Do we need agile or Agile? Updated

This is an update from an earlier post. In this update, I will focus only on the comments and other related information.

On 21 March, I started the following discussion on LinkedIn

We keep hearing about the PMBOK Guide sixth edition and that Agile is in every knowledge area. That brings two questions:

  1. Is Agile for ‘most projects most of the time’ and if not, then why is it in the PMBOK Guide in every knowledge area?
  2. If it is ‘most projects most of the time’ and it belongs to the PMBOK Guide, then would we still need PMI-ACP or would the PMP covers the Agile Principles?

Your thoughts?

Click here to link to the post.

Post Statistics

In 5 or 6 days, there have been more than 14,000 views and 40 threads of discussions with hundreds of back and forth comments. Most of the comments focused on the first question on the post and not the second one. I encourage you to go to the post and read all of the comments, interesting and professional exchange, despite the various and often opposing arguments.

Summary of Key Points

Here is my own summary of the discussions. Of course, this is my personal reading and is influenced by my opinion, although in brief, I tried to convey the views to the best of my ability.

  1. It is critical to distinguish between agile (as in agility, dynamic, flexible, adaptive) and Agile (as in Agile Manifesto). In this discussion and others like online, we always hear this comment, and it is a valid one.
  1. Most professional who responded agree that agile (as in agility, as a concept; flexibility, adaptability are other terms), is valuable for most projects, most of the time. Further, they have been using these practices before anyone has heard of Agile. For this group, they call the practices the Agilists claims as Agile, progressive elaboration, design development, customer-centric approach, alternative evaluations, fast-tracking, or other terms.
  1. A few respondents think that Agile Practices, is a must for most projects, most of the time. For more info on Agile Practices, the Agile Manifesto is the basic reference.
  1. The Agile supporters, to justify their positions, they end up confusing phases (such as design phase) as projects or programs/portfolios with projects.
  1. We have also heard comments on both extreme from Agile as cancer to Agile is a must.

Some of the Comments

The following are some of the comments, unedited. I am not including the names of those saying these things for two reasons (1) it would take too much time to get their permissions and (2) we do not want to post names without permissions for privacy reasons. Go to the post and read them if you like.

  • “Agile is a specific delivery model that is beneficial when you can provide something tangible in terms of usable results (e.g. business value) at the end of any cycle.”
  • “I most certainly cannot build a house or a commercial building in an agile way as it has some very strict gates to pass through for final acceptance before it can be used the way it is intended to be used.”
  • Yet, another respondent thinks that “Burj Khalifa was built using agile approach. Read up in it, very interesting.” If anyone has information on this it would be great. I work in Dubai so I know this Burj and I cannot see or imagine how a Mega Project like this is Agile. 
  • “adaptable and agile have two distinct meanings. Adaptable means you set up your system to suit your needs, with the caveat that you still do things in an orderly manner – scope, schedule and cost in that order. Agile seems more like a hunt and peck approach going through multiple iterations to get to the same scope endpoint without considering the overall schedule and cost and thus it is not truly planned out”
  • “The basic problem is that by adding agile to the 6th edition, it means that PMP exam takers will have to be conversant in agile, which is what nobody in my domain uses – engineering capital projects.”
  • “The reason why is that engineering and construction have their own systems and don’t require PMI or the PMP. It doesn’t add value. The only way that PMP positively affected me is that I do a lot of reading that I might not have done otherwise”
  • “Agile is not for most projects most of the time”
  • “Agility in Project management is nothing new. For example, Concurrent Engineering is all about iterative development with cross-functional teams and that was being used by Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Unilever 10 years before anyone even thought of the Agile manifesto. Agile with a capital ‘A’ is most certainly not for most projects most of the time, but agility is.”
  • “i don’t know what PMBoK 6 is doing, but I am 100% sure that you never started building a skyscraper without having plans finalised (phasegate) and Burj Khalifa did. If you did, you did not do phase gate, which is as you can see OK”
  • “Understanding how to situationally move between predictive and agile methods is definitively a good practice for most projects most of the time”
  • Agile is indeed quite special. It is a disciplined approach for the project situations where “The way is made by walking”.
  • “I’ve never really liked the use of the word ‘agile’, capital ‘A’ or not. It seems to be bordering on a cult status fuelled by hype”
  • “I’m tired of being called in after IT project have gone terribly wrong because no one used CPM to make a team, define scope, estimate time, cost and resources, negotiate for common sense, or determine the priority of this new project. Phase or short -interval scheduling is OK but winging it and declaring that you’re Agile, is not”
  • “Far too many organizations are claiming “we’re agile” and all it becomes is a free-for-all and it looks more like a “Do Not Disturb” sign than it does progress. And it will never fit every type of project out there – IT or other. Plus too many fall into the trap where they think agile means “we don’t have to plan” … it’s the disaster scenario just like you described.”
  • “I am an agile project manager and it works well when you have lots of layers of responsibility and constantly evolving tech requirements. If an organization doesn’t want to make a commitment to planning on an enterprise level, they may see it as an easy way out. However, and this is big, agile project management is extremely useful when working with people who have a good idea of the deliverables but no expertise in describing information technology details”

Why such debates?

This debate is like many other debates we have seen on social media, on agile and numerous other project management topics.

The core root cause is that we all claim to know project management but we don’t understand that generic project management should be limited to share common BASIC concepts and not the whole body of knowledge.

There is a clear need for segmentation since:

  • PM in commercial IT might be different from IT for project owners.
  • Also, business projects (internal projects) are significantly different from capital projects.
  • Finally, there are different perspectives between service providers and project owners.

The unfortunate reality is that leading organizations focus on revenue generations rather than clarity. The introduction of Agile Certification is fine – as long as we understand what Agile or agile is!

We see a leading organization shifting more and more into IT Project Management, and that is perfectly alright; their choice. However, if you move into an area of focus, these organizations cannot continue to claim generic and most projects most of the time. Our point is that if Agile is truly for most projects most of the time – show us. If it is not, then keep it out – or – include concepts related to other industries. The interesting thing is that we see Agile being introduced whereas sustainability remains out. Agile is in but best practices are out.

I think organizations, like PMI, were on the right track of being generic. For areas of practice, it is also good to issue supplement like the government extension and construction extension. These are good and should be emphasized and marketed more often; even distributed free for non-members. However, to include Agile and Business Analysis as core project management functions and PBA and ACP as core PM certifications while ignoring certifications for the other areas – it means, time for a name change.

What do you think?

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About Mounir Ajam

A Project Management thought leader, who believes that project management touches all people, in all aspects of life; personal and professional.Initiated and led the formation of SUKAD Corp to develop the Uruk PPM Platform.An advocate of real-world, practical and applied project management.Champion of adaptive project management, tailored methods, and organizational project management.Available anywhere in the world to advise executives and organizations on the strategic value of project management. Ready to help organizations build and sustain the Project Management Function and the capacity to lead projects successfully.