This battle of agile vs. project management has many dimensions and has taken on epic proportions. On the extreme end of the agile scale are agile purists who believe that the fully functional scrum team is all that is required to deliver great products to customers. Project managers are to blame for years of unnecessary rules and processes that slowed down progress or resulted in failed projects. To hear them tell it, project managers and all things related to them (program managers, the PMO) should be eliminated or better yet, publicly flogged then executed.
On the extreme end of the PM scale is the PMI. With a focus on standards and processes as those outlined in the the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) and a certification based on passing an exam, the PMI represents to agilists that which is most wrong about project management. Right or wrong, PMI is often seen to represent that which is most wrong about project management. (Agilists have even started a whisper campaign that PMI invented waterfall development but I think it has been proven that it was the Soviet Union that invented it in the 1970s to undermine the US.)
The battle has come to a head in the last year. After many years of ignoring agile methods, PMI has co-opted the agile camp by expanding the PMI brand to include management of agile teams and projects. In late 2011 they launched a certification for agile project managers (a term likely to irk agilists) which is on par with the established PMP certification. I am including a couple of posts below related to this move by the PMI. The first is from Tobias Mayer who writes blog under the banner of "Agile Anarchy". I think he represents the extremist argument pretty well. (Note that I have included the entire post so as not to appear to be taking words out of context).
Scrum is not Project Management
Scrum, and the way of thinking that it attempts to socialize in the world of work, has nothing to do with project management. Anyone who is laboring under the misapprehension that Scrum is some form of “Agile Project Management” is seriously missing the point. There may be such a thing as “Agile Project Management”. I don’t know, and don’t really care. It is of no interest to me. My concern is with changing the way people think and act, not with force-fitting old ways of thinking into a new paradigm that cannot accomodate it. The result we are seeing is a half-baked compromise.
Organizations like PMI, Scrum Alliance, ICAgile and others who are trying to grab a slice of the Agile market are like parasites feeding off the souls of people who really care about change in the world. It is a tragic mess, made worse by those so-called Agilists who justify the behaviour, and even buy into it. Old habits die so very, very hard. I am not interested in half-measures, or “corporate-approved Agile”. This strikes me as worse than useless. At least the previous command and control culture was honest. This fake-Agile is deeply disingenuous, pandering as it does to those in fear of real change.
I urge anyone who really cares about the future of business, and the health of human beings in the workplace to steer well clear of all these oblique, money-making, compliance-seeking efforts to tone down Agile and make it palatable to those driven to maintain the status quo. Seek something more noble. Please.
Tobias Mayer, Posted on: Monday, April 25, 2011
A more moderate position is outlined in the post below from Ken Schwaber, co-founder of scrum and one of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.
The Project Management Institute has recently made announcements about its program to incorporate agility into its project management program. I of course welcome this and look forward to PMI shifting from its previous approach to an agile approach. The test of this will be, of course, the success of the projects that adhere to its principles. In the past, the success (or yield) of their predictive approach has been less than 50% of projects (on time, on date, with the desired functionality.) Most agile methods have a much higher success rate, including the success in cancelling low return on investment projects early. We will watch and see if those that employ PMI’s agile approach enjoy such success, or at least an improvement on the 50% mark1,2,3.
PMI in the past has embraced the predictive, mechanistic approach to project management. This was first espoused by Frederick Taylor in “Principles of Scientific Management,” which was the basis of the Ford Model T assembly line. It is an approach for predictable, high volume, low cost manufacturing. Its benefits accrue from squeezing all of the unpredictability from the problem space through standardization and repetition. Perfect planning, training, and repeatability are the hallmarks. Plan and then do over and over again. The measurement of success is the yield rate, which is often very near 100%. Productivity is optimized through perfect processes, invariant workflow, and optimized use of resources (people or machines).
Agile processes, by way of contrast, work for development of complex products, where there is some repeatability but there is more new development than old. Products have to be devised anew each time as the requirements, the technologies, and the capabilities and creativity of the people change. In these situations, we’ve found that just-in-time planning, with frequent inspection and adaptation is required. Risks are managed and predictability created by limiting the time span between these planning events, and by ensuring the transparency of all artifacts. We have also found productivity, quality, and creativity is greatly enhanced if the people doing the work also plan their own work. They are not managed as resources, but as people that can do their best when they figure out how to do the work themselves. Self-organization and cross-functionality are vital to the success of these teams.
We have found that the role of the project manager is counterproductive in complex, creative work. The project manager’s thinking, as represented by the project plan, constrains the creativity and intelligence of everyone else on the project to that of the plan, rather than engaging everyone’s intelligence to best solve the problems.
In Scrum, we have removed the project manager. The Product Owner, or customer, provides just-in-time planning by telling the development team what is needed, as often as every month. The development team manages itself, turning as much of what the product owner wants into usable product as possible. The result is high productivity, creativity, and engaged customers. We have replaced the project manager with the Scrum Master, who manages the process and helps the project and organization transition to agile practices.
How PMI bridges the profound difference in philosophy, thinking, leadership and management between its traditional predictive approach and the new agile empirical approach will be fascinating to watch. How it refashions the role of project manager will be an exercise in agility itself. I for one wish the people at PMI the best. They certainly need a better success rate than 50% to regain the trust of their customers.
Ken Schwaber, posted April 24, 2011
I think the focus on agile vs. PM obscures the real issue or issues. The real issue is working together to deliver effective solutions for our customers. It is about being lean and competitive. It is about growing as an organization and providing opportunities for growth and advancement for each person.