25 March, 2019

The PMI’s Agile Practice Guide: What You Need to Know

By Mike Clayton

25 March, 2019


In September 2017, the PMI produced the sixth edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMBOK Guide. And, at the same time, it published the new Agile Practice Guide, in collaboration with Agile Alliance.

What made this remarkable was not just the timing, but the bundling together of the two guides into one package. Whilst you can buy each separately, the linking of the two seemed to signal a big shift in PMI thinking. Is the Agile Practice Guide now a part of core Project Management knowledge in the eyes of the PMI?

Agile Project Management

Two things are for certain, however:

  1. Agile is not going away – it is a vital part of the landscape for project managers.
  2. PMI is committed to moving to properly reflect this fact

If you are a PMI Member
(or you aspire to be)…

Whether you think PMI is getting it right or not, this is a document you should be familiar with. And if you don’t have an opinion, then perhaps you should examine some of the issues.

If you are not a PMI Member (and don’t aspire to be)…

This is still an interesting document that can provide valuable knowledge and open up interesting areas of debate.

This is What We’ll Do…

In this article, we’ll examine:

  • Why the PMI needs an Agile Practice Guide
  • What the Agile Practice Guide is… and is not
  • Its contents, and how it is structured
  • Different responses on some of the more contentious aspects of the Agile Practice Guide, and our own opinion
  • How the Agile Practice Guide impacts on the PMI’s principal Project Management qualifications

But, before we start, we’d better answer the question, what is Agile Project Management?

Why Does the PMI need an Agile Practice Guide?

Despite the revisions in the Sixth Edition, the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) remains resolutely anchored to traditional predictive project management.

Each of its 10 Knowledge Areas does contain a section on ‘Considerations for Agile/Adaptive Environments’. But these tend to be no more than two or three paragraphs. It’s very much an awareness-raising approach.

And PMI does, indeed, have its own Agile Project Management qualification: PMI-ACP – the PMI Agile Certified Practioner. Not only that, but PMI-ACP is PMI’s fastest growing qualification.

The PMI-ACP Exam tests for in-depth knowledge of agile practices, tools, and techniques. But it is supported by 12 reference works, none of which the PMI publishes.

So, it would seem that PMI needs something to bridge the gap. And that is what the Agile Practice Guide starts to do.

Agile Practice Guide Bridges the Gap between PMP and PMI-ACP

The Agile Practice Guide is the PMI’s first attempt at melding together the two contrasting views of Project Management.

What the Agile Practice Guide is… and is not

Firstly, the Agile Practice Guide is not a ‘How to…’ guide to Agile Project Management.

Rather, the Agile Practice Guide gives guidance on agile practices, for project managers who want to adopt an agile approach to planning and delivering projects. It was developed in a collaboration between the PMI and the Agile Alliance to draw the links between traditional predictive (‘waterfall’) and agile approaches.

Here is how the PMI and Agile Alliance each describe the Agile Practice Guide


…the Agile Practice Guide provides tools, situational guidelines and an understanding of the various agile approaches available to enable better results. It is especially useful for those project managers accustomed to a more traditional environment to adapt to a more agile approach.

https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/practice-guides/agile retrieved 11 March, 2019

The Agile Alliance

…the intention to build a greater understanding of agile practices, with emphasis on how Agile relates to the project management community. 

https://www.agilealliance.org/introducing-the-agile-practice-guide/ retrieved 11 March, 2019

Contents: How the Agile Practice Guide is Structured

The PMI's Agile Practice Guide - What You Need to Know

The Agile Practice Guide has five substantive chapters, plus an introduction and call to action.


  1. Introduction
  2. An Introduction to Agile
  3. Life Cycle Selection
  4. Implementing Agile: Creating an Agile Environment
  5. Implementing Agile: Delivering in an Agile Environment
  6. Organizational Considerations for Project Agility
  7. A Call to Action

We’ll summarise chapters 2-6 below. But I’d also note that there is also a lot of value in the three Annexes and three Appendices:


  1. PMBOK Guide Mapping – this is the strongest link into the PMBOK. For each of the 10 Knowledge Areas, this annex describes how to apply the principle to an agile way of working.
  2. Agile Manifesto Mapping – this annex relates each of the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto to numbered sections in the Agile Practice Guide.
  3. Overview of Agile and Lean Frameworks – the third annex gives a short description and some helpful tables for each of 12 agile methods. It’s a really handy reference.


  1. Contributors and Reviewers – the obligatory credits. Of no interest, unless you think someone you know or are meeting will be on the list.
  2. Attributes that Influence Tailoring – the table at the heart of this appendix sets up 9 scenarios and offers advice for each on how to tailor your agile approach to get the best results.
  3. Agile Suitability Filter Tools – this section offers a simple radar-plot model and a set of diagnostic questions to help you determine whether and to what extent an Agile approach makes sense.

An Introduction to Agile

I like this chapter. It is a terse but well-written introduction to what Agile is and when it is useful. It introduces the Agile Manifesto, without burdening you with lots of history.

And it sets out most of the popular agile methodologies, which the guide outline in Annex 3. It does not set out to be comprehensive, nor to endorse or recommend any particular approach.

