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Agile Project Management and the PMP

Two years ago, an interviewer asked me with tactful pity how I happened to have gotten a Project Management Institute "Project Management Professional" certification, (and why I had the bad taste to include that fact on my resume).  I was applying for a job as an agile project manager, and my age and PMP certification both counted heavily against me in this endeavor, although of course we were all being tactful about the age thing.  I was told gravely that people like me are pretty set in our ways and it is usually hard for us to be light enough on our feet to handle an agile project.  I was quizzed heavily (and quite skeptically) on the fine points of stand-up etiquette and card wall techniques.

I was taken aback by this experience.  Honestly, I did briefly flirt with the idea that I should just grab my Big Upfront Design binders and totter home.

But something funny happened on my way to the glue factory.  It turns out that in real-life, you can't just take a college graduate or even an experienced agile developer and expect her to go out and start making money as a project manager solely using techniques she could pick up from the writings of the Agile Founding Fathers, even as awesome as those writings are.  Search as you will, and even Jim Highsmith's amazing Agile Project Management doesn't tell you about executive client management, handling a budget, billing, invoicing, risk assessment and mitigation, appropriate communications plans, or how to do a project close-out.

Those topics weren't left out because we shouldn't do them any more or because they were BAD--they were left out because they were taken for granted by early agile writers.  They were second nature.  Our Agile Founders were skilled entrepreneurs and consultants who took a significant part of their intrinsic knowledge and everyday survival practices for granted, and only wrote about the new stuff they were doing.

So where does that leave us?  To me, it means there are some fields of inquiry into agile approaches to practices wide-open to further discussion, with the PMBOK serving as a really well-organized outline.  I've already talked about the "agile communication plan."  What could the agile risk-management plan look like?  Or agile project inception?  And it turns out I'm not alone in rediscovering the PMBOK as a wonderland of options for use which need to be dusted off.  Like minded allies including Alistair Cockburn are jumping into the fray, with his "Oath of Non-Alligiance:" "I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation."

Rather than looking down our agile noses at the Project Management Institute, I vote that we systematically work our way through all of the standard practices and take a new look at them.  We could systematically blow them up, one by one, I suppose, if they don't suit our current needs, but if so, at least we would know we were doing a very thorough job of it.  To arms, agile comrades!  In this, the 10-year anniversary of our movement, the PMBOK is the new Manifesto!

And just in time, too, since PMI is now granting agile certifications...


  1. Now to start memorizing those PMBOK chapter numbers... :-)

  2. Your experience is similar to my motivation for me write a book on your point: "Project Management the Agile Way: Making it work in the enterprise". And, with six grandchildren, I'm probably closer to the glue factory than you!

  3. I look forward to reading your book, John!

  4. Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!

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  5. Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!

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