PMI should not be a synonym for waterfall

Whenever I hear that someone refers to PMP or PMI as a methodology, I want to tell them that neither of these is a project management methodology (PMP is a certification and PMI is the name of the organization that issues the certification). The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is also not a methodology but a standard. In addition to misusing these abbreviations it is even more disturbing that they are used as synonyms for waterfall project management. True, PMBOK was historically all about waterfall project management. But PMI has been adding agile to the PMBOK for many years now and the most recent 6th edition is more agile than ever.

To explain how waterfall and agile can be combined, PMBOK now has an appendix about the continuum of project life cycles. PMBOK has always stated that it is the nature of projects to evolve as more detailed and specific information becomes available and that the project life cycle needs to be flexible enough to deal with the variety of factors included in the project. Project life cycles can be anywhere on the continuum between highly predictive or waterfall to highly adaptive or agile and anywhere in between, like iterative or incremental.

A summary is given about how process groups interact with adaptive life cycles:

  • Initiating. Adaptive projects revisit and revalidate the project charter and may repeat the initiating phase on a regular basis.
  • Planning. Adaptive projects have high level plans at the beginning and progressively elaborate requirements to the level that is needed in the current planning cycle.
  • Executing. Adaptive projects are executed through iterations. Each iteration is completed in a short time period, followed by a demonstration of the results and a retrospective review by the relevant stakeholders.
  • Monitoring and controlling. Project metrics can be derived from the backlog, progress is measured in the form of completed backlog items, and additional metrics may come from team capacity as well as defect reports.
  • Closing. Adaptive projects may be closed prematurely, but due to their iterative nature, value was delivered in the iterations prior to closing.

As with any new PMBOK edition, there is the usual cleaning up and renaming of various processes and techniques to align with how they are applied in practice. Some of the more interesting additions with respect to agile are listed below.

  • In the Introduction section there is now an overview on selecting project development approaches among predictive, iterative, incremental and adaptive.
  • In Project Scope Management, deliverables are developed over multiple iterations where a detailed scope is defined and approved for each iteration when it begins.
  • Projects Schedule Management includes some agile practices such as planning in iterations.
  • In the section about Trends and Emerging Practices in Project Communications Management it says that agile practices such as short, daily stand-up meetings can be applied to all types of projects.
  • Many chapters have a new section called Considerations for Agile/Adaptive Environments which introduces agile tools and techniques such as sprint and iteration planning.

Agile Practice Guide

PMBOK 6th edition comes together with the Agile Practice Guide. This guide was developed in collaboration with Agile Alliance and provides guidance toward agile approaches in planning and executing projects. Topics covered in this guide are as follows:

  • Introduction to agile
  • Life cycle selection
  • Creating and delivering in an agile environment
  • Organizational considerations for project agility

There are a few appendixes in the guide, one of which maps the PMBOK Knowledge areas against applications in Agile Work Processes and another which maps Agile Manifesto items against Agile Practice Guide sections.


As is evident from PMBOK 6th edition and the accompanying Agile Practice Guide, the distinction between pure waterfall and pure agile projects is becoming blurred. Based on emerging trends, we can definitely expect more hybrid project management going forward.

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