The final section of this chapter develops the argument that Agile is an ideal response to complexity, which arises from uncertainty in requirements or technical capability. I’m not sure I buy the argument that this is what complexity means. I see it as more about massive inter-connectedness.

However, there is no doubt that these uncertainties contribute to complexity.

The PMI's Agile Practice Guide - What You Need to Know

Life Cycle Selection

I’d suggest that this is the most important chapter. It’s also the most contentious and, I fear, the least clear. I’d like to see a lot of work on this for any future edition. But the challenge will be reconciling the two opposing responses to its proposals. More about this in the section below with our considered response to some aspects of the Guide.

Crucially, the chapter starts by setting out Agile as a combination of iterative and incremental approaches. This is all correct, but I suspect a new reader would find it hard to be clear on the distinction between iterative versus incremental from the Guide’s description.

So, at the risk of confusing you further, here is my way of understanding the difference…


Repeating a process to refine the outcome at each cycle (or ‘iteration’). So, the first time we produce a minimal result (a ‘minimum viable product’ or MVP) and then we refine it to a version 2, and then a version 3, and so on.

Therefore, in an iterative approach we don’t aim to complete a feature or product in one go. It’s like priming woodwork, then painting successive coats, until the finish is what we need.


Building part of a produc at a time. Then finishing that part, before starting work on the next piece.

So, we build one feature at a time and when it is done, we can be confident we have created something of value. It’s like painting one room of your house completely, before starting the next one.

Implementing Agile: Creating an Agile Environment

This chapter focuses on the twin roles of the leader and the Agile Team.

Leadership and the Project Manager

The leadership model at the core of the Agile approach is ‘Servant Leadership’. This is a topic I wrote about in an article for ProjectManager.com: ‘How to Manage with Servant Leadership’.

The chapter relates this to the role of the Project Manager in one of the most contentious parts of the whole Agile Practice Guide. Contentious, partly because it says virtually nothing, leaving the implication that it’s not much different from the role in predictive project management. So. I’ll return to this below.

But what I do like a lot is this quote:

The value of project managers is not in their position, but in their ability to make everyone else better.

This is a wonderful tip that applies to any leader, in any context.

Agile Teams

The chapter is stronger on project teams, albeit, failing to describe their self-managing nature in many Agile contexts. of particular value, if you are new to the idea, is the distinction between deep specialist team members, and ‘generalizing specialists’ with depth, but also some broader skills. These are ‘I-shaped and T-shaped’ people.

I and T Shaped People

The Guide makes the case that, while a deep specialist may be able to achieve greater individual efficiency, the breadth of skills in a generalizing specialist means that hand-offs between team members flow better when the team has them.

Agile Team Roles

Interestingly, although the Agile Practice Guide claims to show no preferene among Agile methods, the ‘three common roles’ it sets out in section 4.3.2 look very much like the three roles in Scrum:

  • Cross-functional Team members (cf Development Team)
  • Product Owner (cf Product Owner)
  • Team Facilitator (cf Scrum Master)

This exacerbates the concerns about the role of the Project Manager.

Implementing Agile: Delivering in an Agile Environment

Chapter 4 serves as a primer for the basics of how an Agile project operates. Introduces a range of Agile practices and techniques, that include:

  • Team Charter
  • Retrospectives
  • Backlog preparation and refinement
  • Daily standups
  • Demonstrations
  • Measurement

This short chapter is the nearest you’ll get in the guide to a ‘How to…’ I’ll mention here the view that many practitioners hold that PMI has misstepped in including Earned Value Management (EVM) as one of the measurement techniques in Agile projects.

They feel this is not a suitable Agile method and that PMI has carried it across from its strong place in the management of predictive projects. My experience of Agile is insufficient for me to hold a well-informed view on whether EVM works well in Agile projects.

What I do like is Table 5.1. It will serve a beginner well in knowing what options you have in the event of problems with your Agile Project.

Organizational Considerations for Project Agility

Finally, your project will be influenced by the context of the organization it sits in. The Guide explores a range of organizational factors that will have an impact on how you use Agile. These are:

  • Organizational Change Management
  • Organizational Culture
  • Procurement and Contracts
  • Business Practices
  • Multi-team Co-ordination
  • Agile an PMO
  • Organizational Structure

It ends with a short section on evolving the organization in an Agile direction.

The PMI's Agile Practice Guide - What You Need to Know

A Considered Response to some Aspects of the Agile Practice Guide

There are a fair number of areas of this document that have caused disagreements among the community. And it is not surprising that this is so. First, because this is the first attempt by PMI (or any comparable organization) to draw the two traditions together. And second, because the two traditions have divergent perspectives on many things. Finally, this is exacerbated by the strength of the views (that borders on fanaticism, on occasion) that exist.

I have assembled those issues that I feel:

  1. are of substance
  2. I have an informed view on

And I offer my own perspective.

Hybrid Approaches

The two perspectives on this are well characterized in articles by Chuck Cobb and Anthony Mersino. Chuck argues that the section in Chapter 3 on hybrid approaches is ‘too high level and not specific enough to help a PM understand how to really implement a hybrid approach.’

