The Agile Practice Guide

I received the 6th Edition PMBOK® Guide and am starting a project of going through it and blogging about its contents.   But before I go any further, I wanted to add a blog post about the Agile Practice Guide that comes with the PMBOK® Guide.    I was excited to see this as a harbinger of two trends, one which is the recognition of PMI of the importance of agile methodology as it spreads beyond the world of IT, and the second of which is the growing collaboration of PMI with other professional associations that handle change management, business analysis, and in the case of the Agile Alliance, agile methodologies.

This was why I was excited to get the post from Anthony Mersino’s VitalityChicago blog which reviews the agile practice guide.    Anthony Mersino is an expert in the field of agile methodologies.   I know him from the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute.   Anthony coaches and trains Agile Leaders to help them understand Agile and Scrum and how to create an environment where people come first, productivity is high, and teamwork is effective and enjoyable.   Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books:  Agile Project Management for Teams and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.    For those who have been following my blog, I wanted to relate some of his thoughts on the guide, but I encourage you to read the entire post at the following site:

First, what does Anthony like about the Guide?    It is broad in its coverage of agile methodologies:   it includes not only Scrum, but XP, Kanban, Lean and other frameworks.   It is deep in its exploration of agile principles, the agile mindset, and the topic of servant leadership.   He also mentions the general point I made above, which is that it is in general a good development that PMI has partnered with the Agile Alliance to produce this document and make it available to all project managers.   Also, the fact that there is a single guide means that those who are studying for PMI’s agile certification, the PMI-ACP® (Agile Certified Practitioner), can use one book rather than the current twelve that they currently have to study from!

Now let’s move onto Anthony Mersino’s warnings about using the Agile Practice Guide.  This advice is invaluable to those project managers like me who are relatively new to agile and want to learn about its contents but also want to absorb the mindset of those who actually work with agile on a daily basis.

5 Warnings about using The Agile Practice Guide

1. Focus on products, not projects

Anthony Mersino says that organizations that use agile are often product-centric, and not necessarily project-centric.    Projects are useful, but only if they help build and maintain valuable solutions and products.    This is why it is important to look at the new business document which PMI has added called the project benefits management plan.    The project business case demonstrates the business value or benefit that the project is supposed to create.   But it is also important that the business value which is created is then maintained so that the efforts of the project are not wasted, and that is what the project benefits management plan does.   Project managers should always be connecting to stakeholders who will be the beneficiaries of their project so that the impact of a project lasts long after the project has ended.

2.  Be careful with “hybrid” approaches

This was a surprising warning, given that I’ve read so many predictions about how more and more projects will be attempting a hybrid approach using both agile and traditional project management methodologies.   Anthony Mersino says that traditional project managers come to agile sometimes with the idea that they can simply utilize an agile “template” and be able to interact with agile teams.    This is like someone who wants to lose weight, and asks the doctor to give him or her a pill to help lose weight, rather than doing what is guaranteed to work (i.e., exercise), but which will require a lot more effort.

However, one thing is certain, even if a project manager engages with agile teams, he or she may still have to TRANSLATE for upper management who may NOT be conversant with agile methods.    What I mean here is that a project management should reassure management with some of the information they are used to getting (milestone charts, tools which show current status and predict future performance) from more traditional methodologies, but in a format that may be at first unfamiliar to them (i.e., based on requirements rather than earned value measurement).   This gets me to Anthony’s next point.

3.   De-emphasize Earned Value Management

One of the concepts from traditional project management that doesn’t translate well into agile projects is the concept of earned value management.   Although he doesn’t go into details of why this is so, I suspect it is because earned value management matured in an application space devoted in large part to engineering or construction projects, where such precise measurements are possible and have meaning.    In the more protean world of IT projects, such precision is not only impossible, but more importantly, trying to impose it on such projects may be meaningless at best and misleading at worst.    Agile, which has been maturing in an application space devoted in large part to IT, is just not a good fit for this type of performance metric.   These are my words, not Anthony’s, but this is my guess at the reasoning behind his comment.

4.  Don’t be mean to Lean

Let me quote Anthony on this one:   “This is a minor point, but, there is a diagram in this book that shows Agile as being a subset of Lean, with Scrum as a subset of Agile – I always thought of Agile as as the child or offspring of Lean, not necessarily a subset.”  This is important because the person who is learning about Agile and Lean at the same time should have a clearer picture of their relationship so that they are not confused by differing terminology and can instead focus on the commonality of the mindset behind these approaches.

5.   Speaking of Lean … this Guide sure isn’t!

Anthony rants (his words) about the size of the 6th Edition PMBOK® Guide.   Actually the Guide itself comprises the first 536 pages; the rest of the book (a total of 754 pages) is the actual ANSI standard for project management which is a reference for the Guide.   The Agile Practice Guide is 165 pages, which he compares unfavorably to the Guide put out by the Scrum Alliance which contains only 17 pages!

He does have a point; if I go into a fitness center to meet my potential trainer and see that he is overweight, that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that he will make me lean!

These are points to take into consideration, but with those caveats, I recommend all project managers to read the Agile Practice Guide, but also to read the blogs of experts in the field like Anthony Mersino’s VitalityChicago blog to get how agile it actually used by organizations!







2 Responses

  1. […] First of all let me say that I am happy that the Agile Practice Guide is somewhat lightweight. At 167 pages for the printed version, the document wasn’t a quick read, but it looked pretty skinny when compared to the 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide. The PMBOK Guide now weighs in at a hefty 795 pages. (In this post, my colleague Jerome Rowley gently pointed out that the PMBOK is actually only 536 pages, not 795). […]

  2. […] The PMBOK Guide now weighs in at a hefty 795 pages. (In this post, my colleague Jerome Rowley gently pointed out that the PMBOK is actually only 536 pages, not 795). […]

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