Tag Archives: Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

What Is the Relationship of Physics and Agile Project Management?

Physics and Agile Project Management

What can Physics teach us about Agile Project Management?   We can learn a lot from how the science of physics has evolved. I think there are a number of interesting similarities the way that Agile Project Management is evolving.

How Has the Science of Physics Evolved?

For many years until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, physics was based on what is called “Classical Physics”.

What is Classical Physics?

“Classical physics is the physics of everyday phenomena of nature, those we can observe with our unaided senses. It deals primarily with mass, force and motion.

  • While its roots go back to the earliest times, to the Ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes,
  • It later developed into a cohesive system with the contributions of Galileo, Kepler and Newton.
  • Classical physics achieved phenomenal success, as the Calculus of Newton and Leibniz gave it the tools to tackle even problems not imagined by its pioneers.”

How Has Classical Physics Evolved?

“Around 1900, give or take a decade, surprising new experimental evidence, primarily about atoms and molecules:

  • Showed us that these small-scale phenomena behave in ways not anticipated by classical theory
  • This ushered in a new era called “modern” physics.
  • New laws and methodology were developed to deal with the rapidly expanding experimental evidence.
  • Relativity and quantum mechanics added new tools to the study of nature.”

These did not make classical physics “wrong”, for the old laws were working just as they always had, within their limited scope—which was the study of large objects (not atomic scale ones) moving relatively slowly (not near the speed of light). “

“So classical physics is still the starting point for learning about physics, and constitutes the bulk of the material in most introductory textbooks.

Simanek, Donald E., What’s Physics All About?, https://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/ideas/allabout.htm

What Happened to Cause People to Rethink Classical Physics?

That notion of physics that was intended to define how the entire universe worked held together for a long time; however, serious weaknesses began to appear around the early 1900’s:

“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. There was clearly a lot of cleaning up to do, but it looked like a fairly mechanical job: turn the crank on the calculator until the results come out. Apart from a few niggling problems like those lines in the light emitted by gas discharges, and the apparent dependence of the mass of high-speed electrons on their velocity”

Slavin, Alan J., “A Brief History and Philosophy of Physics”, Trent University

How is This Transformation Related to Agile Project Management?

Classical Physics Is Analogous to Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

Classical Physics is analogous to traditional, plan-driven project management. Similar to the laws of classical physics:

  • The traditional, plan-driven project management approach has been widely accepted as the only way to do project management for a long time
  • The way traditional, plan-driven project management is done hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s
  • It assumes a very predictable view of the world where it was possible to completely define a project plan with a fairly high level of certainty prior to the start of a project

Recognizing the Limitations

Physicists recognized the limitations of Classical Physics just as we are beginning to recognize the limitations of traditional plan-driven project management. The table below shows a comparison of how these two areas have evolved:

PhysicsProject Management
For many years, physicists believed that a model of the universe could be completely predicted based on some relatively simple and well-defined laws of classical physicsFor a long time, we assumed that traditional plan-driven project management was the only way to do project management and that approach would work in any project
Beginning in the early 1900’s, modern physics began to evolve and the limitations in Classical Physics began to be much more apparentIn recent years, it is apparent that we are in a much more dynamic and more complex universe with much higher levels of uncertainty
In this new environment, Classical Physics still provides a foundation however, it is no longer a universal view of how the world worksIn today’s world, we are beginning to recognize that a traditional plan-driven approach to project management is not the only way to do project management and it doesn’t work well in a very uncertain environment

What Are the Limitations of Physics and Project Management?

Traditional, plan-driven project management (just like Classical Physics) will never be totally obsolete and will continue to be a foundation for many areas of project management:

“…classical physics retains considerable utility as an excellent approximation in most situations of practical interest. Neither relativity nor quantum theory is required to build bridges or design cellphone antennas.”

The never-ending conundrums of classical physics, Trent University

Limitations of Classical Physics

However, it is important to recognize the limitations that are inherent in a traditional, plan-driven project management approach. Experienced physicists have learned to recognize the limitations of classical physics. It only works reliably in a certain range of situations as shown in the figure below:

modern-physics

“Classical Physics is usually concerned with everyday conditions: speeds much lower than the speed of light, and sizes much greater than that of atoms. Modern physics is usually concerned with high velocities and small distances.”

Limitations of Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

Similarly, project managers also need to recognize that a traditional, plan-driven project management approach only works reliably in a limited set of situations. In the project management world, this can be expressed with the Stacey Complexity Model:

stacey-complexity-model

In this model, there are two primary dimensions – one is requirements complexity and the other is technology complexity.

