Where does Agile fit into Project Management and vice versa?

There is no doubt that there has long been animosity between traditional project management concepts, led by waterfall-delivery-focused organizations like the PMI and PRINCE2, and Agile, led by organizations like the Agile Alliance and the Scrum Alliance. This is often shown by common but divisive statements like;

  • Do we deliver by using Agile OR Waterfall methods?
  • Agile is for software projects only, so we'll be using the waterfall method on this project.

Improve your operations and optimize customer value with Agile & Scrum

The truth is that they are both used for delivering work that organizations and their customers need. Undoubtedly, Agile is used for doing more than work delivery, but for this blog, I'm focusing on a similar use case - work delivery by projects.

Two Methodologies, Both Alike in Dignity

Waterfall was created in 1970 by Winston Royce in his paper Managing the Development of Large Software Systems, whilst Agile originates from the Agile Manifesto for Software Development created in 2001. Of course, they both have deeper backgrounds than that, but those are the points at which their core ideas were amalgamated into what we see today.

They are both popular worldwide; the PMI has around 600,000 members, and the Scrum Alliance has around 400,000. Nonetheless, up until a few years ago, they stood widely apart. Robust debates have been held over the virtues of each, their suitability for particular situations and their effects on their users and customers.

Once Divided, Now More United

As Bob Dylan famously said, though, 'the times they are a-changin''; the PMI has for a few years now offered the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) qualification. As a result, the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) now includes large swathes of Agile. PRINCE2® has PRINCE2 Agile® Foundation and PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner certifications too.

To add to these, in 2019, PMI went as far as to even purchase the Agile framework, Disciplined Agile or DA, and has brought it into the PMI fold. According to PMI President & CEO Sunil Prashara, "This acquisition is another important building block for PMI - addressing new ways of working in an increasingly agile world, and greatly expanding the capabilities of project managers and agile practitioners alike".

According to this blog by Anthony Mersino, the 'DA website was launched in 2011, and the first book published on it was in 2012. Scott Ambler and Mark Lines are the founders and thought leaders behind Disciplined Agile.' Scott and Mark were brought in under PMI with the purchase of DA.

Looking at it from the other side of things, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) speaks to programs and portfolios and looks very familiar to Waterfall practitioners. In addition, ICAgile offers the Agile Project Management (ICP-APM) and Delivery at Scale (ICP-DAS) qualifications.

With all of this mixing between the two, perhaps now is the time to rethink the logic that Waterfall and Agile are foes, instead that they both offer some benefits and so need to be considered. We need to be pragmatic rather than purist and seek better ways of working, including truths from both camps. We are stronger together than divided, after all. 

black board with hands placing multiple sticky notes under to do titles

I have a project/program management background and have even taught Project Management Training, but these days find myself working a lot more in the Agile space as an Agile coach and trainer. Nonetheless, every client I've ever worked with has taken these externally created ways of working and then modified them to match their internal thinking. In other words, they are doing something other than true Waterfall or true Agile. 

They've decided to make changes to suit their own purposes. This was done intentionally. Whether or not that is a sensible approach is an entirely new question. The point I'm driving at is that if everyone modifies the framework to suit them anyway, then we recognize that neither is perfect and that they can be improved. In this way, we should accept another way of working but instead review it and see what we can learn from it.

The most influential roles are the friends we make along the way

Certified Scrum Masters, Project Managers, Kanban Coaches, Business Analysts, Release Train Engineers...all of those different roles look to deliver successful work and could learn from each other's ways of working.

So, whether you're currently following Scrum or PRINCE2, SAFe or PMI...it doesn't matter. Look to find what you can learn from other working methods and become a better...you. None of us wishes to be seen as blockers to progress, and as they say, arrogance is a sign that you haven't learned enough to be humble.


Looking to Lean into a more Agile mindset? Explore our Agile & Scrum Training Courses!


This piece was originally posted on Dec 15, 2020, and has been refreshed with updated resourses and styling.

Chat With Us