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Is the Agile Community Being Unreasonable?

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The pmiagile Yahoo! group is a place where the two communities come together. The contributors to this group come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  A recent thread discussed the applicability of agile practices in traditional project management environments as described by the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK). (This reporter apologizes in advance for the long quotes, this is an intense topic that was difficult to paraphrase.)

Michael James quotes the PMBOK:

About once per season I encounter the belief that the PMBOK doesn't contradict agile approaches. It would be nice if that were true. (reposting) Here are some quotes from the PMBOK Guide Fourth Edition suggesting the unsuitability of "project management" to product development with Scrum:
  • "Projects are not ongoing efforts."
  • "The purpose of a project is to attain its objective and then terminate."
  • " Recognition and rewards. Clear criteria for rewards and a planned system for their use will promote and reinforce desired behaviors."
  • "Part of the team development process involves recognizing and rewarding desirable behavior. The original plans concerning ways to reward people are developed during Human Resource Planning (Section 9.1). Award decisions are made, formally or informally, during the process of managing the project team through performance appraisals" "For example, if the schedule is shortened, often the budget needs to be increased to add additional resources to complete the same amount of work in less time."

And Wayne Mack shows his frustration with the Agile community as he understand their recommendations of letting the teams self-manage:

It seems a bit brash if our recommendations to Project Managers is to not manage projects.

My current work environment is very accurately described in Michael's post below. Before I can start a project or even have team members assigned, I need to present a schedule, budget, and scope for approval. Even with customer requested and approved changes to scope, I need to justify changes in schedule and budget. This is why many project managers find suggestions of dynamic scope as almost incomprehensible.

To vent a little, I find APLN and the Agile COP interesting and reinvigorating, but I am not finding information that is applicable to my day-to-day work activities. I often feel like I am in a one man struggle and I would like to share information with others in the same situation.

It is my hope that we can discuss various strategies for applying Agile to PMI PMBoK project-based work. This would provide true benefit to Agile COP members and to PMI members at large.

Brad Murphy acknowledges Wayne's comments and elaborates on the Agile communities weak point:

Please know that you are not alone. Having spent 10+ years advocating and helping large, mainstream companies initiate and sustain a transition to "agility" I echo your sentiments regarding the Agile "purists". While I am a HUGE fan of many Agile principles and engineering techniques, the APLN and other "Agile" professional groups are often naive and sometimes down right dangerous in their disregard for the complex realities of organizational change management, governance, financial controls and longer horizon planning activities.

Here's a simple example of the naivete I'm referring. A certain Scrum industry leader says that self-empowered teams have a "right" to expel a team member for under performing. This industry leader advocates that In the event of a poorly performing contributor the team should counsel the team member together and if the team doesn't feel the colleague is correcting his/her behavior then the team is empowered to expel this person from the team. Really? In any larger organization this will result in legal wrangling, lawsuits and HR raining down like none other.

I'm not suggesting self-empowered teams shouldn't have a voice in shaping their membership, but this simple minded solution is not respectful of the existing legal and organizational constructs that must be reshaped in a more constructive manner than by being dismissive of current practices.

Dan Mezick points out that Brad's reply is the true dysfunction:

You tell a story about dysfunction. Literally. On the one hand, you have Scrum encouraging a team culture of productivity. On the other hand..... This inability to expel unproductive people (which confirms a productive culture) is "baked-in" corporate dysfunction:

This is literally THE problem. If a company cannot confirm it's own self-selected (new) culture of productivity, for example by repelling and removing lazy people, what then? The answer is, THAT firm continues to attract and hire new lazy people, while confirming that existing lazy people have a right to be present.

This brand of agility is optimized for very long consulting engagements.

If on the other hand the firm can express the (new) culture by removing lazy people, then that firm takes flight, embodies productivity, and no longer needs an army of embedded "agile" consultants who cultivate dependency. This is because the firm "gets it" and no longer needs the consultant.

How many consulting firms that provide "agile coaching" actually serve customers by encouraging client self-awareness and thus independence... from Day1 ?

Very few. Maybe none.

And Sanjiv Augustine adds in a different tone:

Brad, Wayne

Thanks for this intense discussion. It was so interesting and engaging that I feel compelled to engage. :)

I can empathize with your frustration, having faced such challenges and myopia in certain circles. For example, there’s been an ongoing dialog about the role of management on self-organizing teams. See my Blog post for my own perspective. Wayne — I would echo Brad’s sentiment that you are not alone. There are several of us who have spent the last decade helping bring agility to large, mainstream companies. I would think that is why (at least in part) large, mainstream companies are going agile in an increasing way.

I also think it’s good to vent, so that we can hear what folks are really thinking out there and engage each other in productive discussion. However, I would caution against sweeping negative generalizations of any community: APLN, Scrum or the PMI. As someone engaged fairly closely with all three (Co-founder and current VP of the APLN, active CST, and Member, PMI CoP), I think folks in all the named organizations are making sincere and effective moves to take agile mainstream. I also believe that they are all sincerely working towards a pragmatic view of agility, albeit from their own frames of reference. Here are some anecdotes that should support my contention:

  • The CEO of the PMI was the keynote speaker at last year’s U.S Scrum Gathering. Close to half the attendees at that Scrum Gathering (as judged by a show of hands requested by Mr. Balestrero) were PMPs.
  • Personally, I have never seen or experienced the naïveté allude to at the APLN — either on the Board or at any of the chapters at which I regularly present. My present and past colleagues at the APLN: Jim Highsmith, Pollyanna Pixton, Bob Wysocki, Susan Fotajek, Kent McDonald and Todd Little to name a few, are all grappling with the same challenges you raise and take a very similar enterprise view as I do.
  • I have presented the same Agile PMO session that addresses governance and program management at the APLN (see, the PMI (see and the Scrum Gathering ( Interestingly, I received very similar positive feedback from all 3 audiences.

While there are some voices in the agile community whose opinions might not hold sway in today’s corporate circles, I would respectfully request that we be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush. At the same time, I would also point out that these views are what move us to improve and get better as a whole even if we find them controversial today. For instance, we might question a Scrum industry leader’s belief that a self-empowered team should be allowed to select its own membership. Yet, in fact, that is exactly the norm at Whole Foods Corporation (From, “the underlying logic is powerful if unconventional: Whole Foods believes that critical decisions, such as whom to hire, should be made by those who will be most directly impacted by the consequences of those decisions”).

So, to some, the Agile community is ideal or naive.  Perhaps they have a point.  Perhaps Agile is not well suited for large environments.  Or, just maybe, Agile techniques are really good at creating confrontation and bringing things to the surface that have been there all the time, but have not been painful enough to confront.  Thoughts?

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