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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 this guide s is to start to develop a more integrated view of these two areas. 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. They might think 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?

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. 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. It is very detailed and somewhat prescriptive. To some extent, some (not all) of the practices in PMBOK provide a foundation for a general project management approach
  • Agile documentation has a very different and less prescriptive format. It is primarily based on some very simple and succinct principles and values in the Agile Manifesto

Those two formats are very incompatible with each other in my opinion. However, there is some commonality and we need to start to develop a more unified view of these two different worlds.  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. Those two areas are actually complementary to each other rather than competitive.
  • There is a continuous spectrum of different approaches ranging from:
    • Heavily plan-driven (predictive) at one extreme to
    • Heavily adaptive (Agile) at the other extreme

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.

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 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”. That is, “What exactly is the role of a Project Manager in an Agile environment?”.
    • There are many project managers who are in denial about that.
    • They 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, 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. They excluded discussion of the context of implementing Agile at an enterprise and organizational level. I think that is serious a mistake.
  • This 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. 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”.
  • I n many cases, you need to blend the two approaches and take a broader view of what “project management” is.
    • That broader view should fully embrace 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 Agile is 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. However, 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 are 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. 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.

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Additional Resources

Resources for Agile Project Management Online Training.

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