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How does Agile relate to PMBOK?

Agile and PMBOK are two well-known models in the field of project management. But how do they compare to one another?

Agile methodology

The term ‘Agile’ can refer to the singular methodology that incorporates the core values and principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto. Here, teams will work in short cycles known as Agile iterations to produce deliverables quickly and regularly. There is a strong focus on customer satisfaction and continuous improvement. 

Agile is also an umbrella term for the family of Agile project management frameworks, including Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Project Framework. These frameworks have varying styles, but they all work within the Agile mindset, using flexible processes to take a project from start to finish.

Project Management Body of Knowledge

PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), on the other hand, is not technically a methodology. It is a collection of guidelines, terminologies, and best practices in project management. This body of knowledge is fully outlined in the PMBOK Guide, which is published and updated by the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMBOK provides a clear set of instructions for project management as a whole, rather than one particular project management methodology

PMBOK vs. Agile

Some believe PMBOK and Agile are not compatible, as the former is based on a traditional, plan-based model while the latter takes a far more flexible approach. 

PMBOK is rooted in practices that were first documented in the 1980s, with the first edition of the PMBOK Guide published in 1996. The Agile Manifesto wasn’t published until 2001 as an alternative to documentation-heavy processes.

Furthermore, PMBOK outlines explicit knowledge, which can be written, stored, and understood easily. Meanwhile, Agile involves tacit knowledge, which is more intuitive and requires real-life experience — such as learning a new language.

PMBOK and Agile

However, explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge can be complementary. As Ikujiro Nonaka pointed out in an article for Harvard Business Review, tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge, and vice versa. By this logic, the explicit knowledge in the PMBOK Guide can be converted into the tacit knowledge of Agile. Agile teams can follow the good practices of project management articulated in PMBOK to plan their own projects. 

The PMI notes that the PMBOK Guide “outlines project life cycle phases that correspond to Agile releases,” confirming that it can be adapted to suit a more flexible model. In fact, the sixth version of the PMBOK Guide includes an Agile Practice Guide, updating the original knowledge base to fully integrate new practices. The PMI adds: “It is perfectly fine to use an Agile approach — you can do so and still be in keeping with the recommendations in the PMBOK Guide.”

In conclusion, while Agile and PMBOK are very different, they can combine to form a powerful hybrid approach to project management.