfall to see these two approaches in a fresh new light as complementary rather than competitive.