Tag Archives: PMBOK

What Is the Future of Project Management? What is the Impact of Agile?


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

Future of Project Management
A bold, red question symbol stands at the center of a light gray maze.

What’s the Impact?

I’ve written a number of articles on the future of project management and I get a lot of questions from project managers. Many 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
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a step in the right direction and it’s not an easy certification to get. However, 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. There is even some controversy about whether 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 about how Agile might impact their career direction.

  • There are some project managers who are in “denial”.
    • They want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management.
    • They assume that it will go on unchanged 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. They believe that Agile is a solution to almost any problem you might have

An Objective, Pragmatic Viewpoint

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.
  • 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. In that environment, 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. In an uncertain environment, 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,

  • The value side has been assumed to be well-defined by a fixed set of requirements
  • 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
  • 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. 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. It requires some thought 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. However, you may ave to rethink them considerably in a very different context
  • Use some traditional project management skills very fully at all depending on the role you choose

Potential Agile Project Management Roles

There are several potential migration paths for project managers who want to develop into an Agile Project Management role:

1. Become a Scrum Master

A Scrum Master:

  • 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. However, 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. However, it is actually much more similar to a Product Manager than a Project Manager.  The major differences are that:

  1. The Product Owner is a business decision-maker and requires some business domain knowledge that a project manager may not have.
  2. 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.
  • 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
  • It also may 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.

Overall Summary

Agile will have a big impact on the future of the project management profession:

  • 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. Agile may force project managers to make some significant choices about their career direction. It isn’t as simple as just going out and getting another certification (like PMI-ACP).

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

PMBOK and Agile – Does PMBOK Version 6 Go Far Enough to Integrate Agile?

One of the biggest changes in PMBOK® version 6 is that it has incorporated more guidance about Agile. Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?  

  • I think that the release of PMBOK version 6 and The Agile Practice Guide is a huge step forward. It is a noble attempt to create a more integrated approach for integrating Agile and traditional plan-driven project management;
  • However, the full integration of Agile and traditional project management requires some very major shifts in thinking. It even involves something as fundamental as adopting a much broader definition of what “project management” is.
Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?

I don’t think that simply adding some words about Agile to PMBOK is going to be sufficient to bring about the kind of shift in thinking that is needed.

What is “Project Management?

The crux of the problem is that for many years the essence of what “project management” is has been centered on some very well-established stereotypes of what “project management is. Those stereotypes are based on achieving predictability and repeatability as shown below:

Traditional Project Management Emphasis

Traditional Project Management Emphasis

That’s the primary way people have thought about what “project management” is since the 1950’s and 1960’s.  A successful project manager is one who could plan and manage a project to meet budgeted cost and schedule goals. That obviously requires an emphasis on planning and control.

The way to achieve predictability and repeatability has been to have a detailed and well-though-out plan and then control any changes to that plan.

Many people loosely refer to this approach as “Waterfall” because, in many cases, it has been implemented by using a sequential phase-gate process.  However,  I don’t believe that description is entirely accurate:

  • I prefer to refer to it in more general terms as “traditional, plan-driven project management”
  • PMI has started using the term “predictive” to describe this kind of project management approach because the emphasis is on predictability
What’s Wrong With That Definition?

In the 1950’s and 1960’s that approach worked well and it was particularly in high demand for large, complex defense programs that were well-noted for cost and schedule overruns.  At that time, the primary goal was to achieve predictability.  In fact, that approach has been so prevalent that it has essentially defined what “project management” is. Since that time, many project managers don’t see any other way to do project management.

The problem with that approach is it only works well in environments that have a fairly low level of uncertainty where it is possible to develop a fairly detailed plan prior to the start of the project.

Factors Driving Change

In today’s world, there are several major factors driving change:

  1. The environment we live in today has a much higher level of uncertainty associated with it. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to develop detailed plans prior to the start of a project
  2. Solutions are more complex and are much more difficult to design and optimize
  3. Competitive pressures demand high levels of creativity and innovation in spite of the level of uncertainty in the environment.  Producing high-value business results is more important than predictability in many cases.

The New Environment

This new environment demands a very different kind of project model that looks more like this:

Think of a typical new product today like the next generation of  the iPhone.  Do you think that a traditional plan-driven approach with an emphasis on predictability, planning, and control would work well to develop that kind of product?

How Are PMBOK and Agile Different?