Anthony shares my view that the description of hybrid approaches is weak (he uses the word ‘confusing’). But he goes on to say that he does not think ‘hybrid approaches are effective and I wish people would stop using them’.

One of the principal reasons we chose to promote Chuck Cobb’s program of Agile Project Management courses is because I share his attitude that it is the job of a skilled project manager to devise the right hybrid approach for the project and context at hand. I too find the Agile Practice Guide goes nowhere near a useful assessment of how to go about this.

This is sad because, as I said at the start of this article, the role of this guide is to bridge the gap. Poor work on hybrids risks leaving the gap poorly bridged.

Role of the Project Manager

I am one of those project managers who would like to think we can continue to manage projects taking a similar role in the future to that of the past. But if the success of Agile methods like Scrum teach us anything, it is that there are different ways to manage and lead people.

And that inevitably means self-organizing teams and light-touch leadership. Indeed, in principle, this accords well with my preference for ‘leaderless leadership’. There is no leader. Everyone takes a leadership role, as and when it suits them and the team. The old word for no leader is anarchy – literally, ‘without rule’.

This is a hard message to give to PMBOK project managers. The shift is a subtle and sophisticated one. So, I’m not surprised that the first edition of the Agile Practice Guide somewhat dodges the issue. I would agree with Chuck’s characterization of this as ‘the elephant in the room’.

Enterprise-level Agile

I do think there is a lost opportunity that cannot be ascribed to sensitivity, a s the hybrid and PM role can. This is the deliberate (see table 1-1)omission of any guidance on implementing Agile throughout the organization – or even of Agile programs.

The latter is, perhaps understandable. It runs you hard up against the issue of hybridization. But, should serious project managers (with a PMP qualification) not be thinking about how they can contribute to debates about transforming the enterprise to become more Agile? I’d say they should.

Agile Methodologies

Some commentators take issue with the characterization of Agile as a subset of Lean methods. Chuck Cobb, who is an expert we recommend, makes the point clearly in his article: ‘What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?’ On this, Anthony Mersino agrees.

I’d agree. Lean is principally about cutting out or simplifying process steps. That is not the purpose of agile. Arguably, agile introduces iterations and thereby increases process cycle times and effort.

You may be wondering, what is Lean Project Management?

How Does the Agile Practice Guide Impact the PMI Qualifications?

Of the seven PMI qualifications, this ne Agile Practice Guide could have an effect on three:

  • PMP Ⓡ
  • CAPM Ⓡ

So, let’s see how it affects each.

PMP: Project Management Professional

The introduction of Agile Considerations into the 6th edition of the PMBOK Guide made some basic understanding of Agile fair game for the PMP exam. But the impact to date has been small.

The exam requires no detailed knowledge of Agile nor any of its methods. And the Agile Practice Guide is not part of the syllabus.

The extent of Agile topics in the exam may change over time, but for now, a read through of the Agile Practice Guide and some general knowledge will be plenty of preparation. But I recommend you keep an eye on the current responses on the PMI’s PMBOK FAQ page, in case things change.

And if you are starting your preparation for the PMP exam you must read the current PMP Examination Content Outline. PMI has indicated that the outline will change in late 2019 or early 2020.

If you are planning to take your PMP exam, we recommend:

CAPM: Certified Associate in Project Management

This is even clearer. Your syllabus is the PMBOK Guide and the PMBOK Guide alone.

If you are planning to take your CAPM exam, we recommend the unbored PMP & CAPM Exam Preparation course.

PMI-ACP: PMI Agile Certified Practitioner 

In March 2018, PMI updated the terminology in the PMI-ACP exam to match the terminology in the Agile Practice Guide. It now also includes questions on the content from the Practice Guide. Previously questions came from 12 sourcebooks.

Download all the information you will need from the PMI website.

If you want to prepare for the PMI-ACP exam, we recommend Chuck Cobb’s course: How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification.

What is Your Point of View on the Agile Practice Guide?

Do you have a point of view on the Agile Practice Guide? If you do, we’d love to hear it and I’ll respond to any comments you leave below.

Learn More

Learn Agile

If you want to learn more about Agile, we recommend Chuck Cobb’s Agile Project Management Academy, and we can offer you great prices.

Agile Qualifications

Or maybe you want to prepare for Agile qualifications. If so, we can offer courses for:

Free Resources from OnlinePMCourses

Free Academy of Project Management course about Agile Project Management.

Articles on this Website include:

And, if you like Pinterest, check out our Agile Project Management board with over 350 pins.

Where to Get Your Agile Practice Guide

You can get your Agile Practice guide directly from the PMI, or from your favorite bookseller, like:

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
    • Thank you Anthony. I enjoyed reading your aricle and I love your style. I would recommend my readers who want to engage in the debate to read it too. You put yor arguments clearly.

      As you know, I take a view that hybrids are a good thing. There’s a reason why biologists talk of hybrid vigor – and Hegel talked of synthesis as the result of a thesis (waterfall?) and antithesis (agile?) coming together. But the truth is that, to find a successful synthesis, a practitioner must first fully understand the ideas they want to bring together. So, your article creates a valuable perspective.

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