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The Future of Agile & PMI

During my session at the AgileDC conference, I talked about the past, present, and future of Agile. I drew a parallel between the adoption curve of Agile and Geoffrey Moore’s adoption curve of technology.  Even before the Agile Manifesto was penned, there were Innovators introducing agile practices and mindsets.  In the last ten years, the early adopters and visionaries have taken Agile to the next step of market acceptance.  I’ll admit, I only started using agile practices about 6 years ago.  During that time, as acceptance of Agile has grown, the Agile “mantra” has been relatively consistant.  I like to use the word mantra because Agile really does create a transformation.  If the values and principles of the Manifest resonate with you, you become an adopter, a proponent, and a member of a community.

The Agile community is a self-organized group of like-minded people and market adoption has been very organic.  So, back to my session at AgileDC.  I wanted to make a point of saying that Agilists do what they do because something resonates within them.  What we are doing, as Agilists, feels like it aligns with why we do it.  We want to deliver more value.  We want more interactions and collaborations. We respond to change.

Now, let’s look at the Project Management community, specifically that group related to the Project Management Institute.  The primary difference between the PMI community and the Agile community is Project Managers don’t appear to be joined by a common cause.  Rather, they are joined by a common certification. PMI’s goal is

“Serve practitioners and organizations with standards that describe good practices, globally recognized credentials that certify project management expertise, and resources for professional development, networking and community.“

While I was doing research for my AgileDC session, I came across an interesting fact.  What Project Managers (associated with PMI) are doing does not align with why they are doing it.  Scan the blogoshere and you’ll find less content about how to become a better project manager and more about how to pass the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam.  Though the graph above about Agile Adoption is subjective, the graph below is not.

Something happened in February 2008.  It was the last time there were more members of PMI than there were PMPs. (260,458 vs. 259,694) Since then, the gap has widened to 366,854 PMI members and over 466,163 PMPs.  Project managers, associated with PMI, find more value in a certification than they do being a member of a community.  But can you blame them?  Job listings require certifications or accreditations.  Hiring managers search for acronyms and not people.  The simple truth is some are pursuing the mastery of performance-based objectives versus learning-based objectives (ie. getting a passing score on an exam versus getting better at a craft).  Since credential holders don’t have to be a member of the community to maintain their PMP status, they dropped their memberships.  If not for the fact that I could not be a member of the PMI Agile Community of Practice without being a member of PMI, I would probably have ended my membership as well.  But, that alone is enough for me to stay.

The Agile Community of Practice (CoP) and it’s leadership are self-organized.  I get a different vibe from them than I do others associated with PMI.  It’s less about how do I maintain my certification and more about how can we help others.  It is my hope that as the Agile CoP grows, its servant leadership and passion will spread to other areas of PMI.

With the PMI-ACP certification, I’m very curious how this will impact the Agile community and the PMI community.  When I did my last PMI-ACP prep class, 66% of my learners were PMPs and 33% of the class was not associated with PMI at all.  Will the PMI-ACP just be another group of letters to appear in a hiring manager’s keyword search or will it become more than that?  I truly hope it is the latter.

If you are a member of PMI, I strongly recommend that you join the Agile Community of Practice (it’s free for PMI members).  The writing is on the wall, people.  It’s a sign of things to come.  What if you are a PMP but not a member of PMI?  I think joining the Agile CoP is worth the price of the membership.  Regardless of what happens at PMI, Agile will continue to be an ever-evolving self-organized force.


About Derek Huether

I'm an Enterprise Agile Coach at LeadingAgile. I have a goal to take the hand waving out of Agile, Kanban, & Scrum. I’m a strange combination of a little OCD, a little ADHD, a lot of grit, and a lot of drive. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

11 Responses to “The Future of Agile & PMI”

  1. November 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    solid analysis here. 

    • Anonymous
      November 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks!  I knew these statistics would come in handy sooner or later.

      • November 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm

        Thanks, interesting data. 

        Though the increasing gap between PMP certification and PMI membership is interesting, it is although worth noting that both are growing at a decent rate despite a period of slow economic growth when their fees are expensive. And ~77% of PMP’s are still PMP members. So, I think your idea of a follow up survey is interesting  to learn more, but I don’t think it necessarily implies the decline of the PMI, in order to make the case for that I suspect there would need to be an absolute decline in the data you show above.

        • Anonymous
          November 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm

          Simon, what I found interesting was how PMI reported the numbers.  On a monthly basis, they report “total” membership vs. “new” PMPs.  They don’t report new members on a monthly basis, in part I believe, because you see the net gain is lower.  On a monthly basis, thousands choose not to renew their membership.  I certainly don’t predict a decline of the PMI.  There are too many emerging markets.

  2. November 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm


    I wonder if the drop in PMI membership can be attributed to the economic downturn and people cutting back on membership fees vs. Project Managers finding more value in the certification than being a member of PMI community.

    I am also not sure that Project Managers associated with PMI  are only joined by a common certification. Over the years, I met some incredible people that volunteer their time and effort to serve the PM community for no reason but to help advance the profession. The agile community is one of them. But there are thousands who volunteer at all levels. It was incredible to meet some of them last month in Dallas and learn about how much they give to the community. I was humbled. From my experience, certification is not what motivates these people. It is giving back to the community.

