The basis of the PMI PMBOK® Guide methodology is a set of process groups that define project management “best practices”. The philosophy is that projects are composed of processes that interact throughout the project and generally fall into two major categories: (1) project management processes describe, organize and complete the work of the project;
(2) product-oriented processes specify and create the project’s product. The project management processes can be organized into five process groups (PMI 2000, p. 30):
The question is: How do the Agile practices align with the PMBOK® Guide process groups? Exhibit 1 shows a high level overview of the core aspects. The main characteristics of Agile development and the PMBOK® Guide are discussed by process group below.
EXHIBIT 1: Agile compared per PMBOK® Guide process groups
According to the PMBOK® Guide, initiation processes initiate a new project or the next project phase. The focus is to get formal approval to continue. The PMBOK® Guide emphasizes the identification of stakeholders and of their needs, objectives and expectations for the project, but does not go into the stakeholders expectations of success at this stage. Most of Agile methodologies start by describing how requirements get collected and prioritized as well as how the team is formed. Rapid Planning (RAP), one of the extreme planning methodologies in use, also describes a zero planning stage that focuses on establishing the project success expectations of each participant (E. Thomsett 2001).
Also Read: Top 5 Agile Methodologies
The biggest differences between the PMBOK® Guide and Agile are visible in the planning processes. PMI puts a lot of importance on the planning processes. The number of planning processes demonstrates this: there are 11 core and 10 facilitating planning processes out of all 39 processes described in the PMBOK® Guide. The planning processes are subject to frequent iterations prior to completing the project plan. The final product of the planning processes is a project plan including a schedule.
The general essence of Agile is small teams working in short iterative cycles comprised of planning, development, testing, and acceptance (Schwaber 2001). This means that Agile planning processes are very simple. A preliminary estimate is made of each requested feature. These estimates are added up to the total amount of days it will take to complete the full project (see Exhibit 2a). Every iteration is a fixed amount of days and starts with a joint meeting between the customer(s), who can be external or internal, and the development team. The customer(s) prioritizes the requested feature list and the development team chooses the feature set it thinks it can develop within that iteration. The tasks for the iteration are planned and the workload is tracked on a regular basis against the remaining work and time left in the iteration. After the iteration, time to complete the full project is recalculated based on the results of the previous iteration and any changes the customer(s) has made, including priority changes or adding or deleting features.
EXHIBIT 2a and 2b: Remaining Work over Time (based on (Schwaber 2001).
The PMBOK® Guide Executing processes focus on carrying out the project plan by performing the activities in it. Agile methodologies focus on developing the feature set promised to be delivered in the current iteration as opposed to adhering to a project plan. During the iteration the team is empowered to make all relevant decisions regarding coding and testing the software. The result of an iteration is a product increment.
The PMBOK® Guide controlling processes ensure that project objectives are met through frequent monitoring and measurement of progress to identify variances from plan so that corrective action can be taken when necessary (PMI 2000, p. 30). The scope is locked in at the start of the project and a rigid change management control process is used to evaluate requirements changes. PMBOK® Guide focuses on reducing normal operating costs, in particular the cost of changes. Therefore it recommends change control systems for scope, schedule, cost, and contract changes. The Agile way is to prioritize the requirements and then define the scope per iteration. After each iteration, features can be added or removed (note: within the overall architectural abilities). Iterations are used as control devices to help make it easier to change course during the project, as well as provide some stability (changes are not made during iterations). This characteristic of Agile is based on the Agile philosophy that response to change is more important than following a plan. In case the team identifies that it takes more effort to develop the requested feature set (see time point 3 in Exhibit 2b), the customer(s) can change priorities, add resources or remove functionality to address this change in workload. Agile methodologies focus on reducing the cost of change rather than reducing the amount of change. There is no need for change control processes since the customer usually sets priorities when changes occur.
In PMBOK® Guide the closing process focuses on completion and settlement of contracts as well as generating information to formalize phase or project completion. The product of the project is signed off and the project and product information are archived.
In comparison, Agile development places customer collaboration over contract negotiation. In many cases the customer is co-located with the development team and formal contracts play a less important role. The customer has the opportunity to review the product throughout the development process. Formal reviews take place after each iteration is completed. The customer formally accepts the product functionality developed and at the same time can correct future requirements or priorities for the next iteration. Documentation is seen as a requirement just like any other feature. As such it will need to be prioritized in the work queue. There is no standard formal closure process at the end of the project.
In conclusion, the biggest differences between PMBOK® Guide and Agile are in the planning and controlling phase. Even though there is overlap in the PMBOK® Guide process groups (see exhibit 3) the methodology is based on first defining scope, second getting customer signoff on the scope definition and subsequently managing tasks against the scope definition including a strict change control system. Agile on the other hand starts with a preliminary planning and continues planning after each iteration. Scope changes are possible before every iteration, but usually not during an iteration. Control is not based on scope but on remaining work hours. If the work needed is more than what is remaining, the customer is requested to drop features or add resources. Exhibits 3 and 4 show the two different approached per methodology.
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