We see software developers these days that do not know what does it mean not to use TDD or other practices of XP, project leaders that never worked in a non-agile environment, etc. These people don't know what is a critical path analysis, they've never did any WBS neither worked with a Gant chart and so on...

So is the knowledge base for a PM changing these days? We focus on skills where it usually falls into interpersonal ones, but what about the knowledge that the today's PM should have?

I assume we're talking about companies that grow from startups (not the ones that are transforming). Do they for example need to know the PMBOK?

I know it's always good to know more than less, but from a pragmatic point of view? Does it mean an agile PMs are becoming more ignorant or do they gain/require a different set of knowledge? If the latter, then what kind of knowlege/areas of interest are they right now?

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't say that required knowledge is changing. Actually PM was always expected to know the method used in their projects. Yes, we have more and more agile projects so knowledge how to run such projects is commonly expected.

I don't however agree that agile PM don't know how to do WBS or analyze critical path. They approach the subject differently but after all we have the scope split to smaller tasks (even if we call them user stories) and we know which of them have to completed to make project a success.

If you ask about PMBOK I wouldn't say that knowing it is a universal requirement even in non-agile projects.

Anyway, I'd answer the question on a few different levels:

  • TDD or Gantt chart are just tools. You need to know them if you use them. Tools are changing pretty often and so is knowledge we require from PMs. Many of tool-related decisions can be left to the team.

  • PMBOK or Scrum are methods. Again, you need to know them if you use them. Also PM should know other approaches at least on a general level. Since methods aren't changing in such a rapid manner as tools are I'd expect PM would know very well at least the method of their choice.

  • Breaking the work down, prioritizing or analyzing critical tasks are basic project management concepts. They should be know by pretty much any PM out there, no matter what kind of work environment they work in. However specific approach to these concepts will differ - they will be tackled differently in formalized, fixed-scope project than in iterative, agile one. Either way, they will be done.

Depending on a perspective you may say that PM needs to know exactly the same what they used to know 10 years ago as the concepts are the same or that the required knowledge is completely different as tools have evolved rapidly.


More important than knowledge of the latest patterns and techniques is the ability to learn and adapt.

Within any IT discipline anyone who thinks that they can live off their past achievements and stop learning is lost; anyone with a good attitude and decent intelligence should be OK.

If a developer has never done TDD then they can pick it up or go on a course - if they don't want to then they should be shown the door.

If a project manager doesn't know about critical path analysis then that sounds terminal (I learned about that during my business degree 20 years ago - that is not an agile concept TBH!) but otherwise training and a willingness to learn mean that PMs with the right attitude and aptitude can adapt and survive.

  • 1
    Not every PM has a business degree, some have Computer Science, Construction Management, or even Archaeology, English, or History degrees. I agree that learning and adapting is important, but specifically requiring that he/she know critical path analysis is only necessary knowledge if that knowledge is required.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 5:59
  • My mistake, I did do a Business degree - and kind of assumed that it was common knowledge.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 9:54

The question wether a specific approach is sufficient or not depends entirely upon the domain context in which it is applied. Your referral to a start-up lacks specification of the domain (what start-up, which industry, how many parties involved etc.). Maybe agile techniques may suffice, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Next is the assumption that Agile development methods are somehow in competition with project management (or PMBOK if you insist). They're not. The agile techniques are focused on product development (software development specifically), or product scope, whereas project management is focused upon the whole project scope. A project might involve several other work packages outside the realm of product development with their own specialised techniques and approaches. Agile touches some of the aspects of project management, and the agile approach is a form of risk mitigation. But it hardly covers the whole spectrum of project management.

Knowing the PMBOK will give you a number of tools and techniques to apply in the circumstances when they are required for managing your specific project in your specific context domain. That is why the PMBOK is a standard, not a method. Agile gives you an approach specifically for software development, and can be of use in some other (product development) domains as well.

A mature PM knows where to apply those specific approaches (agile or otherwise) for the benefit of the project.


Is it changing? Yes I think so. Agile is ever becoming more popular. However if you are asking whether PMBoK is becoming less useful I think that answer is no, we still need to know that stuff.

And, given experience I have in managing project portfolios I can see that Agile will ever fully take over. Perhaps some portfolios in some industries, but not all. Where we have a more stable level of demand we can better predict resources required to meet that and that presents a cost benefit.

Agile requires a pool of resource that can be called upon. At the portfolio level when attempting to smooth demand waterfall has an advantage. Agile requires a little headroom, always it seems.

This is based on what I've seen at the portfolio level for top tier mining companies and in banking. Primary industry is only as reactive as those at the helm want it to be, retail banking was quite different, the market or regulators can want something almost out of nowhere. Mining companies have the option of being stable. I would not steer away from PMBoK in that environment.

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