Never have a PMP on an agile team

Now that I have your attention, let me be VERY clear I don’t believe the title of this post.  However, many people do believe it, and that is troubling. 

Now that some of you are confused let’s back up a minute and explain the term PMP.  It stands for Project Management Professional.  It is a specific level of achievement obtained through the Project Management Institute (PMI).  The PMP level recognizes demonstrated knowledge and skill in leading and directing project teams and in delivering project results within the constraints of schedule, budget and resources based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).  The PMP designation requires a significant amount of documented project management experience as well as demonstrating significant knowledge of the PMBOK through passing a rigorous test.  All of this is very good in theory, but there are some issues which may need to be addressed.

As I said in the first sentence, I don’t believe the title of this post as it is written.  Unfortunately, I can also see reasons why many people do have this particular belief.  The biggest reason being the way most PMPs look at the world of project management.  To them it is the traditional interpretation of the PMBOK or it isn’t worth doing.  I find this interesting because PMI has an official position which is the PMBOK is process independent.  It is simply good project management practices regardless of the underly process being used.  Yet traditional interpretations tend to conflict with agile interpretations of the same document.  I touched on some of this in an earlier blog post containing my feelings about agile and various bodies of knowledge.  At that time I was focusing on my observation that simply implementing a process based on a body of knowledge document was very likely to lead to a traditional waterfall process.  Now I want to take that thought a step further and say a traditional intepretation of the PMBOK while using an agile process is going to lead to conflict and eventually a project failure.  I know that’s a bold statement, but if you take a big picture view, a non-agile PM trying to help an agile team is definitely a square peg in a round hole.  Eventually something will break if the peg is going to get inserted at all.  Others agree with me.  Mike Cottmeyer has a presentation he does called Agile PMP: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks.  Alex Hamer also has a blog post on this topic.

Fortunately, the PMBOK can be interpreted through something I’ll call “agile sunglasses.”  When you wear your agile sunglasses and look at the PMBOK you can see how the various practices may actually be useful in an agile world.  You may do them much differently than you would on a traditional project, but you can still do them.

I used to think it would be great if there was a translation between the PMBOK and agile.  I guess Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick thought the same thing because their book, “The Software Project Managers Bridge to Agility” is exactly that!  It translates from PMBOK terms to agile terms and gives PMPs some direction on how to change from traditional PMs which are ineffective in an agile process to agile PMs with a lot of useful knowledge they can draw on to help their teams succeed.  This book is a must read for anyone stuck on traditional PM practices.  Anonymously drop a copy on your PMPs desk if you need to!  Click on the image of the book if you need to order it.  Go ahead, do it now, the rest of this post can wait.

In my experience the best agile project managers were also the best traditional waterfall project managers.  I believe the primary reason for this is they have found success by using some agile techniques without even knowing it.  This shows up when they are in a course and say things like “I already do that.”  When I press further I find out they have been very successful, and they are truly doing some agile things within their waterfall process.  At that point I can smile and know the team will be even more successful with the lighter weight agile process.

Now, back to the title of this post.  If it said “On an agile team never have a PMP who relies on a traditional interpretation of the PMBOK” I have to say I’d agree.  Unfortunately, the reality is many people fitting that description are in companies currently undergoing agile transformations, so what do you do?  I would start with some sort of coaching or mentoring.  Most people who have achieved the level of PMP are very knowledgeable and can adapt if given a chance and a path to follow.  In an organization undergoing agile transformation I like to schedule regular meeting time with all people fitting this profile.  This allows me to be sure they all share their experiences so they learn from each other and improve rapidly. At some point there is a moment when they spread their wings and fly again on their own.  Give them some time to allow it to occur.  However, don’t give them too much time.  There are some people in every role that won’t be able to transition to an agile process.  Project managers are no different in that regard from ornery developers that won’t change.

Until next time, get to work with your PMPs to help them adjust their habits and practices so that together you are working on Making Agile a Reality™ for your organization.  Let me know how it goes or if you have had experiences others can learn from.

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  1. I think the issue comes down to whether the PMP became a Project Manager because s/he’s a PMP or not.

    What I mean by that is that if you start your Project Management career by studying for PMP, passing the test, and having a job (which, btw, is not what PMI want, but apparently people are doing it, as the audit process for previous experience is rare), you really are not a Project Manager.

    This article on certification as a performance measure in project management expands on this particular point.

    A seasoned Project Manager will adapt to finish the project, a non-experience Project Manager wants to adapt the project to what he learned.

  2. I think the issue comes down to whether the PMP became a Project Manager because s/he’s a PMP or not.

    What I mean by that is that if you start your Project Management career by studying for PMP, passing the test, and having a job (which, btw, is not what PMI want, but apparently people are doing it, as the audit process for previous experience is rare), you really are not a Project Manager.

    This article on certification as a performance measure in project management expands on this particular point.

    A seasoned Project Manager will adapt to finish the project, a non-experience Project Manager wants to adapt the project to what he learned.

  3. Nice post. I forwarded it on to my PM, who is a PMP, but who does great work with my agile team.

    One comment on the blog – I was going to subscribe, but I dislike feeds that don’t have the full content. So I’ll probably end up missing your content. I would suggest that publishing a full feed would be better for you than what you are doing now.

  4. Nice post. I forwarded it on to my PM, who is a PMP, but who does great work with my agile team.

    One comment on the blog – I was going to subscribe, but I dislike feeds that don’t have the full content. So I’ll probably end up missing your content. I would suggest that publishing a full feed would be better for you than what you are doing now.

  5. Steve, thanks for pointing out the RSS issue. I think it is resolved now. No real reason to do that, so I removed it. I didn’t even really remember doing it, so that’s a bit scary!

    – Bob –

  6. Thank You Bob for another super article. Kudos to you for clarifying things what most Scrum masters or Managers in organisations don’t know…May God Bless you for your unselfish work…