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March 2011
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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

"Calling Hallelujah Always Offends Someone"

Dangerous Statistics I am glad the PMI is finally recognizing agile methods, Ken Schwaber recently posted about the PMI Agile Certification, saying that he “…welcomes this and looks forward to PMI shifting from its previous approach to an agile approach. The test of this will be, of course, the success of the projects that adhere to its principles. In the past, the success (or yield) of their predictive approach has been less than 50% of projects (on time, on date, with the desired functionality.)”

He was quoting from the Standish CHAOS Report that comes out every couple of years and documents the success and failure rates of IT projects. The CHAOS reports have been published since 1994, the same year DSDM appeared and when many agile methods were getting going. Each year the results vary slightly, but the general theme is that many IT projects are challenged and results like the following are typical:

    * 32%   Successful (On Time, On Budget, Fully Functional)
    * 44%   Challenged (Late, Over Budget, And/Or Less than Promised Functionality)
    * 24%   Failed (Cancelled or never used)
    * 61%   Feature complete

It is interesting then that Ken attributes the poor success rates of IT projects since the start of agile to be a PMI problem. You would think that with the rise of agile methods and the success of all these Scrum, XP, FDD, and DSDM projects we hear about, that these statistics would have turned right around!

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Inside the PMI’s Agile Certification Examination Content Outline

The PMI has now published the Agile Certification Examination Content Outline, you can download it here. It outlines the “Tools and Techniques” and “Knowledge and Skills” areas that the exam will be broken into. As we have it now, 50% of the examination marks will be awarded for Tools and Techniques and 50% for Knowledge and Skills.

  PMI Agile Certification 1

As part of the Steering Committee it was interesting to take part the discussions around these weightings. As recent as a month ago the split being suggested for the exam weighting was 70% of the exam would be based on Tools and Techniques with just 30% on Knowledge and Skills. We had steering committee members suggest a 60, 40% split the other way, but in the end the 50%, 50% split was selected.

  PMI Agile Certification 1a      PMI Agile Certification 1b

Doubtless people are reading through these categories trying to get a handle on the scope of the exam. My recommendation would be to focus less on these divisions (that overlap anyway) and focus on the domains that underpin them.

As an example we see Knowledge and Skills Level 1 mentions “Building Empowered Teams”,  Level 2 has “Building High Performance Teams”, and the Tools and Techniques section has items for “Communications” including “daily stand-ups”  and “collaboration”. These are obviously all closely related, but listed in separate areas which could be confusing,  but if you adjust your view to focus on the domains, there is a better separation into logical areas.

PMI Agile Certification 2
I am hoping that there will be a reissue of the Examination Content Outline, since the current form needs word-smithing. The text we generated for it was our short hand notes. For instance Domain 1 Task 1 reads:

Define features and project work in terms of end-user and stakeholder value by focusing on maximizing value delivered and minimizing non-value-added activities in order to keep the delivery team focused on maximizing the value developed.” Is quite the mouthful that made sense to us, but could perhaps be restated along the lines of:

Define project features and work items in terms of end-user and stakeholder value, by always looking for and clarifying the business value. Focusing on maximizing value delivered by the project and try to eliminate any non-value-added activities. This keeps the delivery team focused on maximizing the business value and reduces the likelihood of wasteful activities, feature bloat and gold-plating.” While this is longer, hopefully it is in easier to absorb chunks.

Anyway, as the categories evolve and the questions get developed I will keep readers updated here.

Money For Nothing, PDUs For Free

PDU The PMI employs a Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) program to encourage members to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. This basically means that to maintain your certification (be it PMP, CAPM, or PgMP) you have to meet the ongoing requirement for Professional Development Units (PDUs).

Money For Nothing
To some people this is viewed as a money grab, like selling you a cheap inkjet printer and then holding you to ransom on ink cartridges. You are now on the hook for continually paying to renew that credential you worked so hard to obtain, or lose it.

So every three years you have to prove you have taken enough courses and attended enough local meetings (both of which the PMI can happily provide to you for a fee) to ensure those valuable credentials stay on your resume.

Psst, it’s 2011, Things Have Changed!
Actually, while the picture just painted is the mindset shared by many project managers, it is out of date and severely limited. Starting March 1st, 2011 the PMI broadened the eligibility of qualifying activities and simplified the categories for PDU claims. Also, the CCR program is as much about encouraging members to give back to the PM profession as it is to learning, so your options may be much wider than you think.

