PMI Goes All In on Agile with Disciplined Agile and FLEX

PMI Goes All In on Agile DA and FLEX

Recently I wrote about PMI’s purchase of Disciplined Agile and what consequences we might see from that purchase. I realize now that I underestimated PMI’s ambition with regard to the lucrative agile training and certification market. It seems that PMI has gone all in on Agile.

Up until now, PMI has not made any significant headway into the agile training and certification market. Oh sure back in 2012 they launched the Agile Certified Practitioner, or PMI-ACP.  In the 8 years since the launch, PMI has managed to certify 30,027 ACPs; a paltry figure when you consider the growth of Scrum Alliance and certifications during that time. And it is also underwhelming when compared to PMI’s long time cash cow, the Project Management Professional, which more than doubled during this time from 471,137 to 958,593 PMPs.

PMI Certification Fact File

PMI certification statistics as of August 2019
PMI Certification Statistics as of August 2019, Source: PMI Today
PMI Certification Statistics as of January 2012
PMI Certification Statistics as of January 2012, Source: PMI Today


And PMI recognizes that it is time to find another cash cow which is why it purchased Disciplined Agile. As I wrote previously, Disciplined Agile is a close agile cousin to the PMBOK and with multiple flavors of certification, PMI gets potential cash streams that can replace the PMP.

PMI Buys Alan  Shalloway and FLEX from Net Objectives

But the shift at PMI is bigger than that. PMI also bought Alan Shalloway. Well, I don’t mean that they literally bought him, but it appears that they brought Alan and his team at Net Objectives to PMI. And that purchase included FLEX, whatever that is. Similar to buying Disciplined Agile, the PMI purchase brings Alan and co-workers Scott Bain and James Trott over to PMI.

If you have not heard of him, Alan is a bit of a thought leader in the lean and agile space and author of at least 4 books on the topic. His 2009 book Lean-Agile Software Development was one that I read early in my growth as an agile practitioner and had a great influence on me. That book, co-authored by Guy Beaver and James Trott, was one of the 12 books used to develop the exam for the PMI-ACP and is still one of the books I recommend for people preparing for the PMI-ACP.

I am not familiar with FLEX. PMI has described FLEX as a compliment to Disciplined Agile and according to PMI’s press release on the Net Objectives deal, “helps organizations understand “what’s not working” at a system level and identify bottlenecks and eliminate them to improve workflows. ”

Alan wrote a short vision statement about his move to become a PMI employee which included his own 5 goals for the move. It seems a little strange to me and perhaps also to him that after being an independent business owner, he would join a large and seemingly bureaucratic organization like PMI. [I am super curious to learn how the negotiation with Alan went and the final $$ it took to get him to agree to join PMI.]

But Wait, there is More from PMI on the Agile Front

Wait, it gets even better. PMI’s logo and branding has undergone an extreme makeover. For as long as I can remember PMI had the following logo. In hindsight, it was really just the letters PMI and the words spelled out, which was not all that imaginative.


Previously PMI also appended the tag line, “Making Project Management Indispensable for Business Results” which I lampooned in a blog post a few years back. The logo and the tag line made it quite clear that the Project Management Institute was all about projects.

The new logo is strikingly different. And you might not even know it is about projects or PMI. What does it say? I don’t know. Beyond the P, you cannot identify the shapes with any certainty. What does the logo mean? Who can tell, it’s just a P with a bunch of symbols pulled from Webdings.

New PMI Logo after agile branding

I personally think the new logo signals a shift AWAY from projects as the central focus and TOWARD a more Agile PMI. In fact, PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara hinted at this at the announcement of the Net Objectives acquisition when he said, “Regardless of approach, whether it be traditional or agile, project or product [emphasis mine], PMI is uniquely positioned to deliver value for individuals and the organizations they serve”.

The key here is “project or product”. PMI recognizes that the previous exclusive focus on “projects” limits them in recognizing how agile ways of working have changed things. While projects are still a thing, most agile organizations I work with see them as less relevant. Many organizations choose to align their people around value streams or products and they use prioritized backlogs of work – not projects – to achieve their strategic goals.

I am delighted to say that I actually foresaw this important shift in PMI a few months back. In my blog post about the DA Acquisition from September 1, I predicted that PMI would rebrand itself as the Methodology Institute. Perhaps I was half right in my prediction when I said the following:

#5 – PMI Will Rebrand as The Methodology Institute
One criticism I’ve had for a long time is that the very nature and world view of PMI is projects, and that in fact, there is more to work than ‘unique initiatives with a start and finish date’.

Maybe with this acquisition, PMI will shake loose from their origins as a project-only org and begin to think as a methodology company.

PMI is Going Head to Head with Scaled Agile and Scrum

Another prediction that I made less that two months ago was that PMI would go after Scaled Agile, who is the current king of the hill in terms of agile training and certification. The agile training and certification market today is dominated by Scaled Agile. There is a fair amount of debate as to the merits of SAFe and whether it represents agility but I put those aside for the moment. I think it will come down to a battle of PMI + Disciplined Agile vs. Scaled Agile.