    I am also not sure that we can conclude that what Project Managers associated with PMI are doing does not align with why they are doing it. Especially if we just look at the amount of content available out there on certification vs. content about how to be better project managers. I believe there is a strong demand for content on certification because of the demand by the job market. Plus, I think there is a low barrier to entry to the training/certification content market if all you are doing is preparing for a standard exam and you have the PMBOK as your guide. So I am not surprised that there would more content on certification given these factors. Original content is hard to create.

    Finally, I would argue that most people I know who select project management as a career, regardless of their background, are attracted to it because they want to deliver more value thru interactions and collaborations. How they deliver this value can sometimes be dictated by established processes in their organization.  But they still aim to deliver value.

    I was curious about the graph that depicts what PMs are doing vs. why they are doing. Was it based on a survey? It would be interesting to find out.   Thank you.  

    • Anonymous
      November 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      Samad, I love to write things that will facilitate a conversation. I don’t truly believe I know what people are thinking. But, the statistics do help illustrate one perspective. You make very valid points. The split could have been caused by the economy. If so, perhaps PMI should offer a hardship discount, as it does a student discount for membership?

      Another reason for the disparity in numbers is the drive of people who are not even project managers getting the PMP. I’ve been approached by dozens of people over the last few years who were being told by they bosses that they had to get the PMP, though it was not even their career focus.

      And yes, there ARE servant leaders in areas outside the Agile community. From my perspective, I would say I have found more in the Agile community.

      During my session at AgileDC, the second graph did get a reaction from people in the room. The data is reported by PMI on a monthly basis. I’ve been collecting the statistics of membership and certification trends for several years now. Unfortunately, I see the gap widening. I think PMI should take immediate action to get those people back into the fold.

      PMI has a lot of value to offer. I think it is a tragedy so many PMPs are no longer members.

      Thank you so much for posting your comments. I welcome reading views other then my own.

      • November 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

        It’s easy for those of us who manage IT projects to focus on IT project management, to the exclusion of all else.  But the fact is that a significant number of PMI members work in other areas, from oil and gas exploration, to pharmaceutical development, to civil engineering and construction, to entertainment, to any number of other endeavors.  The Agile movement in IT represents a lot of positive trends, which are gradually being absorbed by the IT community.  But PMI does not exist solely for the benefit of the IT folks. 

        I’ve been to several chapter meetings in Las Vegas and in Portland where I sat with non-IT folks, who felt like they were wasting their time.  I explained Scrum to a husband and wife team of construction safety practitioners, who decided it sounded like a framework for The Lost Boys to interact with Tinkerbelle, the only girl they’d tolerate.  For these folks, projects are driven by construction drawings, schedules, contracts, compliance with applicable regulations, and a myriad of other factors that don’t change based on the decisions of one person designated as the “product owner.”  I can’t think of a basis under which “making PMI more Agile” would get these people to keep their membership.  Indeed, I suspect that an analysis of who is NOT renewing their membership would be both instructive and sobering.  These sorts of “exit interviews” are hard to conduct, but you wouldn’t need much of a sample to detect a trend.  The question is, would PMI act on the findings?  And would we IT practitioners support those changes, if it meant a greater focus on non-IT practices?

        • Anonymous
          November 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm

          Though I do agree that Agile compliments IT projects very nicely, I don’t believe it’s exclusive to IT.  It’s too bad others don’t see the benefits of even a few of the concepts.  

          I don’t think PMI necessarily needs to be more Agile.  I think PMI needs to engage disenfranchised (former) members.  We all know it’s easier to retain customers than it is to get new ones.  PMI should be looking at the membership the same way.  Though the membership numbers are increasing, PMI is still losing thousands of members every single month.  They really should be interviewing these people and identify some root causes.  If the membership fees are too high, they should consider lowering it or offering some quid pro quo.  Give back to the community and we discount your membership.  Something!

          I do like the value the Agile CoP is trying to provide.  Free white papers, free webinars…  In the end, members are going to ask themselves if the membership is worth it.  In the end, PMI needs really sell themselves.

          You actually gave me a great idea.  I’m going to create a survey to ask people why they left PMI.

        • November 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm

          One size does not fit all – I’m a fat guy, take my word for it.  While I agree that Agile techniques are applicable to more than just IT projects, it’s not for every “temporary endeavor,” any more than a thong is … well, never mind.

          Earning “credits” through service to the community is already established as an entire PDU category; extending it to membership dues is logical.  I like the idea of adjusting the annual cost of PMI memberships for the nationality (and corresponding economy) of the member.  We have a lot of new members in South America, Asia, and Africa, and there’s no way that most of them can afford to pay as much as those of us who are compensated in dollars or Euros. 

          I’m still a member, but I’d really like to see the results of your survey.  However, you or I might have trouble getting a sufficiently representative sample.  Maybe we could convince PMI to use their mailing list of former members, and share the results of the survey with the active members.

  3. November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Your point about learning-based objectives is right on.  Maybe people know about the eReads and References benefit that PMI members receive and maybe they don’t.  I for one think that the benefit of access to these materials alone is worth the price of membership.  But it is possible that I am more focused on the learning of the craft than your average bear.

    • Anonymous
      November 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      For as long as I’m in this industry, I will continue to try to refine my craft and learn everything I can.  

      I’ve recently seen the pendulum swing both ways.  I had one person come of my class because he just wanted to learn more about leveraging Agile at his office. He had no interest in taking the PMI-ACP exam.  Not even two days later, someone asked if attending the class was mandatory to get the PDUs. She wanted to know if she paid for the class if I would just give her the 21 PDUs to maintain her PMP.

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