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Differences and Learning: the PMI-Agile Project Heats Up

by Dan Mezick on Jun 11, 2010 |

As the Agile community evolves, the list of places where you can find really good information also evolves. Once such place for finding excellent information is the PMI-Agile Yahoo group, an outgrowth of the PMI-Agile project. This community has a quite interesting roster of participants, including Ron Jeffries, a signatory of the Agile Manifesto, and Tom Mellor, the President and Chairman of the Board of the Scrum Alliance.

InfoQ has reported on the launch of the PMI-Agile project last year. The project's mission is to bring agile knowledge and skills to all PMI practitioners. Yet what has emerged is much more interesting than that. The project's Yahoo group has evolved into a place where worlds collide. The forum serves as a kind of border-area melting pot where well respected, highly opinionated and highly skilled participants from PMI and Agile backgrounds are actively evolving the Agile conversation.

For example, on a recent thread, one poster listed a link to the Dept of Defense Command and Control Research Project. That link became the foundation of a wider InfoQ article on Agile in the military. This is an example of the quality of some of the posts emerging on this forum.

More recently, Ron Jeffries, a signatory of the Agile Manifesto, is actively posting opinions, facts and some instances a bit of serious push-back on those who might seek to edit or amend the Agile Manifesto definition of Agile. InfoQ interviewed Ron to find out what is so attractive about the PMI-Agile Yahoo group.

Ron Jeffries says:

I subscribe to the PMI-Agile group because there are people there who are interested in Agile, and who do not know much about it. Since, in my opinion, bad project management is one of the main causes of software project failures, and since Agile is a form of good project management, I would like the group to get a good grounding in what Agile really is. I think I bring that to the group.

In addition, relatively unknown but highly knowledgeable PM/PMP types who also have considerable Agile knowledge are contributing to the conversation, in some cases addressing Ron Jeffries directly. For example, Horia Slusanschi says

Hello Ron,

You recently wrote:

> > I am inclined to think that the PM / SM roles are not
> > inherently compatible, but that the thinking that creates a PM
> > position is often antithetical to Agile, and that some (perhaps
> > many, perhaps even most) PMs are inclined to a style that would not
> > work well with Agile ... and that this last is not a built-in
> > mandatory aspect of the PM role or personality.

I think your observation may be somewhat uncharitable, I am fortunate to know many PMs (I lead the Software Engineering Profession at HP) that are wise to the ways of large organisations and do the best they can to support Agile projects within the existing organisational constraints because they care more about the results that reach the end users.

You also point out an interesting perceived incompatibility. Yes, there will always be tension between ways of thinking. However, I suggest we should make the effort to resolve that tension creatively.

There is some "heat" developing, as a result of the differences and diversity found in this forum. In addition to Ron Jeffries, other notable names in the Agile community are weighing in. Tom Mellor, no less than the current President and Chairman of the Board of the Scrum Alliance, has posted to the PMI-Agile Yahoo group.

Here is a recent post by Tom Mellor:

Incremental delivery does not necessarily mean "delivered to production" or "shipped." It employs aspects of the scientific method where trial and error, experimentation, and heuristics are the tools used. ...Knowledge work is inherently complex and it is the use of the feedback loop that helps manage and mitigate the effects of things like Murphy's Law and Parkinson's Law.

The primary problem with linear development is actual inspection of the work takes place late in the process and the ability to refine at that point is both limited and costly....I use what I call Logical Work Organization. The core of this is the team, which decides how to do the work, in what order, and the schedule of it. They stop, inspect, and adapt as needed. They work together is collocation whenever possible. Management stays out of the way and helps them overcome obstacles and impediments. The power to do the work this way must be vested in a self-organizing, self-directing team where members are accountable to each other for the work and where they leverage their collective intellect and skills.

Not everyone agrees with Tom, as a quick visit to the PMI-Agile Yahoo group can attest. Tom mentions what he calls "Logical Work Organization". As mentioned earlier in this article, the Dept of Defense is studying Agility in warfare, and has coined a new phrase: Requisite Agility. This is defined as:

...The appropriate amount of Agility to seek, Requisite Agility, is a level that balances the costs of attaining it with the consequences of not having it, given the situation. Thus, Requisite Agility, not unlimited Agility, should be the goal.

Logical Work Organization and Requisite Agility are some of the ideas emerging from thought leaders who are posting in the PMI-Agile group. What is interesting here is the tremendous differences in perception and opinion being expressed. It is well understood that differences are the raw ingredients for learning at the group level. As such, the PMI-Agile Yahoo may be a required place to touch base with the evolving nature of Agility.

Ron Jeffries agrees-- and is taking up a kind of "steering" role in the space, steering attention to places he thinks can serve the community best. According to Ron Jeffries,

People who are new to Agile almost invariably read a little material and then draw incorrect conclusions, usually of the form "we already do that". One of my main thrusts on the group is to guide them in what Agile really is, and to encourage them to try it before they try to decide how it fits in. To do otherwise would be a bit like trying to decide what good a shortstop is without having played or even seen baseball.

The PMI-Agile Yahoo group is a place to "touch all the bases" each week, and notice what is emerging in the space where philospohical boundaries overlap, where 'waterfall meets empirical process control".

Time is at a premium these days for most professionals. Attention, focus and time are all very scarce. Increasingly, the premium skill is knowing what to pay attention to-- and what to ignore. The PMI-Agile Yahoo group is emerging as a required stop for anyone PM "and/or" Agile professional who wants to get a current reading on "where Agility might be going".

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