  • Traditional, plan-driven project management still works in areas of low complexity such as some construction projects. However, even in some of those areas, project managers have recognized a need for a somewhat more adaptive approach
  • As you get further out on either complexity axis, there is typically a need for more of an adaptive Agile approach. In that area, Agile is better suited for dealing with uncertainty but this is not a binary and mutually-exclusive proposition. There is a need to blend both approaches in the right proportions to fit the situation

Overall Summary

The way that the science of Physics has evolved has some strong similarities to the evolution of Agile Project Management.

Classical Physics Is Like Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management

The foundation of Physics today is still Classical Physics, just as traditional plan-driven project management is still a foundation of project management today:

  • Classical Physics is the theory underlying the natural processes we observe everyday.
  • It is the key to understanding the motion of pulleys, machines, projectiles and planets.
  • It helps us understand geology, chemistry, astronomy, weather, tides and other natural phenomena”

Evolution of New Ways of Thinking

Just as new theories about Physics have significantly extended the notion of what “Physics” is beyond the Classical Physics, Agile will have a similar impact on project management.  The way this will probably evolve is very likely similar to the way that Physics has evolved:

Physics EvolutionProject Management Evolution
In today’s world, there are people who specialize in Classical Physics
There are also people who specialize in the more esoteric areas of Modern Physics
There will be project managers who continue to specialize in a traditional plan-driven approach to project management
There will also be project managers who specialize in Agile
However, neither one of those areas can ignore the existence of the other areaJust as in Physics, neither one of those areas can ignore the existence of the other area
A truly broad-based Physicist has a fairly solid knowledge of both Classical and Modern PhysicsA truly broad-based Agile Project Manager has a solid knowledge of both traditional plan-driven project management and Agile

Overall Summary

There is a definite relationship between the way the science of Physics has evolved and the way that Agile Project Management is currently evolving. An understanding of how Physics has evolved will help us understand how Agile Project Management is likely to evolve.

Additional Resources

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

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

Background

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.

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:

https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/practice-guides/agile

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.

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
Approach
Process
Control
Model
Based on what is called a “Defined Process Control ModelBased on what is called an “Empirical Process Control Model
PM
Emphasis
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
PM
Role
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.

Is PMP Certification Still Relevant in Today’s World?

I have mixed feelings about the subject of “Is PMP certification still relevant in today’s world?”. On the one hand,

  • I am a PMP myself,
  • I have had a PMP certification since 2004, and
  • I’m proud to be a PMP, but I recognize the limitations of a PMP certification.

On the other hand, I can clearly see the limitations in the PMP certification.

IS a PMP Certification Still Relevant?

Is PMP Certification Still Relevant?

What Are the Limitations of PMP®?

PMP is heavily based on a traditional plan-driven project management approach (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”). The world is rapidly changing today.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management under the right circumstances. However, we definitely shouldn’t try to force-fit all projects to that approach.

  • A traditional plan-driven approach to project management works well in situations where there is a relatively low level of uncertainty and predictability is important
  • It does not work well in situations
    • With a high level of uncertainty or
    • Where an emphasis on creativity and innovation may be more important than an emphasis on planning and control to achieve predictability

In today’s world,

  • A project manager needs to be capable of using a broader range of methodologies to fit the nature of the project rather than
  • Force-fitting all projects to a traditional plan-driven approach.  

Situations are becoming increasingly common that require a more flexible and adaptive approach due to very uncertain rapidly-changing technology and a very dynamic and very competitive business marketplace.

What Is the Impact of Agile on PMP?

For those reasons,

  • Agile is having a profound effect on the project management profession that will cause us to rethink the way we do project management.  
  • That doesn’t mean that traditional plan-driven project management and PMP are obsolete.
  • However, we’ve got to think of project management in broader terms and
  • Recognize that traditional plan-driven project management is not the only way to do project management

Check out this article for more on that:

What is “Agile” and Why Is It Important to Project Managers?

Is PMI-ACP Certification the Answer?

PMI-ACP® certification is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion:

  • It doesn’t really address the big challenge that many project managers face today of “how do I blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation?”  
  • Unfortunately, PMI still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as fairly separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two

What About PMBOK® Version 6?

The final edition of PMBOK version 6 was released in September 2017. One of the big changes is that it contains more references to Agile.  

