I style myself an agilist and generally move in a circle of Agile and Lean minded colleagues. So when I mention that I am currently enrolled in an employer-sponsored PMP prep class, the responses I get tend to range from quizzical to shocked. While the PMI is making efforts to embrace agile practices, the PMBOK and this class is still decidedly waterfall. There are statements a-plenty like “process B cannot start before process A completes” that indicate a mentality of lock-step execution and tight coupling. So Why am I, an agilist, taking such a course?

Deeply entrenched in government contracting as I was when I discovered agile, I have had my fair share of CMMI as well. Like the PMI, CMMI has a deep heritage in waterfall processes, yet has acknowledge the value and tried to incorporate agile and lean principles and practices into its toolbox. And lets faces it, CMMI level 5, for any company that ever makes it that far, is all about institutionalizing continuous process improvement across the enterprise. Think company-wide Kaizen, explained using waterfall terminology.

My experience is that there are opportunities for synergies between CMMI and agile, and I expect, between the PMBOK and agile as well. More germane to my interest though, my tagline on LinkedIn states “Have you ever asks, ‘How can I get the accounting department fired up about agile?’ I have.” and I have. And what I have learned is that, out side of the technology department, most companies think and speak in PMBOK terms.

So my three-fold reason for taking the PMP is this. First, I really believe there is useful information in there that is going to help me run my lean projects better. Second, I want to be conversant in the terminology of those I am looking to win over, and third, having PMP after my name will help me get my foot in the door with certain people to have those conversations.

That is not what this article is about however. That is just the context. What I want to throw out there is this idea that is percolating in my head as I sit in these classes and think, how do I get the accounting department fired up about agile?

My biggest objection to the class is just how impractical it is. It is (understandably) teaching to a test. Its an attempt to cram into the heads of up-and-coming project managers a high level understanding of everything they might ever need to know about project management. So here I am, working with people some of whom have never run a project that ran longer than a few months, never had a formal charter nor budget, etc. And they are trying to get their heads around scheduling, budgeting, command and control and every other knowledge area that you might need if you were building the next big thing in Abu Dhabi.

There is this disconnect. To pass the PMP exam, what we are getting is a cram course, a survey if you will, of the depths and riches of the PMBOK. But the expectation is, or seems to be, that if you pass the PMP, you actually know something at the practical level about how to run a project along PMBOK lines. My experience to date is that this will not be the case, nor does the remainder of the syllabus suggest differently.

I have a plan to address this. Lets get our PMP, but lets not stop there. We need a mentoring program for newly minted PMs that starts with the one or two PMBOK processes most applicable to the project at hand and helps the mentee to tailor those processes for and learn to use them on their project. Once they have begun to show mastery at using and tailoring those processes, and as they move on to bigger more complex projects, the mentoring process will assist them in identifying, tailoring and integrating other processes.

And, lest you forget that I am an agilist–the company’s legion of scrum masters, lean nijas and the like should be deeply integrated into this mentoring program. The goals that the PMBOK processes have are both good and eminently attainable using agile practices. Our implementation of them should be strongly informed by lean and agile principles–our companies “organizational process assets.” In this way we can, across the whole company, PMPs and SCMs alike, tech and accounting, HR and marketing, all develop a common language and understanding of delivering the right thing, on time and on budget to high ROI. That is what it is all about in the end is it not?

And who knows? Maybe by the time I retire, the accounting department will finally accept my iterative annual budget, delivered just in time to spend. Now that I know to present it as “progressively elaborated!” 🙂