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PMI Goes All In on Agile with Disciplined Agile and FLEX

PMI Goes All In on Agile DA and FLEX

Anthony Mersino

October 11, 2019

7:22 AM

Recently I wrote about PMI’s purchase of Disciplined Agile and what consequences we might see from that purchase. I realize now that I underestimated PMI’s ambition with regard to the lucrative agile training and certification market. It seems that PMI has gone all in on Agile.

Up until now, PMI has not made any significant headway into the agile training and certification market. Oh sure back in 2012 they launched the Agile Certified Practitioner, or PMI-ACP.  In the 8 years since the launch, PMI has managed to certify 30,027 ACPs; a paltry figure when you consider the growth of Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org certifications during that time. And it is also underwhelming when compared to PMI’s long time cash cow, the Project Management Professional, which more than doubled during this time from 471,137 to 958,593 PMPs.

PMI Certification Fact File

PMI certification statistics as of August 2019
PMI Certification Statistics as of August 2019, Source: PMI Today
PMI Certification Statistics as of January 2012
PMI Certification Statistics as of January 2012, Source: PMI Today


And PMI recognizes that it is time to find another cash cow which is why it purchased Disciplined Agile. As I wrote previously, Disciplined Agile is a close agile cousin to the PMBOK and with multiple flavors of certification, PMI gets potential cash streams that can replace the PMP.

PMI Buys Alan  Shalloway and FLEX from Net Objectives

But the shift at PMI is bigger than that. PMI also bought Alan Shalloway. Well, I don’t mean that they literally bought him, but it appears that they brought Alan and his team at Net Objectives to PMI. And that purchase included FLEX, whatever that is. Similar to buying Disciplined Agile, the PMI purchase brings Alan and co-workers Scott Bain and James Trott over to PMI.

If you have not heard of him, Alan is a bit of a thought leader in the lean and agile space and author of at least 4 books on the topic. His 2009 book Lean-Agile Software Development was one that I read early in my growth as an agile practitioner and had a great influence on me. That book, co-authored by Guy Beaver and James Trott, was one of the 12 books used to develop the exam for the PMI-ACP and is still one of the books I recommend for people preparing for the PMI-ACP.

I am not familiar with FLEX. PMI has described FLEX as a compliment to Disciplined Agile and according to PMI’s press release on the Net Objectives deal, “helps organizations understand “what’s not working” at a system level and identify bottlenecks and eliminate them to improve workflows. ”

Alan wrote a short vision statement about his move to become a PMI employee which included his own 5 goals for the move. It seems a little strange to me and perhaps also to him that after being an independent business owner, he would join a large and seemingly bureaucratic organization like PMI. [I am super curious to learn how the negotiation with Alan went and the final $$ it took to get him to agree to join PMI.]

But Wait, there is More from PMI on the Agile Front

Wait, it gets even better. PMI’s logo and branding has undergone an extreme makeover. For as long as I can remember PMI had the following logo. In hindsight, it was really just the letters PMI and the words spelled out, which was not all that imaginative.


Previously PMI also appended the tag line, “Making Project Management Indispensable for Business Results” which I lampooned in a blog post a few years back. The logo and the tag line made it quite clear that the Project Management Institute was all about projects.

The new logo is strikingly different. And you might not even know it is about projects or PMI. What does it say? I don’t know. Beyond the P, you cannot identify the shapes with any certainty. What does the logo mean? Who can tell, it’s just a P with a bunch of symbols pulled from Webdings.

New PMI Logo after agile branding

I personally think the new logo signals a shift AWAY from projects as the central focus and TOWARD a more Agile PMI. In fact, PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara hinted at this at the announcement of the Net Objectives acquisition when he said, “Regardless of approach, whether it be traditional or agile, project or product [emphasis mine], PMI is uniquely positioned to deliver value for individuals and the organizations they serve”.

The key here is “project or product”. PMI recognizes that the previous exclusive focus on “projects” limits them in recognizing how agile ways of working have changed things. While projects are still a thing, most agile organizations I work with see them as less relevant. Many organizations choose to align their people around value streams or products and they use prioritized backlogs of work – not projects – to achieve their strategic goals.

I am delighted to say that I actually foresaw this important shift in PMI a few months back. In my blog post about the DA Acquisition from September 1, I predicted that PMI would rebrand itself as the Methodology Institute. Perhaps I was half right in my prediction when I said the following:

#5 – PMI Will Rebrand as The Methodology Institute
One criticism I’ve had for a long time is that the very nature and world view of PMI is projects, and that in fact, there is more to work than ‘unique initiatives with a start and finish date’.

Maybe with this acquisition, PMI will shake loose from their origins as a project-only org and begin to think as a methodology company.

PMI is Going Head to Head with Scaled Agile and Scrum

Another prediction that I made less that two months ago was that PMI would go after Scaled Agile, who is the current king of the hill in terms of agile training and certification. The agile training and certification market today is dominated by Scaled Agile. There is a fair amount of debate as to the merits of SAFe and whether it represents agility but I put those aside for the moment. I think it will come down to a battle of PMI + Disciplined Agile vs. Scaled Agile.

By anyone’s guess, Scaled Agile is outselling both Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org in the sales of training and certification.

  • Scaled Agile – Estimated at $30M
  • Scrum Alliance – Estimated at $16M
  • Scrum.org – TBD

It is important to note that PMI dwarfs all of these with annual revenue over $220M. As noted above, that PMI revenue is coming primarily from the PMP faithful. That places PMI in the unique position to be able to dominate the agile training and certification market. I fully expect that “PMI Agile” will become a label that is used increasingly.

PMI Challenges Scaled Agile

What Does All of This Mean for PMI?

The impact of these shifts are likely to rattle everyone in the agile space. PMI has the clout to be a dominant force and to shape the conversation about what agile means in the workplace.

That said, it is all up to execution. I think there are two things that lead me to have some doubts about PMI’s ability to execute.

  1. PMI is strongly rooted to projects. While the branding shift is a great start, PMI has to break out of the paradigm that organizations and work revolves around projects. This is going to be a tough shift for many of the PMI faithful.
  2. PMI has tried this before. PMI has dabbled in Agile before. They did it back in 2011 with the PMI-ACP training and certification which pretty much fizzled. In 2015 they launched the annual Organizational Agility Conference. In 2017 they collaborated with the Agile Alliance to produce the Agile Practice Guide. None of these have resulted in a PMI footprint in the agile mindshare.

What do you think of this shift at PMI and how it will impact the agile training and certification market?

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