Agile Project Management Book of Knowledge

Will there ever be an “Agile Project Management Book of Knowledge”? I’ve written several posts on comparing Agile and PMBOK.  It’s something like comparing apples and oranges:

  • PMBOK is over 500 pages long and attempts to provide a detailed checklist of guidelines for almost any conceivable situation involving project management.
  • Agile takes a totally different approach – defining some basic values and principles and leaving a lot of room for interpreting those values and principles in the context of the situation you’re in (at least that’s the way it is meant to be implemented, in my opinion).

For that reason, I don’t think that there will ever be an Agile version of PMBOK; however, I think there is value in having at least an outline of topic areas that are important for people to know about who are interested in assuming an Agile Project Management role.  Here’s what led me to that conclusion…

I’m developing a complete learning path consisting of about a dozen training courses for PMI-ACP certification.  This is not a typical “exam prep” course – I am totally against many of the “exam cram” courses that are on the market that are just focused on helping students cram some knowledge just to get through passing the PMI-ACP exam and not much more.  My philosophy is that people who are sincerely interested in becoming an excellent Agile Project Manager need to go well beyond passing the PMI-ACP exam and think well beyond simply obtaining PMI-ACP certification for a number of reasons:

  • The PMI-ACP exam is very limited in scope – it doesn’t address some of the things that I think are really important for an Agile Project Manager to know like how to integrate Agile and plan-driven approaches in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  • The PMI-ACP exam also has a lot of useless and outdated information in it.  For example, how many people use the “Crystal” methodology any more?
  • It also relies heavily on some reference books that are also very outdated – Jim Highsmith’s book on Agile Project Management which was originally published in 2004 and republished in 2009 is one that PMI treats like the “Bible” of Agile Project Management.   I have a lot of respect for Jim Highsmith – he really was a very early pioneer in developing the initial concept of Agile Project Management but the thinking about what “Agile Project Management” is has evolved a lot since that time.
  • PMI also seems to have the delusion that you can just superimpose many traditional plan-driven concepts on top of Agile and I don’t believe that to be the case.  Agile really requires rethinking a lot of things we’ve taken for granted about project management for a long time, it really requires a very different way of thinking, and many well-accepted project management practices just aren’t very appropriate and/or useful in an Agile environment .  Here are a couple of examples of that:
    • The PMI-ACP exam requires you to know a lot about how to do complicated financial return calculations such as NPV, IRR, ROI, etc. – there seems to be an implication that an Agile Project Manager would really use that in the real world and I doubt that to be the case.  You rarely would know enough about a project upfront to do that kind of sophisticated financial analysis on an Agile project.
    • Earned Value Management is another example – how many people have ever used EVM on an Agile project?  The concept isn’t bad, but making it work in actual practice is almost impossible for many of the same reasons as the sophisticated financial analysis tools.  I have used EVM once for a government project because we were required to use it and report progress against earned value metrics but it was a joke…people had to play a lot of games with the numbers to satisfy the government’s requirements for EVM reporting.

All that being said, I think there is some value in PMI-ACP certification and passing the exam because it has gained some recognition and it is certainly a lot better than some of the other alternatives (Don’t get me started on talking about the CSM certification). However, you just need to realize that there’s a lot of useless information that you have to know just to pass the exam and you also need to be realistic enough to recognize that becoming a really effective Agile Project Manager it isn’t just a matter of passing the exam and getting the PMI-ACP certification.

The overall learning path I’m developing is built around those assumptions.  It is designed to give someone the knowledge that they need to pass the PMI-ACP exam (including a lot of information that I think is useless in the real world but you have to know because its on the exam), but the real focus is well beyond that and on giving someone the knowledge that they need to be a really good Agile Project Manager.

Another major problem I’ve had to deal with is that, in my opinion, the current way that the areas covered on the PMI-ACP exam are defined and organized is very disjoint, not well-organized, and incomplete.

  • The “Domains and Tasks” that are covered on the exam don’t exactly map to the other areas of “Knowledge and Skills” and
  • The “Knowledge and Skills” areas don’t map very well to the topics in “Tools and Techniques”.
  • I think PMI will also acknowledge that the topics in all of those areas are not meant to be a complete list – they are only representative examples of potential topics in that area.   PMI points to a number of reference books that are suggested reading and almost anything in any one of those reference books is fair game for being on the exam even though some of those books are fairly old and the list hasn’t been updated in some time.

To deal with that challenge, in planning for developing the overall learning path I’m working on, I needed to create a well-organized outline of topics that I thought needed to be covered.  As I develop the new courses in the current learning path I’m developing, I will be cross-referencing the material in those courses against that topic outline.   This topic outline is a “work in progress” at the moment; I’m sure that it is not anywhere near 100% complete, but I would be willing to share it with anyone who would like to review it and give me your comments and suggestions to help further develop this topic outline.  Here’s the kind of input I’m looking for:

  • Is it complete?  What topics have I left off that are important either for passing the PMI-ACP exam or for a real-world Agile Project Management role?
  • Do you agree with how it is organized?  I’ve tried to develop one overall integrated topic list that is much more consistent and well integrated than the way the various PMI-ACP exam topics are organized.
  • What other suggestions do you have for further developing this topic list?

If you’re interested in reviewing this list and providing feedback, please send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a copy to review.  Please don’t ask for a copy unless you are seriously committed to reviewing this document and providing feedback:

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