The Potato, Pahtato Gorilla

Or- My personal Aha Moment, on the value of an Agile Certification.

I should have known communication was going to be an issue from the start. When the Director of IT clarified that he was in charge of Interactive Telemarketing and the guy in charge of the actual infrastructure was called the Director of Data Management, it should have been a clue to the coming communication issues.

“So the overall framework will use a standard five phase PLC..” 

“A what?”, the Dir. of DM asked. 

I smiled, chiding myself for not spelling out PLC, there I go again using alphabet soup, “Sorry, a five phase product lifecycle, concept, planning, development, verification, and sustaining.” The Dir. of IT looked confused, so I elaborated. “A structured process from strategic vision through developing and then release.” 

“Oh,” the DM replied. “We call that a phased release tree and we call them Ideation, contract, coding, test and shipped.” 

I nod, “Right, so the overall framework will be follow the PRT.” Drucker says, “Communication is what the listener does,” so I changed my language to fit my listeners. ” Because requirements are still fluid, we will shorten the.. contract phase and use a modified Agile, Scrum process as we move into the…” 

Another question, and another explanation led to my changing my terminology to call this a “Wagile job.” 

I began to have an inkling of a communication gap. 

“Due to the short release schedule I propose we use one week sprints…” 


“The schedule currently has the backlog grooming on…” 

“Story time…” 

Two hours later I left the conference room, completely exhausted. Dropping into the temp cube I was parked in, I rubbed my face. The meeting had gone well over schedule, almost completely a result of the constant running translations that had to happen for any information to pass back and forth. 

And in lumbers my personal gorilla, whistling a merry little tune. He held out a banana to me, “Want a Musa Fruit?” he asked. 

“Hogarth, that’s a banana!” I snapped. 

He nodded, “Yep, it is. Good thing you guys weren’t trying to put out a fire in there. The building would have burnt down before you agreed on what to call that cylinder object to deal with fires.” 

“Fire extinguisher,” I snapped. 

“Nah, I was thinking about the phone handset so you could call the fire department. You really want business directors fighting a fire?”


If you’ve hiding under a rock for the last week or so, you might have missed that the Project Management Institute has announced a new Agile Project Management Certification. For some this announcement is akin to hearing that “Big Brother” has decided he wants to install cameras in your car. To others it’s something too long in coming, after all isn’t PMI the one and true wisdom in projects? For a large, middle of the road, group the announcement has been followed by a “wait and see” attitude.  Announcing something and how it will actually work are very different beasts.  Announcing you’ve found life on Mars and then revealing that it is only a millennium dead microbe are two, very, different things. 

With feet firmly planted in both the PMI and Agile communities, I was prepared to take a wait and see approach. To start, I wasn’t convinced that there should have been a PMI agile certification in the first place. The Program Management cert (PgMP) has been less than a stellar success. Does PMI have the credentials and ability to make such a certification have value? 

But then I don’t make those decisions and another part of my brain came to the realization that much of the value of a PMI Agile cert would be in the hands of the people who pursue that certification. Like any trail blazers, they could give this new certification real purpose or they could turn it into another white albatross on the road to certification alphabet soup (professional web site developer, really?). 

So until yesterday I was still trying to decide if there was an actual value to even creating a body of Agile knowledge and a certification around that. With the power of the internet at my fingers, I can easily read up on any Agile methodology, from Extreme to OpenAgile and back again. Why did we need a certification?  

And then I had my Aha Moment and I realized that yes, this certification could be a very good thing. 

My Aha moment came talking with Ainsley Nies about one of the “use case” studies she brought into her Agile Management class at UC Berkeley Extension. Captain “Dave”, a police officer, came to class and described how he coordinated the police response to the San Bruno Pipeline explosion last year. What he described is something nationally called the Incident Command System (or SEMS in California) and when Ainsley recounted the tale I recalled my own experience with ICS and it all snapped into place. 

ICS started as California’s Standardized Emergency Management System, in the 1970’s to respond to series of catastrophic urban effecting wildfires. When the retrospectives were done, it was found that it was not a lack of resources but a breakdown in communication and management, a failure in common language, that resulted in poor ability to respond to the fires. This is not surprising for a state almost 800 miles long, paramedics from Eureka may have never even been to San Diego, much less worked with their ocean search and rescue. After 9/11, Homeland Security took California’s system and turned it into a national system that all emergency service organizations were required to learn. Today, any US emergency responder can arrive at any US disaster and plug into the existing “project.” 

Why? Some weaknesses in incident management were a result of:

  • Lack of knowledge with common terminology during an incident.
  • Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
  • No predefined methods to integrate inter-agency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively 

Lack of common language. .. 

Lack of a common planning structure… 

Lack of cross organization integration… 

When I studied for the PMP, I didn’t learn great swaths of new knowledge. I’d been doing project management for years, even before I wore the official title of project manager. What I did learn was a common language and a set of common frameworks, in short a tool box and the instruction manual to go with it. How I ended up using those tools was up to me, the PMBOK itself clearly states it is a set of guidelines or common practices. Getting my PMP gave me the ability to converse with other project managers on a common basis. It also gave me a community. 

And an Agile Project Management certification can be of the same value. Like an Incident Command System for using Agile methodology, it could offer a common language, common frameworks and make sure that when we all grab hold of the elephants tail, we all know its an elephant we’re holding onto and not python. It can shorten the time new teams take to come up to speed. It can mean that an Agile PM can join a firm with other Agile PMs and already know they are talking the same language. 

Does my Aha Moment magically make things all rosy and bright. No, but it does tell me that this certification can be a good thing. When we can all agree that the red cylinder is called a fire extinguisher, it will make it a lot easier to put out the project fires.