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Two Worlds Collide: PMI and Agile

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Recently, a slide deck published by PMI Network magazine entitled “Is Agile Right for your project?” created quite some ripples on twitter as well as PMI Agile group.

The slide deck does not appear on the original location anymore but Google cache can find it for our reference (scroll to the bottom). Tom Mellor expressed that over the years he has been intrigued by PMI's perspective on Agile. Agile has made significant inroads into PMI and reluctantly PMI had to acknowledge the presence of elephant in the room. According to Tom,

In going through the PMI Agile slides, I find this to be examples: WORTH THE RISK? Agile does offer risk-management techniques. But if your company or client demands a consistent and stable project environment, then agile methods shouldn't be followed. And, If you wrote the requirements into the contract, agile techniques may not be much help. And finally, AN OPEN MIND; Agile's technical practices are unconventional and often difficult to learn.
My instinctive thought is“You’ve got to be kidding me!!”

As per Tom, it is a ground reality that project environment is neither stable nor consistent and that is where the Agile practices flourish.

Craig Brown suggested that though PMI brings a lot of value to the organizations who don't have much information on project management, the benefit curve flattens out fast and bureaucracy, entrenched behaviors and resistance to change creep in.

Ron Jeffries had the following reaction

The main reaction that I have to things like that slide set is that it seems not to be written by someone who has actually done agile. If you haven't done it, you're just not qualified to say what it is, what it is not, and what effects it'll have.

Huet Landry and Dennis Stevens suggested that irrespective of the general opinion, the slide deck has some very informative list of Agile obstacles. According to Dennis, the potential problem with the slide deck is the tone which could be more positive. He added that the message could be more productive and actionable than just a list of excuses on why Agile would not work. Dennis, mentioned a few examples like the following to state the contents in a positive way. 

  • Agile isn't easy - and no one claims it is a miracle cure.
  • Agile helps promote safety - and therefore transparency. While this can be threatening to low performers - it can help create an environment for each individual to be successful.
  • Agile requires teams to change their perspective from a plan driven approach to a risk and value driven approach. While this can be difficult to align with established PM practices - there is a clear path to improved governance and risk management.
  • After an initial disruption during transition - Agile teams operate on a predictable and stable pace.

Maurice Hagar added that he found the slide deck to be interesting and found more to agree than disagree.

Kurt Haeusler mentioned that the PMI site might not be the best place to look for Agile.

The mistake is entirely ours, for even entertaining the idea that we would find anything remotely relevant or interesting about agile on the PMI site. It is like looking at the Vatican site to find out all about Islam.

Most people on the group, however felt that it is a good initiative by PMI to start talking about Agile.

Mike Griffiths mentioned that some of this friction between PMI and Agile is normal social integration problem. According to him,

Whenever two different groups come together for the first time, we get some friction, clashing of norms, exposing of preconceptions and good old fashioned faux pas by one or more groups. But, hey, it at least means the two groups are coming together and providing we have thick enough skins to tolerate the friction progress can be made.

Mike made an interesting point,

Many doctors practiced bloodletting in the 19th Century believing letting out the poisoned blood healed inflammation and other ailments. This practice was not overcome by converting practitioners into new ways of thinking, but instead by the next generation of doctors who studied more modern medicine that played down its usefulness.
Hopefully we will not have to wait for a new generation of project managers who learn the benefits of agile first hand in development roles.

Janice Linden also brought to attention of the group an animated response to the slide deck.

Thus, there was a general consensus that though the gap between PMI and Agile exists, the silver lining is that these things are being discussed in the open. As Tom, put it,

That isn’t to say that it [PMI] has to start over, but it should perform a retrospective of itself and decide how it intends to continuously improve, which includes addressing deficiencies that exist now. One thing that is heartening: it isn’t choosing to ignore the elephant anymore.

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