  • The changes to PMBOK v6 barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done to develop a more integrated approach
  • I can’t imagine that future extensions to PMBOK will solve this problem either

The whole concept behind PMBOK is not very compatible with an Agile approach.  These are two very different ways of thinking:

PMBOKAgile
PMBOK is based on the idea that you can develop a checklist of things to consider in almost every conceivable project management situation that you can imagine.Agile requires a very different mindset.  An Agile approach needs to be much more adaptive and it would be impossible to develop a checklist defining what to do in every conceivable situation you might find yourself in in an Agile environment.
PMBOK and traditional plan-driven project management are based on a defined process control modelAgile is based on an empirical process control model which means that both the product and the process to produce the product are continuously adapted based on observation throughout the project
PMBOK is over 500 pages long with lots of details on what to do or consider in various situationsAgile is based on some very brief and succinct principles and values without a lot of detail and expects you to figure out what to do in a given situation.
PMBOK is also based on compartmentalizing a project into distinct and well-defined process groupsAgile requires a much more holistic and integrated approach to project management

What is the Long-term Solution?

This is not an easy problem to solve. 

  • In the long-term, the solution to this problem is likely to involve some very significant rethinking of both PMBOK and PMI certifications.
  • What is needed is to create a much more integrated approach for blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices.
  • However, that is a very difficult problem to solve and is not likely to happen for a while.

What Is the Short-term Solution?

In the short-term, here are some possible strategies:

If You Have a PMP Today

If you already have a PMP certification today, that knowledge is a good foundation to begin to develop a broader focus on an Agile Project Management approach. However, it does require a lot of rethinking on how to do project management and also requires a very different mindset.

If You Don’t Already Have a PMP Certification Today

If you don’t already have a PMP certification today and are early in your career as a project manager, you have a much more difficult choice to make between two directions:

1. Getting a PMP

You could make a significant investment in time and money to get a PMP certification and then perhaps move on to learn an Agile approach sometime later.  If you are working in an industry or application area where traditional plan-driven project management is still the dominant way of working, that might be  a reasonable choice.

2. Skipping PMP

If you’re not working in an industry or application area where traditional plan-driven project management is the dominant way of working, getting a PMP may not make sense.  Certainly, some foundation of traditional plan-driven project management is worthwhile but you may not need a full PMP for that.  An alternative is to skip getting a PMP and just focus on developing an integrated approach to  Agile Project Management.

In my opinion, skipping PMP and developing a more integrated Agile Project Management approach may be a reasonable for anyone

  • Who doesn’t already have a PMP and
  • Is interested in an Agile Project Management role.  

However, it is a very difficult path to follow in the short term  because:

  • There is currently no certification built around an integrated approach to Agile Project Management and
  • The knowledge base is not well-developed either
  • For that reason, you have to be somewhat of a “pioneer” in choosing this direction and
  • Since there is no certification, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Overall Summary

Is PMP Still a Good Foundation?

Some elements of PMBOK and PMP are definitely useful as a foundation for any kind of project management.

  • However, the depth of study and knowledge required for PMP certification tends to “brainwash” people into thinking that PMP/PMBOK is the only way to do project management and that is not the case
  • Someone who only wants a foundation of knowledge in traditional plan-driven project management principles probably doesn’t need that depth of knowledge

The full PMP certification would still be appropriate for any project managers who plan to specialize in traditional plan-driven project management. However, that depth of knowledge in plan-driven project management should not be needed for someone who wants to develop an integrated Agile Project Management approach.

Additional Resources

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

What’s the Future of Project Management? What Do You Think?

What’s the future of project management? Is project management obsolete? 

  • I don’t think that “project management” is obsolete. However, I do think that some traditional roles of a “Project Manager” are becoming obsolete in projects that require a more adaptive approach
  • I also think that there’s a need to redefine what “project management” is if it is to continue to thrive in the future

There is a need to:

  • Separate the functions of “project management” from some of the traditional roles that have been played by a “Project Manager”, and
  • “Reinvent” the project management profession and develop a broader view of what “project management” is if it is going to continue to thrive and remain relevant in today’s world.
Future Project Management

Examples of Companies and Professions Reinventing Themselves

Any company or profession that doesn’t change and adapt to changes in the world around them runs the risk of becoming stagnant and no longer relevant. Here are a couple of examples:

American Express

American Express is a company that has been around for more than 150 years and has had to reinvent itself a number of times over that time. American Express started out in 1850 shipping boxes on railway cars. That business went very well for a while:

“For years it enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments (goods, securities, currency, etc.) throughout New York State.”
(Wikipedia)

Can you imagine where American Express would be today if it still defined its business primarily around shipping boxes on railway cars? American Express has continued to reinvent itself over-and-over again to remain a vibrant and competitive company.

