Agile Practice Guide

Anthony Mersino
September 28, 2017

Some of you may be surprised to learn about PMI's recent collaboration with the Agile Alliance.  The product of their work is the newly published, Agile Practice Guide.  A PMI publication, this document is included with the free download of the PMBOK 6th Edition. 
I wasn't completely surprised though since I was one of the collaborators on the document.  I had the pleasure of contributing to the guide thanks to Sally Elatta of Agile Transformations who invited me to pair with her to review and provide comments on an early draft of the document.  I've learned a lot from Sally over the years and happy to be able to collaborate with her on this project.

First of all let me say that I am happy that the Agile Practice Guide is somewhat lightweight.  At 183 pages, the document wasn't a quick read, but it looked pretty skinny when compared to the 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide.  The PMBOK Guide now weighs in at a hefty 795 pages.
RANT - The PMBOK Guide is so bloated!  I don't want to show my age but I remember as a newly minted PMP back in 1996 when the first PMBOK guide came out.  Like this new Agile Practice Guide, the first edition of the PMBOK was just 176 pages. How did it get to be 800 pages?!? Has it become more than 4X as good in the last 21 years?  This is just a GUIDE to the body of knowledge. Geez!
Anyway, getting back to the Agile Practice Guide, I was a little surprised by the collaboration between PMI and the Agile Alliance.  Frequently people see traditional project management and Agile as conflicting, or a clash of mindsets.  Maybe this document is an attempt to build a bridge, or a way for more traditional PMs to grow in Agile thinking and methods. 
There have also been rumors that this new Practice Guide will become the basis for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner exam.  As you may know from reading my recent blog on the PMI-ACP, the current exam content is drawn from a set of 12 individual books.  Wonder if this will become the PMI-ACP reference guide, rather than the current 12 source books.  That would be a positive thing for all those people who buy the 12 books, perhaps not so much for the authors of those books.  
There have been rumors over the last year that PMI and Agile Alliance would merge, or that PMI would somehow buy or absorb the Agile Alliance.  I am not sure if anything will come of that but it is interesting talk.
I think the main take away for me is that PMI recognizes the importance of Agile methods and is working to overcome the US vs. THEM thinking that has grown over the years, especially between PMI and the Scrum community.

The Actual Practice Guide Document

One of my main criticisms of the document and one that I voiced in my early review, was that the focus is all about projects. It is not that I don't believe in the value of projects, it is just that the document (and I think most PMI members) view the world through the lens of projects.  This ignores the PRODUCT focus that is prevalent in many organizations that leverage agile approaches and long standing teams. Agile organizations generally don't think projects; they don't think of they work that they do as temporary and unique. Rather, they think in terms of building and maintaining valuable solutions and products. Traditional project managers have a difficult time seeing beyond the project paradigm, as I outlined in this blog post.  
Here is a Quick Overview of this new Agile Practices document:

  • Section 1: Introduction to the Document
  • Section 2: An Introduction to Agile—This section includes the Agile Manifesto mindset, values, and principles. It also covers the concepts of definable and high-uncertainty work, and the correlation between lean, the Kanban Method, and agile approaches.
  • Section 3: Life Cycle Selection—This section introduces the various life cycles discussed in this practice guide. This section also addresses suitability filters, tailoring guidelines, and common combinations of approaches.
  • Section 4: Implementing Agile: Creating an Agile Environment—This section discusses critical factors to consider when creating an agile environment such as servant leadership and team composition.
  • Section 5: Implementing Agile: Delivering in an Agile Environment—This section includes information on how to organize teams and common practices that teams can use tp deliver value on a regular basis. 
  • Section 6: Organizational Considerations for Project Agility—This section explores key organizational factors that impact the use of agile approaches, such as culture, readiness, business practices, and the role of a PMO.
  • Section 7: A Call to Action—The call to action requests input for continuous improvement of this practice guide.
  • Appendixes

What Was Helpful in the Agile Practice Guide:

  • Overall, it is good to see a document that begins to attempt to wrap it's arm around Agile.  Kudos to the team that put this together.
  • It is great that it covers not only Scrum, but XP, Kanban, Lean and other frameworks
  • There is a focus on the Agile Principles, in addition to the Values of the Agile Manifesto that are commonly mentioned
  • The idea of the Agile Mindset
  • Servant Leadership is a big and important topic in Agile circles
  • In the appendix, Annex A3, the document includes an overview of Agile and Lean Frameworks which was helpful
  • The Glossary of Terms is pretty comprehensive

What Was NOT Helpful in the Agile Practice Guide:

  • Earned value in Agile projects - PMI seems to have some weird fascination with Earned Value and they've included it in this Agile Guide. I completely disagree, and I wish those EV proponents would just drop it.  Stop.  Please.
  • Incremental and Iterative Development - This is a minor point but I don't think anyone treats these as separate development approaches anymore.  I know they are different, but most people just do both together and don't talk about it.
  • Hybrid approaches - The description of hybrid was confusing, as was the mixing and matching of hybrid approaches. And personally, I don't think hybrid approaches are effective and I wish people would stop using them (read more at Agile Hybrid Approaches - How to Get Just the Right Mix)
  • Agile described as a subset of Lean - This is a minor point, but, there is a diagram in this book that shows Agile as being a subset of Lean, with Scrum as a subset of Agile - I always thought of Agile as as the child or offspring of Lean, not necessarily a subset.  In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't really matter.
  • Project-Centric Focus - I already ranted about this above.  The idea that everything is a project may not always be helpful.  Time to change the paradigm? Guess what - some Agile organizations run without any projects. (Gasp!)
  • Number of pages - This document is pretty big for the amount of material it is covering. It only looks thin when compared to the PMBOK. I would encourage PMI to try to keep this document as lean as possible (perhaps removing Earned Value and some of the other things I mention above). The Scrum guide is a terse 17 pages and describes the Scrum framework in it's entirety!  Let's not create another 800 page PMBOK - that wouldn't be very Agile.

If you didn't get a download, or if you prefer a hardcopy document like I do, you can order the Agile Practice Guide from Amazon.  I didn't find it on the PMI site when I looked a few weeks back but it may also be available there as well. 


About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.