Don't Be Alarmed

Yes, the PMBOK® Guide Now Covers Agile Delivery Practices; but That Doesn't Mean Agile is for Everything and Everyone


By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, contributing editor

At a recent PMI networking meeting, someone asked me: “Now that the PMBOK® Guide has ‘gone agile,’ should those of us leading non-agile projects suddenly change course?” Tension filled the room.

The question was sparked by the recent launch of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, which contains formal agile guidance for the first time. It has not “gone agile,” but it is “agile-aware.” PMI members will notice they cannot download their free copy without also getting the Agile Practice Guide. (Full disclosure: I served on the team that produced the new guide.)

Many people are unsettled less by the content of the guides than a perceived unspoken message: PMI is agilizing everything. They wonder how it changes their role. Here is my take on what it means.

It doesn't mean agile is for every project. In both guides, there are sections describing the continuum of project types. On one end, projects incur high degrees of change; agile approaches fit best here. But there are still a significant number of straightforward, plannable projects for which agile approaches don't make sense. The guidance is clear: Use the right technique for the right project.


Just because PMI's flagship publication is now agile-aware does not mean agile techniques should be used everywhere.

It does mean agile has changed the project management game. The publication of these two guides together reflects agile's expansion from a software industry niche into a broader revolution. The pace of change has accelerated in most every sector; agile approaches are the favored response to that dynamic. Consider that these three things are now expected of project managers:

  • Agile literacy. You must now be able to answer the question, “Why shouldn't we use agile for this initiative?” You should be able to explain how customer feedback on prototypes can prevent wasting money building the wrong things. You should know that agile is a mindset and scrum is a customizable framework.
  • Business acumen. Many project sponsors only see the big picture and need help crafting a business case. Then, when a project comes under schedule stress, it's your job to articulate options in language executives understand.
  • People skills. Today's project organizations are complex ecosystems. Org charts feature lots of dotted lines. More frequently, we're seeing the need to facilitate disagreement into alignment and deploy change management skills.

To summarize: Just because PMI's flagship publication is now agile-aware does not mean agile techniques should be used everywhere. But it does mean your job has officially changed forever. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Agile Practice Guide and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at [email protected].



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