PMI: Slouching Towards Agile

In John Stenbeck’s book “PMI-ACP® and Certified Scrum Professional Exam Prep and Desk Reference”, he alludes to how the Project Management Institute has treated the subject of agile PM methodology in its various editions of the PMBOK® Guide.   Since I have studied both the 4th and 5th editions of that guide, I wanted to use this post to discuss how PMI’s treatment of Agile Methodology in its authoritative guide to traditional PM methodlogy aka the PMBOK® Guide has changed between the two.

1.  4th Edition PMBOK® Guide and Agile Methodology

The 4th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide was published in 2008, and although agile methodology was not explicitly discussed, an early precursor of agile called rolling wave planning was discussed.

Rolling wave planning can be considered a form of progressive elaboration, where the level of detail in a project management plan is increased in detail through progressive iterations as greater amounts of information and more accurate estimates become available.

The work breakdown structure, which takes the deliverables of a project and breaks them down into units for which cost and duration can be readily estimated and managed, which are called work packages.   Those portions of the project which are not filled in detail in the initial iteration of the project management plan are broken down into placeholders called planning packages, which are then broken down into work packages in successive iterations of the progressive elaboration.

Rolling wave planning is where this progressive elaboration is done while the project is being executed.   One informal definition of this process which I am particularly fond is “laying down the tracks of the railroad while the train is meanwhile coming down the tracks behind you.”    You can see that the flexibility that this approach demands is in the spirit of agile methodology, although again PMI does not explicitly name it as such.

2.  What Happened Between the 4th Edition and 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide?

As John Stenbeck mentions in his book, a seminal event in agile project management was the introduction of the iPad in April 2010.   For details of this development, you can read Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography of Steve Jobs, but in a nutshell, the iPad was a full function device that included a minimum marketable feature set focused on what the customer wanted, but it was not yet a full feature tablet PC.   It was a phenomenal success, selling 15 million devices by the end of the year and achieving a 75% market share penetration.

For those who wanted to emulate Steve Jobs’ achievements, they were going to have to challenge themselves to adopt a similar agile methodology.

3.  5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide

The 5th Edition was published in 2013, and here PMI acknowledged the existence of agile methodology by placing it on a continuum from Predictive to Iterative/Incremental to Adaptive.

a.  Predictive

This is where the scope of the project, and the time and cost required to deliver that scope, are determined as early in the project as possible.    This is traditional or waterfall PM methodlogy.

b.  Iterative/Incremental

This is where certain activities of the project are iterated or repeated as the project team’s understanding of the product is increased.   Iterations develop the project scope, wheres increments add to the functionality of the project.    This is the realm of the hybrid project.

c.  Adaptive (Agile)

Adaptive methodology takes the iterative and incremental approach to the development of project scope seen in the previous paragraph, but differ in two respects:   the iterations are 1) very rapid (in the order of 2 to 4 weeks), and 2) are fixed in time and cost.

So PMI has finally embraced Agile Methodology in its discussion of project management methodologies (see pp. 42-46) as part of its 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide, although descriptions of that methodology are very high-level and not very detailed.

My prediction is that future versions of the PMBOK® Guide will have to elaborate further on Hybrid (Iterative/Incremental) and Agile (Adaptive) Methodologies as the profession as a whole moves in the direction of using increasingly hybrid methodologies in the actual projects done in the real world.

The next post will cover the origins of Agile Methodology, in particular the development of the Agile Alliance that grew out of a seminal meeting of seventeen luminaries in the field of software development who met in the Snowbird resort in Utah in February 2001.   Out of that Agile Alliance came the Agile Manifesto, the Agile Principles, and the Ethos of Agile Project Management.


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