A Partnership Between Agile and Project Management


I’m excited that agilityIRL has begun a new partnership with the Minnesota chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI). It has obvious benefits for agilityIRL, as we will be bringing our training services to a new market. However, it’s more than that. For me it represents tying together two phases of my career and shows how the Agile and Project Management communities have come to realize that they complement, rather than oppose, each other.

Project Management Journey

My project management journey started in 1997 when I had my first Development Lead role. I was coordinating activities of 4 software engineers on my team and tracking our progress against the master project plan. During this role I realized that I was better at planning than I was at writing code, which set me on a path toward project management.

Throughout the first decade of the 2000s I worked as a project manager in several organizations and passed the most difficult professional test I had taken to that point, PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. At the time, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) was 467 pages of excruciating pain. Memorizing the 42 processes and knowing which of the 5 Process Groups and 9 Knowledge Areas they belonged to is a task I never want to repeat.

Shifting to Agile

Along the way I had my first taste of Agile. I was working on a large program and was interacting with a team that had just gotten started with it. I was shocked when I was told by their development leader that he couldn’t provide me any dates because that’s not how Agile works. (He was wrong, but I didn’t know it at the time.) Despite that fundamental misunderstanding (or maybe because of it), that Agile team seemed to do many things well. They planned in short periods of time and demonstrated their working software regularly. The other teams I was working with gave me dates, but I didn’t get the opportunity to see working software until we got to integration testing, 6 months after the project started.

In 2011 I decided I wanted to give that Agile thing a shot. I was trained as a Scrum Master and took a role as a Scrum Master in a web development group. I was immediately hooked. I loved the close interaction with business customers, the frequent delivery, and adjusting plans based on work that was actually completed! I knew then and there that my project management days were over, I would be all Agile, all the time.

Tying it Together

Turns out I was wrong. Over the next decade I found myself working on large programs in large organizations. They frequently needed some type of program management to tie together multiple product teams working on the same initiative. As a program manager my role changed. I found myself performing a few key activities:

  • Coordinating priorities across the teams, ensuring that they had a common understanding of the sequence of events.
  • Ensuring that teams were integrating their code early and often, rather than having an integration phase at the end.
  • Tracking the program schedule, adjusting forecasts based on work completed.
  • Managing the program budget.

To perform that role, I needed knowledge of project management and Agile. The programs could not have been successful without both. While there are many frameworks that are designed to scale Agile to work across multiple teams, I find that project management is the most common method for my clients. To do this role well, the program manager needs project management skills as well as a working knowledge of the Agile frameworks that teams are using and most importantly, an Agile mindset.

That’s why this partnership with PMI-MN is exciting! agilityIRL will be helping project managers to broaden their knowledge and skill set to work with and support Agile teams more effectively. We will also be helping project managers interested in a career shift to get certified as Scrum Masters and Product Owners, while adding tools that will help them in any environment.

Our class listings are kept up to date here. For PMI members, make sure to reach out to your local chapter about discounts to classes!