Where does Agile fit into Project Management and vice versa?

There is no doubt that there has long been acrimony between the concepts of traditional project management, led by waterfall-delivery focused organizations like the PMI and PRINCE2, and Agile, led by organizations like the Agile Alliance and the Scrum Alliance.  This is often shown by common but divisive statements like;

  • Do we deliver by using Agile OR waterfall methods?
  • Agile is for software projects only, so we’ll be using the waterfall method on this project.

The truth is that they are both used for delivering work that organizations and their customers need.  There is no doubt that Agile is used for doing more than just work delivery, but for this blog I’m focusing on a similar use case – work delivery by projects.

Waterfall was created in 1970 by Winston Royce in his paper Managing the Development of Large Software Systems, whilst Agile originates from the Agile Manifesto for Software Development created in 2001. They both have deeper backgrounds than that, but those are the points at which their core ideas were amalgamated into what we see today.

They are both popular around the world; the PMI has around 600,000 members and the Scrum Alliance has around 400,000.  Nonetheless, up until a few years ago they stood widely apart.  Robust debates have been held over the virtues of each, their suitability for particular situations and the effects they have upon their users and their customers.

As Bob Dylan famously said though, ‘the times they are a-changin’’; the PMI has for a few years now offered the PMI-ACP qualification.  The last three letters of which stand for Agile Certified Professional and the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) now includes large swathes of Agile.  PRINCE2 has Agile Foundation and Agile Practitioner certifications too.

To add to these, in 2019 PMI went as far to even purchase the Agile framework, Disciplined Agile or DA, and has brought it into the PMI fold.  According to PMI President & CEO Sunil Prashara, “This acquisition is another important building block for PMI – addressing new ways of working in an increasingly agile world, and greatly expanding the capabilities of project managers and agile practitioners alike”. According to this blog by Anthony Mersino the ‘DA website was launched in 2011 and the first book published on it was in 2012. Scott Ambler and Mark Lines are the founders and thought leaders behind Disciplined Agile.’ Scott and Mark were brought in under PMI with the purchase of DA.

Looking at it from the other side of things, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) speaks to programs and portfolios and looks very familiar to Waterfall practitioners. ICAgile offers the Agile Project and Delivery Management and Delivery at Scale qualifications.

With all of this mixing between the two, perhaps now is time to rethink the logic that waterfall and Agile are foes, rather that they both offer some benefits and so need to be considered.  Maybe we need to be pragmatic rather than purist and seek out better ways of working that includes truths from both camps.  We are stronger together than divided, after all.

I have a project/program management background and have even taught project management classes, but these days find myself working a lot more in the Agile space as an Agile coach and trainer.  Nonetheless, every client I’ve ever worked with has taken these externally created ways of working and then modified it to match their internal thinking.  In other words, none of them is doing true Waterfall or true Agile, they’ve decided to make changes to suit their own purposes.  This was done intentionally.  Now whether or not that is a sensible approach is an entirely new question.  The point I’m driving at is that if everyone modifies the framework to suit them anyway, then we recognize that neither is perfect and that they can be improved.  In this way, we should not reject another way of working but rather review it and see what we can learn from it.

Scrum Masters, Project Managers, Kanban Coaches, Business Analysts, Release Train Engineers…all of those different roles look to deliver successful work and could learn from each other’s ways of working.

So, whether you’re currently following Scrum or PRINCE2, SAFe or PMI…it doesn’t matter.  Look to find what you can learn from other ways of working and became a better…you.  None of us wish to be seen as blockers to progress and as they say, arrogance is a sign that you haven’t learned enough to be humble.

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