Quality Management

In the early 1990’s I worked in the Quality Management profession with Motorola. Prior to that time,

  • Quality Management was heavily based on a quality control approach that relied on inspectors to inspect products for defects
  • That process was very reactive and inefficient and companies like Motorola began implementing a much more proactive approach to quality management that was based on eliminating defects at the source rather than finding and fixing them later

That caused a major transformation in the Quality Management profession. Instead of being in control of quality through quality control inspectors,

  • Quality Managers had to learn to distribute some responsibility for quality to the people who designed and manufactured the product and play more of a consultative and influencing role.
  • When I worked for Motorola in the early 1990’s,  my manager used to tell me that “Our job is to teach, coach, and audit – in that order“.

That turned out to be a much more effective approach but it was a gut-wrenching change for many people in the Quality Management profession who were used to being the ones who owned responsibility for quality and were in control of quality.

How Does This Relate to Project Management?

For many years, the project management profession has been dominated by an approach that emphasized planning and control.

  • A project was deemed to be successful if it delivered well-defined project requirements within an approved budget and schedule.
  • That approach hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s but
  • We live in a different world today

There are two major factors that are creating a need for a different approach to project management in today’s world:

Levels of Uncertainty

There is a much higher level of uncertainty because problems and solutions tend to be much more complex: 

  • This is particularly true of large software systems.
  • With a high level of uncertainty; it is difficult, if not impossible, to define a detailed solution to the problem prior to the start of the project.  

The example I use in my training is “finding a cure for cancer”. 

  • Can you imagine attempting to develop a detailed project plan for that kind of effort? 
  • There is just too much uncertainty

Instead of getting bogged down in trying to develop a detailed project plan upfront, it would be much better to get started and use an iterative approach to attempt to converge on a solution as the project is in progress.

Increased Emphasis on Creativity and Innovation

In many areas, competitive pressures require a significant level of innovation in new product development. 

  • In these areas, creativity and innovation are much more important than planning and control. 
  • For example, think of what a company like Apple has to do to develop a new iPhone. 
  • Do you think that they start with a detailed plan based on some well-defined requirements?  I don’t think so.

What is Agile Project Management?

An Agile Project Management approach is ideally-suited for a project that:

  • Has a high level of uncertainty, or
  • Requires an emphasis on creativity and innovation rather than an emphasis on planning and control.

However, it is not limited to projects that are 100% Agile.

  • An Agile Project Management approach is applicable to a broad range of projects and
  • An Agile Project Manager needs to know how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation

Where Does Project Management Fit in Scrum?

In a Scrum project at the team level, you may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” but there is actually a lot of project management going on. At the team level, many functions that might normally be performed by a Project Manager have been distributed among other roles. Here’s an article with more detail on that:

What Needs to be Done to Adapt to This New Environment?

In today’s world:

  • There are many project managers who have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional plan-driven approach to project management who might attempt to force-fit all projects to that kind of approach
  • There are also many project managers who are used to a project management approach that relies heavily on well-defined document templates and checklists to define how the project is managed

Some project managers will need to upgrade their skills to a higher level because there is typically no project manager role at the team level in an Agile/Scrum project

  • We all need to adopt a broader view of what “Project Management” is that is not limited to traditional plan-driven project management
  • Project managers need to learn how to blend an Agile (adaptive) approach with a traditional plan-driven approach in the right proportions to fit the nature of the problem
  • Force-fitting all projects to a traditional plan-driven project management approach is not likely to be very successful

This new environment “raises the bar” considerably for project managers and requires a lot more skill.  It is not a simple matter of filling in the blanks in well-defined project templates and following project checklists based on PMBOK®.

What Has Been Done to Transform the Project Management Profession?

PMI® has begun to recognize the need to deal with this challenge and has made steps in that direction but much more needs to be done:

PMI-ACP Certification

The PMI-ACP® certification is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. 

  • It recognizes the need for project managers to have an understanding of Agile and Lean but it is only a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge
  • It doesn’t really address the big challenge that project managers have of figuring out how to blend those approaches with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management.

PMBOK and Integrated Approach

PMI® still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. PMBOK® version 6 has added material on how the various sections of PMBOK® might be applied in an Agile environment but that also doesn’t go far enough in my opinion.

Agile Project Management Training

Much of the training that is available to project managers today on Agile only addresses the basics of Agile and Scrum. 

  • You have to understand the principles behind Agile and Scrum at a much deeper level to understand how to successfully adapt those approaches to different kinds of projects. 
  • You can’t just do Agile and Scrum mechanically.

