There’s a lot of confusion on the subject of “What is Agile Project Management?” and how is it different? Let’s start with the standard PMI definition of “Project Management” from PMBOK that exists today:
“The application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to the project activities to meet project requirements”
What’s Wrong With That Definition?
It seems to me that this classic definition that so many people seem to take for granted is way out-of-date. It:
- Seems to be based on the narrow, traditional notion that a project manager is someone who manages the costs and schedule of a project to meet defined requirements
- Implies that there is only one way to do project management and that is based on a traditional plan-driven approach to project management.
And the definition assumes that “Project Management” is only performed by someone called a “Project Manager”.
We need to significantly expand that thinking to embrace the idea that a project manager may play a role in a much more uncertain environment where:
- The requirements may not be not well-defined and
- The project requires a more adaptive (Agile) approach
In that environment, the goal is typically focused more on:
- Maximizing the value the project produces rather than
- Managing costs and schedules to deliver well-defined requirements.
The person performing that function may not even have the formal title of “Project Manager”.
Many people may claim that is not “project management” because there have been so many well-established stereotypes that have developed over the years about what “project management” is. So the first challenge is to get past many of the stereotypes that exist about what “project management” is.
Project Management Stereotypes
Here are a few of the common stereotypes that exist about project management:
1. Project Managers Are Very “Command-and-Control” Oriented
One common stereotype is that Project Managers are very “command-and-control” oriented. There is some amount of truth in that. Project managers are held responsible for getting results and:
- Sometimes that means being assertive and somewhat directive to set goals and manage the performance of project teams
- Many times, a project manager is expected to perform that role by the businesses that they operate in
- In many companies, the Project Manager is the one held responsible and is expected to take corrective action to get the project on track if there is the project does not meet expectations
2. Project Managers Are Rigid and Inflexible and Only Know How to Manage by the “Waterfall” Methodology
Another common stereotype is that project managers are rigid and inflexible. That also has some truth to it. For many years,
- Project managers have been accountable for the costs and schedules of projects and
- In order to meet cost and schedule goals, project managers have to control the scope of the project.
- That, in turn, requires a disciplined approach to defining and documenting detailed requirements and controlling changes
The emphasis on managing costs and schedules naturally leads to extensive use of plan-driven or “Waterfall-style” methodologies. Those methodologies are based on
- Trying to define the project requirements in-detail upfront before the project starts and
- Controlling changes once the project is in progress
3. Project Managers Are Just Not Adaptive and Cannot Adapt to an Agile Environment
A final stereotype is that project managers cannot adapt to an Agile environment. Like the other stereotypes, there may be some amount of truth in this stereotype. However, it would be inaccurate to generalize and say that this is true of all project managers. For many project managers:
- Agile will require some considerable rethinking of the project management approach and
- It will also require a significant mindset change
Where Does Project Management Fit in Agile/Scrum?
If you look at how an Agile/Scrum project works, There is actually a lot of “project management” going on but:
- Many people will not recognize it as “project management” because it doesn’t fit the traditional stereotype of what “project management” is and
- You may not find anyone at the team level with the title of “Project Manager”
The project management functions that would normally be done by a single person called a “Project Manager” are distributed among all the members of the Agile team. For more detail on that, check out this article:
What Is an Agile Project Manager?
A logical question would then be
- What’s left for a project manager to do in that environment and
- What is an Agile Project Manager?
- What role does he/she play in the real world?
Those are not easy questions to answer because:
- The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and
- There may not be a role at all for a Project Manager at all at the team level in an Agile project
Basically, an Agile Project Manager is someone who knows how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation.
There are a number of different roles an Agile Project Manager might play in an Agile environment. Check out this article for more detail on that:
In my opinion, we need to make some radical shifts in thinking about what “Project Management” is. The project management profession and PMI, in particular, seem to unintentionally perpetuate these stereotypes by not addressing these basic definitions that are published in PMBOK that many project managers have taken for granted for many years.
Here’s my suggestion for a broader definition of what “Project Management” is:
“Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to maximize the value that the project produces.”
“Project management is focused on maximizing business results within the context of the business environment that a project is part of in a way that is appropriate to the nature of the project.“
I’m sure that definition could be fine-tuned, but the key points that I’m trying to get across are that:
- There isn’t just one way to do project management and we need to fully embrace Agile as a legitimate form of project management
- One of the greatest skills of anyone performing a project management function should be to select the right approach to fit the nature of the project
This definition of “Project Management” is not be limited to someone who has a title of “Project Manager”. In an Agile environment, “project management” functions are often distributed among other roles but it is still “project management”.
We need to significantly expand our thinking on what “Project Management” is in order to adopt a broader definition that embraces Agile Project Management.
You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.