By anyone’s guess, Scaled Agile is outselling both Scrum Alliance and in the sales of training and certification.

  • Scaled Agile – Estimated at $30M
  • Scrum Alliance – Estimated at $16M
  • – TBD

It is important to note that PMI dwarfs all of these with annual revenue over $220M. As noted above, that PMI revenue is coming primarily from the PMP faithful. That places PMI in the unique position to be able to dominate the agile training and certification market. I fully expect that “PMI Agile” will become a label that is used increasingly.

PMI Challenges Scaled Agile

What Does All of This Mean for PMI?

The impact of these shifts are likely to rattle everyone in the agile space. PMI has the clout to be a dominant force and to shape the conversation about what agile means in the workplace.

That said, it is all up to execution. I think there are two things that lead me to have some doubts about PMI’s ability to execute.

  1. PMI is strongly rooted to projects. While the branding shift is a great start, PMI has to break out of the paradigm that organizations and work revolves around projects. This is going to be a tough shift for many of the PMI faithful.
  2. PMI has tried this before. PMI has dabbled in Agile before. They did it back in 2011 with the PMI-ACP training and certification which pretty much fizzled. In 2015 they launched the annual Organizational Agility Conference. In 2017 they collaborated with the Agile Alliance to produce the Agile Practice Guide. None of these have resulted in a PMI footprint in the agile mindshare.

What do you think of this shift at PMI and how it will impact the agile training and certification market?

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By Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.


  1. Good job Anthony with being able to foresee PMI’s strategy.

    My fear is that this is just another cash grab attempt by PMI, not based on a love or respect for Scrum, Agile, or Lean, but simply an attempt to get a foothold in a well-established Agile Certification and Training industry (International Scrum Assembly anyone?).

    1. Hi Tim, you may be right that it is just a cash grab attempt. Those experts that PMI has recruited – Ambler, Lines, Shalloway and others – are pretty significant thought leaders in the agile community (though not necessarily top tier). It will be interesting to see first how long they stay with PMI and second what PMI does with their bodies of work (DAD and FLEX). If they leave PMI right away, or if PMI tries to create another PMP and PMBOK out of their work, then I think PMI will continue on the path to irrelevance.

      Thanks for your comment Tim!

  2. Healthy skepticism notwithstanding, we may be overlooking one aspect. Embedded in the astonishing mound of prescription and doctrine that make up the DAD orthodoxy, there is an implication that Agile project methods mature… into Lean Continuous Delivery, a nirvana where the work breakdown resides in a molten pool of prioritization, work is performed predictably only one task at a time by a self-organized Team, and value is delivered continuously without inception or transition rituals.
    If one can envision that this is an end state, we might allow that PMI is headed for the high ground to stake out the role of creating the people to manage to it.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. I did see that DAD does encourage a move to Lean Continuous Delivery though I am not sure it always comes with nirvana as you described it. At least not immediately!

      Anyway, thank you for weighing in. So far the marketplace adoption of DA has been low so we will see what PMI is able to do with their marketing power and the nearly 1 million PMPs that are likely adopters.


  3. Nice Article Anthony. It filled in a few question marks for me.
    Scott Ambler and Alan Shalloway have big names, and well earned at that. The book you mentioned early in this post; “Lean-Agile Software Development; Achieving Enterprise Agility” is still the best work on the subject to date IMO. Getting a large enterprise to become more agile is really only achieved through visionary leaders who are relentless in their pursuit of of it. But even then they need people who really understand the value of people who can help them move the organization. But many other organizations of all sizes seem willing to throw money at certifications even without great vision, or maybe in hopes that the certifications will actually create more value, a better culture, etc.
    So, PMI is probably in a better position than any other company out there because of their massive footprint. If they will actually give the reigns of the agile model and the training and certifications for it to Scott Ambler, Alan Shalloway, and the few others who came with them, then they have a great opportunity to go head-to-head with SAFe and win.
    But, as you alluded to earlier, will all this lead to any companies actually becoming more agile?
    At a previous company I watched Alan Shalloway come in and consult for 3 full days, and I watched him give them some excellent guidance. They ignored it all, and I never heard any of the leaders speak anything about it afterword. Meanwhile I’m pretty sure Alan was not happy that they didn’t act on anything he gave them but he must have been happy to have been paid well.
    IMO that is the sum of all of this in the end. PMI is going to find a way to create and sell more training sessions and certifications. And a few of the key leaders there who make it happen will be compensated very well.
    Is there any doubt that Dean Leffingwell and a very small handful of others are making a killing from SAFe Training and Certifications?

    1. Brian, thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve talked to Scott Ambler by phone and heard him speak at a conference but Alan and Mark I only know through their books and Twitter. It sounds like you have a positive impression of Alan’s work though like you said, not everyone that gets consulting actually follows through on the advice. Organizational change is difficult and in comparison, selling training courses and certifications is pretty easy. If you are a transformation leader, it is easy to report that X% of our people have become trained/certified and quite difficult to say with any certainty where your organization is on a transformation journey, especially one that might last years or become a permanent continuous improvement effort.

      Thanks for your contribution and keep coming back!

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