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PMBOK vs Agile

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On many online forums, during many discussions and even in meetings organized by the PMI, one can meet with such questions, or theirs different variations, ‘What should you choose: PMI or agile?’, or even worse ‘PMP or agile?’, and in the best case you will get just “PMBOK or agile?’.

Of course (I must admit that until recently it was also not so apparent to me), as you may suppose, the question should be rather: ‘waterfall or agile?’. This article will not answer to this question, but will try to show why, the questions cited in the introduction are not entirely accurate, and what’s more I will try to convince you that the PMBOK is not in the opposition to agile. The PMBOK does not say a lot about agile, and the details of how the two worlds/publications are to each other can be read more about in the Software Extension to the PMBOK Guide. But let’s start from the beginning.

Firstly, the PMBOK is not a methodology, it is a standard, and also a set of guidelines, good practices for project management, while agile (let’s agree here, that by ‘agile’ we mean something more concrete than the Agile Manifesto, e.g. Scrum) is much closer to a methodology (although here also ongoing debate, if you can talk about project management, or rather just about the production of the product / software). It is clear that we can not compare them with each other.

Second: PMBOK allows the use of both: ‘waterfall’ – called ‘a predictive project life cycle’, as well as ‘agile’ – ‘an adaptive life cycle’. Moreover PMBOK states that there is a whole continuum of the available project life cycles – some of them are a little more extreme, and some of them are more balanced in their approach. Because this topic is very close to IT, so in the Software Extension we can meet with an accurate representation of the continuum of available life-cycle phases of the project.

So, why many people have a conviction that: PMBOK = waterfall? Either, people are reading the PMBOK cursorily, or maybe they just have seen PMBOK from afar. So, if one ask them the following question: ‘what are the phases of the project according to the PMBOK?’ They will answer without hesitation: ‘Initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing’ – and it does look like a typical waterfall, doesn’t it?

But just look at the PMBOK and read it more carefully, it says – ‘The Process Groups are not project life cycle phases’. Process Groups allow us to logically group the processes / organize them , and the phases of the project (which decide which the project life cycle do we have) group associated activities that we perform in the project. Each phase of the project has a purpose (product design phase) – this is so they (especially the relationship between the phases of the project) define us if we have more ‘agile’ or ‘waterfall’. Please note that in each phase of the project (regardless of whether we are talking about agile or waterfall) we will have to deal with the processes of project management from all (or most) process groups.

So to put simply:

Process groups (always the same, according to the PMBOK, other standards may have group process a little different): initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing – within one standard will always be the same.

Phase of the project: Depending on the project and/or the methodology, for example: requirements, feasibility, planning, design, construct, test, turnover. Here, each time can be different and a lot depends on the specifics of the project, the organization, and of course the methodology adopted.

That’s exactly how we arranged the project phases determines whether the project we consider ‘agile’ or ‘waterfall’.

At the end of the article, I have to admit that I have not answered the question, ‘agile’ or ‘waterfall’.

Because it is a very important question and each project organization must answer it, when deciding on the standards and policies of project management, so in the next article I will try to answer ’waterfall or agile”, but not which one is better,  but when to use and when to use waterfall based on Software Extension to PMBOK Guide.

Please, feel free to comment and discuss the topic.

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