The differences in how these two approaches have been defined and implemented in actual practice are very significant:

AreaTraditional Plan-driven Approach (PMBOK)Agile
Based on what is called a “Defined Process Control ModelBased on what is called an “Empirical Process Control Model
The emphasis of is on planning and control to achieve predictability over project costs and schedulesThe emphasis is on using an adaptive approach to maximize business results in an uncertain environment
Project management functions are typically implemented by someone with clearly-defined responsibility for that role called a “Project Manager”The functions that might normally be performed by a “Project Manager” at the team level have typically been distributed among other roles
ImplementationFollowing a well-defined plan and process are typically importantReliant on the judgement, intelligence, and skill of the people doing the project to fit an adaptive approach to the nature of the project

Is the Agile approach shown above in the right-hand column not “project management?  A lot of people would not recognize it as “project management” because it doesn’t fit with many of the well-defined stereotypes of what “project management” is.  I contend that it is just a different kind of “project management” that will cause us to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is.

“Project Management” should not be limited to a particular methodology.  A project manager should be capable of delivering results using whatever methodology is most appropriate to achieve those results.

Is One Approach Better Than the Other?

There are a lot of Agile enthusiasts out there who will advocate that Agile is a better approach for almost any problem you might have.

My opinion is that 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 that you’re in.

  • An Agile approach works best in situations that have a relatively high level of uncertainty. In those situations, creativity and innovation to find an appropriate solution are more important than predictability.   For example, if you were to try to find a cure for cancer, it would be ridiculous to try to develop a detailed plan for that effort.
  • A traditional plan-driven approach works well in situations that have a relatively low level of uncertainty and where predictability, planning, and control is important.  For example, if you were building a bridge across a river, it would be equally ridiculous to say: “We’ll build the first span of the bridge, see how that comes out , and then we’ll decide how to build the remaining spans.”

Are These Two Approaches Mutually-Exclusive?

A lot of people have the mistaken belief that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”:

  • There has been a lot of polarization between the Agile and project management communities for a long time. Many people in these two communities have seen these two approaches in conflict with each other
  • PMI has treated these two areas as separate and independent domains of knowledge for a long time with little or no integration between the two

It takes a higher level of skill and sophistication to see these two approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary to each other rather than competitive. It is a challenge to learn how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit any given situation but it definitely can be done.

Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?

I have ordered a final copy of PMBOK Version 6 and haven’t actually seen it yet; however, I have seen early preview editions and I think I understand where it is trying to go. I have several concerns:

  1. As I’ve mentioned, I think that there is a huge and fundamental shift in thinking that is needed to rethink what “project management” is.  I’m not sure that simply adding some words about Agile to PMBOK is going to be enough to help people make that shift in thinking. It requires seeing “project management” in a fundamentally and radically different perspective.
  2. The whole concept of PMBOK does not seem to be very consistent with an Agile approach:
    • Agile is based on some very simple and succinct principles and values. It relies very heavily on the training and skill of the people performing the process to interpret those principles and values in the context of a project
    • The latest version of PMBOK is over 700 pages long. It’s supposed to be a “guide” but it seems to try to provide a detailed checklist of things to consider for almost any conceivable project management situation.

Putting those two things together is like trying to mix oil and vinegar. They just don’t blend together very well and attempting to blend the two approaches at that level doesn’t seem to make much sense.

What is the Solution?

This is definitely a challenging problem.  Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are like two different religions – they both have a common goal of delivering business results but the way each approach goes about doing it is very different.

There are two significant components of the solution to this problem:

Developing an Integrated View of Project Management

Somehow, we have to create a much more unified view of what “project management” is. That view should fully embrace Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management.  However, modifying PMBOK to totally integrate Agile would be very difficult.  Its like setting out to create a unified view of religion.  A better approach might be to cross-reference the two sources to identify areas of similarity and then create an over-arching guide to blend the two approaches together to create a unified view of religion.

I believe that is essentially what PMI has attempted to do with The Agile Practice Guide. I  discussed that in a separate article.  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.  The new Agile Practice Guide attempts to bridge that gap and show a more integrated approach to those two areas.  I think that is the only reasonable strategy that makes sense for now.

Develop a New Breed of Agile Project Managers

This “raises the bar” significantly for the whole project management profession.  In my Agile Project Management books, I have often used the analogy of a project manager as a “cook” versus a project manager as a “chef” that was originally developed by Bob Wysocki:

  • A good “cook” may have the ability to create some very good meals, but those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes, and his/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook
  • A “chef,” on the other hand, typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases. His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and in many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation. The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine and are capable of combining dishes from entirely different kinds of cuisine

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.