The challenge to the Agile community: can’t we do better than PMBOK?

Another Knowledge Area in the PMBOK is Human Resource Management. The very name of the knowledge area already gives away the values behind it. It should not say “resource management”, it should say People Management!

The old-skool project management is very much based on the values of Scientific Management and Hierarchical organizations that have permeated our society for hundreds of years. Surely there is a lot of useful things to learn from this, useful things for sure, but not enough.
In order to be able to better handle the unpredictable situations we will regularly face, we need to be able to self-organize to better respond to the challenges presented.

What is self-organization? A technique to enable a faster way for a team to answer any problems that cross their path. Before, when following the command-and-control values a team would have to stop and wait for the boss to leave a meeting and finally ask the boss what to do next. Today, teams are required to self-organize, find a solution or several solutions, experiment and come-up with the final result. When the development iteration ends, the customer will tell the team whether the solution is good enough or not.

Not allowing a team to self-organize turns the old-skool decision makers into bottlenecks that delay the team and potentially the whole project.
Self-organization, however is not easy, you cannot order or wish it into reality. You have to work hard to enable that to happen. Scrum is a process framework that already has some of the needed ingredients for self-organization to happen.

Through the setting of clear goals and it’s governance framework, Scrum allows the team to be left alone during an iteration (after having agreed to a set of clear goals). In the Sprint Review, the customer/Product Owner will come together with the team and evaluate what was delivered. This evaluation, in turn, is input to the planning of the next Sprint

So, the message of this series of posts is embrace change.
However, even changing some aspects of the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) is useful, it is not enough!

A mind shift is needed;. So many new concepts are in play that we must start thinking about Software project management in a completely different way.

We need to change the culture in our companies/organizations. Companies as a whole need to change.

The challenge that is presented to the Agile community (and to the PMI Agile community by extension) is: “how do we benefit from the breakthroughs that have enabled Agile SW development to emerge”?

As a person that has tried the “change PMBOK” approach, my answer is that we need to forget about PMBOK and start afresh from a different set of principles to those that were at the origin of PMBOK.

The recent field of Product Development with authors such as James Morgan, Donald G. Reinertsen and others, together with the people writing about software development present a sufficiently convincing and engaging view to the software development system. Those views demand a serious inspection of PMI/PMBOK approaches. The Agile community must take up that task and come up with something credible. Just embracing PMI’s Agile community is not enough. The world has changed enough to warrant a different approach.

3 thoughts on “The challenge to the Agile community: can’t we do better than PMBOK?

  1. Vasco,

    The PMBoK is written to cover project management practices that work for most organizations most of the time. It is not about software engineering – so Agile software developers better know a lot more than a process framework. The PMBoK standard is not meant to be about leading practices.

    I agree that the use of the term Human Resources and things like FTE indicate a detached approach to managing people. However, the term Human Resources are in broad use in most companies. If I were to change it I believe it should be Talent Management – not People Management.

    Finally, there is nothing in the PMBoK that is contradictory to effective Project Management around an Agile project. All of the processes must be addressed even in Agile projects. You can debate language and you can debate the level of emphasis and ceremony around each process. PMBoK specifically directs you to do that.

    So, yes, the Agile community needs to do better than just the PMBoK. They need to apply the practices in a responsible and productive fashion. They need to include software engineering practices. They need to include operational processes. They need to include Organizational Design and Organizational Change Management practices.

    Other than driving attention and traffic – what is the point of continuing to fault PMBoK?

    Dennis Stevens

  2. @Dennis

    We agree that Software Development is not the focus of PMBOK. That is one reason why project managers in software projects need to be very critical about PMBOK.

    We also agree that PMBOK can be improved upon, and that Software Development Project Managers must take a responsible approach, not just throw PMBOK away with the bath water, but to also consider the “other” processes that Agile methods/frameworks don’t cover.

    But we disagree on the form of taking these ideas further. Especially (as I see it) in product development organizations.

    In the series of posts from last week and these last 2 posts I tried to explain some of the reasons why PMBOK should *NOT* be the basis (even it can be used as one of the many references) for a new software-focused project management body of knowledge.

    This last post was kind of a provocation and challenge to the Agile community to take up the task of defining a better body of knowledge for software related projects, based on the foundational Agile values and principles.

    I think that the PMI community can contribute, but this is a task that needs to be taken up. Sooner or later.

  3. I have to say that the title of the post should be something like “The challenge to the Agile community: can’t we do better than Traditional Project Management?”

    PMBOK did not define Project Management, Project Management was there way before, it’s just created some theoretical guidelines, that are, more or less, in an ideal world.

    As for Agile doing better than any other methodology (btw, some PMs say that agile is not a project management methodology), I think the key is for Agile to prove itself as a solid and better alternative in non-software projects, as it’s currently restricted to this area.

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