Overall Summary

Project Management certainly isn’t obsolete but the “handwriting is on the wall” that change is definitely needed for the profession to continue to grow and thrive.

We need to go beyond these steps and “reinvent” what “project management” is. Here’s an article I wrote with more on that subject:

Additional Resources

I am very passionate about helping the project management profession recognize the need for this transformation.  That’s the essence of the three books I’ve published on Agile Project Management and of the online Agile Project Management training that I have developed.

What is an Agile Project Manager?

There is a lot of confusion and controversy about what an Agile Project Manager is. It’s understandable why this confusion exists:

  • There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management and
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager might play is not well-defined
What is an Agile Project Manager?

Popular Stereotypes and Misconceptions

There are some very strong stereotypes of what “project management” is and what a “Project Manager” is:

  • Those stereotypes are centered around the belief that traditional plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management
  • Project managers are so heavily ingrained into that way of thinking that they can’t possibly adapt to an Agile environment

Agile Versus Waterfall

One of the biggest misconceptions that many people seem to have is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between Agile and “Waterfall” with nothing in between. That ignores the possibility of blending the two approaches to fit a given situation.

Agile is Not Limited to Small, Single-team Projects

Many people think of Agile in a very narrow sense as limited to simple, single-team Scrum projects.

  • Because there is no “Project Manager” role defined at that level, they assume that there is no role for project management at all in an Agile environment
  • However, there is more to Agile than simple, single-team projects

The Role of an Agile Project Manager is Not Well-defined

PMI has made a step in the right direction by introducing the PMI-ACP certification. That certification at least recognizes Agile as a legitimate form of project management; however,

  • PMI has never really defined what an “Agile Project Manager” is and what role he/she might play in the real world
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge and is not designed around a particular job role
  • To some extent, PMI still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two

A Broader Vision of Project Management

In order to better understand what “Agile Project Management” is, we need to get past these stereotypes and develop a broader vision of:

  • What “project management” is,
  • What “Agile” is, and
  • Finally, What an “Agile Project Manager” is

Important Goals

We need to recognize that:

  • The discipline of ”project management” isn’t limited to traditional, plan-driven project management and
  • An emphasis on planning and control is not the only way to do project management

A Different View of Project Management

For example, there is actually a lot of “project management” going on in an Agile project although:

  • You may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” and
  • It may not look like the traditional, narrow view of what project management is at all:

It’s a different style of project management with an emphasis on taking an adaptive approach to maximize the value of the project in an uncertain environment.

  • It may not have the traditional emphasis on planning and control
  • The project management functions that would normally be performed by an individual with the title of “Project Manager” have been distributed among the other members of the team

Distribution of Project Management Functions

Here is a summary of how the project management functions that might normally be performed by a Project Manager have been distributed among other roles at the team level in an Agile project:

Product Owner Role

The Product Owner has a lot of responsibilities that might be performed by a project manager in a traditional plan-driven project. 

  • He/she is responsible for the overall successful business outcome of the project which means delivering a valuable product in a timely and cost-effective manner and
  • Making all decisions that would normally be done by a Project Manager for risk management as well as planning and managing the overall effort

Scrum Master Role

The Scrum Master also has some responsibilities that might be done by a project manager including:

  • Removing obstacles that might limit progress and
  • Facilitating and coaching the project team

Team Role

And, finally every member of the development team has some project management functions on a very small scale for:

  • Planning, scheduling, tracking, and reporting on their own work
  • As well as the work of the team as a whole.

Overall Summary – What is an “Agile Project Manager”?

In my opinion, an Agile Project Manager is:

  • Equally trained and skilled in applying both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices
  • He/She should know how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. 

What Role Might an “Agile Project Manager” Play?

I think it’s sad that some project managers see their only alternative in an Agile environment is to become a Scrum Master. That’s because the role of an Agile Project Manager is so ill-defined and poorly-understood.  I’ve identified several potential roles that an Agile Project Manager might play:

1. Team-level Role

There is officially no role for an “Agile Project Manager” at the team level in an Agile project; however, a project manager who is skilled in blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices can play a real value-added role as either a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, or an Agile Coach

2. Hybrid Agile Role

For lots of reasons, companies choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach and this is an ideal environment for an Agile Project Manager to work in. An example would be an Agile contracting situation.

3. Enterprise-level Role

As projects grow in scope and complexity to an enterprise level, there is a much more significant need for a dedicated Agile Project Manager role. As an example, I did a case study in my latest book on a project at Harvard Pilgrim that involved over 100 Agile teams – you just can’t do an effort like that without some form of project/program management.

Additional Resources

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