A Devil’s Advocate: Agile from a distance, the big waterfall world, and Welcome to the April 2017 PMWJ
Addison, Texas, USA
Welcome to the April 2017 edition of the PM World Journal (PMWJ). This 57th edition continues to reflect the international nature of this publication; 20 original articles, papers and other works by 23 different authors in 12 different countries. News articles about projects and project management around the world are also included. Since the primary mission of this journal is to support the global sharing of knowledge, please share this month’s edition with others in your network, wherever in the world they may be.
Since last August, on the recommendation of several international advisors, I have used this opportunity to mention important trends or issues that I see as journal editor. This month I want to discuss agile project management, one of the hottest topics in the project management professional field, and especially within PMI and its large segment of membership in information systems, software and technology industries.
Last month in this space I discussed the growing relevance of categorization, context and typology of projects – that is, the importance of fully understanding one’s project in order to apply the most appropriate project management principles, processes and expertise. In my opinion, nowhere is that context more relevant than in the application of agile approaches.
It seems to me that agile is often presented as a general alternative to more traditional (waterfall) project life cycle-based processes. I have recently also been informed that “agile” will permeate many sections of the next edition of PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). If this is true, the implications and potential impact are significant. But is this a good idea? Are the interest in and applicability of Agile as widespread as it is made out to be? What has been heard on the topic from those in organizations and industries where traditional “waterfall” project life cycles and project management approaches, methods and processes are widely used?
A Devil’s Advocate
According to Wikipedia, the Advocatus Diaboli (Latin for Devil’s Advocate) was formerly an official position within the Catholic Church: one who “argued against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization”. In common parlance, the term devil’s advocate describes someone who, given a certain point of view, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with (or simply an alternative position from the accepted norm), for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further. 
I believe that “devil’s advocate” is one of the most important concepts in program risk management and governance. It may often be the only way to protect against “groupthink”. Again referring to Wikipedia: Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. 
I learned the value of these concepts during my second term on the PMI board of directors in 2002 when I saw fellow board members sometimes voting with the majority without fully debating an issue or decision. I found myself playing devil’s advocate simply to raise questions and force more discussion, when I thought a pending decision might be important. At the time, there was even a policy that PMI board members must “speak with one voice”, which I found both disheartening and even somewhat frightening. Rather than empower leaders, there was a tendency to silence dissent (or criticism).
Now playing devil’s advocate again, are the PM professional world, academic researchers, organizations and many in the field of project management getting carried away with the “Agile” concept? Is it as widely applicable or used as implied in the many articles and papers on the topic? How important is the move towards Agile, how many executives care and in how many organizations and industries does it really apply? Why are those who do not use Agile so silent on this topic?
About the Author
Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL
David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.net) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice. He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world.
David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and Russian Project Management Association. Since 2010 he is an honorary member of the Project Management Association of Nepal. From June 2006 until March 2012, he was the managing editor of PM World Today. He occasionally provides high level advisory services for major programs, global organizations and the U.S. federal government. David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and a Master’s degree in business from Idaho State University in the USA. He has published widely, spoken at conferences and events worldwide, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/