For the budget conscious of you out there (and let’s face it you are here partly because the content is free) there are plenty of ways of fulfilling your 60 PDUs within a three year cycle that costs no money. Yep, all your PDU’s for free!

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Agile as a Solution for "Miscalibration Errors"

Error Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and Tipping Point) was in town a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed a great presentation he gave on what happens when we think we have complete information on a subject.

The Problem
Gladwell asserts that the global economic crisis was largely caused by “Miscalibration Errors”. These are errors made by leaders who become over confident due to reliance on information. Those in charge of the major banks were smart, professional, and respected people at the top of their game; who, as it turns out, are prime candidates from miscalibration errors.

People who are incompetent make frequent, largely unimportant errors, and that is understandable. They are largely unimportant errors because people who are incompetent rarely get into positions of power. Yet those who are highly competent are susceptible to rare, but hugely significant errors. 

Think of the global economic crisis where bank CEOs were seemingly in denial of the impending collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. (I don’t mean close to the end when they were secretly betting against the market while still recommending products to their clients, but earlier on when they were happy to bet their own firms on “AAA” rated derivatives that they knew were really just a collection of highly suspect subprime mortgages.)

Anyway, this phenomenon of educated, well informed leaders making rare, but catastrophic errors is not new and unlikely to go away soon, it seems to be a baked-in human flaw. When presented with increasing levels of information our perception of judgement accuracy increases when in reality their judgement may be very suspect. Let’s look at some examples:

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Periodic Table of Agile Adoption

I created the following fun periodic table of agile adoption to explain some of the ranges of adoption, adaptation and blending that we see in the workplace.

  Agile Periodic Table

The Model
On the left to right (X axis) we see varying ranges of agile purity to pragmatism. On the left we have the agile zealots and fundamentalists for whom everything must be done exactly by the book or it is just not agile and therefore wrong. On the right hand side we have the pragmatists who are happy to take what works for them and forget the rest.

On the vertical (Y axis) we have the degree to which people blend other techniques and practices into their work. Low on the scale people use a simple implementation of the theory they have adopted. High on the scale we see a complex blend of multiple practices; perhaps agile, with the Theory of Constraints (ToC), Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), or their own in-house standards.

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PMI Agile Work

San Antonio Riverwalk It has been a busy week for PMI Agile work. Last week I was in San Antonio with the PMI Agile Certification Steering Committee reviewing the latest market research and next steps for the certification launch. Things are also moving forward on the PMBOK v5 Guide with some more agile terms defined and content suggested for Chapter 6.

The PMI recently sent a detailed Agile survey out to a sample of its members and received feedback from >1,300 people. They were looking for feedback on the types of project managers using agile and their adoption of the domains and knowledge areas that comprise the Domains and Knowledge & Skills that will be in the exam.

Nearly 60% of the respondents were from the US with Canada, India, and Brazil being the next most popular. Not surprisingly the biggest industry sector was in IT, with Finance and Consulting being well represented. Most had 2 or more years’ agile experience and had participated in 4 projects or more in a leadership role. 80% held PMP certifications and nearly 30% CSM certifications.

One of the aims of the survey was to ask for rankings of the Techniques, Tools, Knowledge and Skills that will form the body of knowledge  that the exam is based upon. I would love to share these categories here but have been asked not to until after the official release on April 15th. This is understandable, and only fair, but once they are publicized I will have plenty to say about them.

I am sure the 1500 or so PMI Registered Education Providers  (REPs) along the Scrum CST’s who will be offering exam preparation courses will be having a busy Spring and Summer.

Meanwhile on the PMBOK v5 Guide, each of the chapter teams are busy completing the initial chapter re-writes ahead of integration and review. I have been surprised at the rigour and constraints imposed on the writing. Due to the guide being translated into a dozen languages, readability and consistency is key. As, for instance, on our latest effort one PMI reviewer commented that the Microsoft Word 2007 Readability Statistics show a Flesch Reading Ease score of 26.6, which is considered to be "very confusing" and "not easily understood by college graduates". A score between 60 and 70 is largely considered acceptable. So we have rewritten chunks and tried to simplify.

The increased accommodation of agile content is great, not just in my chapter, but I am  hearing  about agile content for the other chapters too. When the call for feedback goes out we will get to see what has been incorporated. I will publicize it here and encourage people to review the new PMBOK v5 Guide for agile content and suggest where more can be added – if appropriate.

That’s the update for now, stay tuned for more on the certification categories after the PMI reveal. Rest assured since we had a great mix of Agile Manifesto authors, PM experts, and pragmatic agilists working on it I don’t think people will be disappointed.