Addressing ‘agility’ in current project management standards


and other authoritative publications


Advances in Project Management Series


By Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom

The purpose of this paper

The purpose of this paper is to examine how the term ‘agile’ and its derivatives are used in a range of standards and other authoritative project management related publications with a view to understanding and reconciling the apparent differences. The following documents are the primary sources used:

  • ANSI/PMI 99-001-2021, The Standard for Project Management, 2021
  • APM Body of Knowledge, 7th edition, 2019
  • PRINCE2®, Projects in a controlled environment, 6th edition, 2017
  • PRINCE2® Agile, 1st edition, 2015
  • BS 6079:2019. Project management – Principles and guidance for the management of projects (2019)
  • GovS 002, 2019, Project delivery functional standard, v2, 2021
  • IPMA standards –Baselines (PEB, ICB, OCB, ICB4)
  • ISO 21500 series of standards (ISO 21502:2020, ISO 21503:2022, ISO 21504:2022, 21505:2017)
  • PM2, Project Management Methodology, Guide 3.0, 2018
  • PM2 Agile, v3.01, 2021
  • PMBOK® Guide, A Guide to the Project Management Body of knowledge, 7th edition, 2021

Appendices C to K to this paper include a commentary on these publications to give the reader specific references to the respective texts. Other documentation is referred to in this paper to provide context and alternative viewpoints.

Different perspectives of ‘agile’

The term ‘agile’ is used in various contexts and whilst being initially and commonly associated with software development, its use has expanded to encompass entire organisations, sometimes referred to as ‘business agility’. It seems everyone wants their business or work to be ‘agile’, which is hardly surprising as some antonyms for the word include ‘clumsy’, ‘dull’ and ‘boring’!

The uses of the term ‘agile’ generally fall into three categories[1]:

  • management frameworks, defining ‘how’ to do the work. They typically include methods and processes, guidance and codes of practice.
  • techniques, defining how specific tasks are undertaken, many of which are not unique to ‘agile’ but have attracted a separate set of jargon (for example, retrospective vs lessons learned review). Techniques are often a sub-set of a management framework.
  • behaviours and mindsets, which emphasize the culture required for success. It is often said a person (or organisation) should be agile, not do agile. A good management framework or technique is useless if undertaken with inappropriate mindset and behaviours.

These categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, some methods are designed to work with particular behaviours or mindsets and incorporate specific techniques. Table 4 in Appendix A, summarises how these categories are reflected in the primary documents cited in this paper.

Over the 20 years since the term ‘agile’ has been in use, perceptions of ‘project management’ have moved from one where the aim is to deliver a defined scope, on time and to budget (as in PMI’s triple constraint) to one which focuses on outcomes and benefits (as in ISO 21502, BS 6079, GovS 002 and PRINCE2®) which places the assessment of success associated with those who are the object of the organisational or societal changes triggered by a project, rather with those running a project.


Words can get in the way of communication

One of the barriers to a common understanding of ‘agile’ relates to the words used when describing ‘agile’. Words are a means of communication and whilst, on first glance, ideas can appear similar across a range of sources, words can be used in distinctive or different ways resulting in diverse meanings. In addition, many ‘agile’ methods and techniques have their own terminology (some might say ‘jargon’) and the chances of misunderstanding, misinterpretation and argument increase. Some advocates of ‘agile’ do not regard such terminology as jargon but as essential, as those words have been specifically chosen to promote and support the mindset and behaviours necessary to using the associated ‘agile’ processes and techniques.

Often the change of term appears to be a simple substitution of an established term (for example, ‘retrospective’ for ‘lessons learned’). Some terms are registered trademarks and designed to take commercial advantage of the methods and techniques they apply to. Despite many of the practices having been in use for many years (some under different terms), people who do not use the ‘new’ terms are often considered ‘traditional’, with the implicit implication their approaches are inadequate and out of date. In some cases, the terms relate to a prescriptive way of doing something (technique, process or method). On the other hand, some see the use of the ‘newer terms’ as change for change’s sake, and an unnecessary repackaging established best practice. (See “Is ‘traditional’ really ‘traditional’”, later in the paper).


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide. Their contributions to the PMWJ are coordinated by series editor, Prof Darren Dalcher, Lancaster University Management School, UK.

How to cite this paper: Buttrick, R. (2022). Addressing ‘agility’ in current project management standards and other authoritative publications, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/pmwj124-Dec2022-Buttrick-addressing-agile-in-project-management-standards.pdf

About the Author

Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom


Robert Buttrick is an independent advisor on portfolio, programme and project management, specialising in business-driven methods, processes and standards. Recent clients include the UK’s Cabinet Office, Network Rail, and AXELOS. He is a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick, a member of the British Standards Institute’s committee MS2 for project management and is a UK Principal Expert on the equivalent ISO technical committee, TC258 (dealing with international standards on portfolio, programme and project management.)

As well as being the author of “The Programme and Portfolio Workout” and the “The Project Workout”, Robert has worked in one of the world’s most turbulent and challenging industrial sectors, telecommunications, where he has been accountable for creating and running project-based frameworks for managing change, involving the direction of portfolios of over 2500 projects, totalling £4bn spend per year. Before this, Robert was with PA Consulting, a management and technology consultancy. There, he specialised in business-led project management, advising clients such as TSB Bank, National Rivers Authority, Property Services Agency, Avon Industrial Polymers, National Westminster Bank and RHM.

After graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first class honours degree, he joined Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners (now Jacobs) who provided consulting, design and management services for infrastructure, working in countries as diverse as Kenya, Mauritius, Yemen, Senegal and Sudan. He has also worked with the World Bank, in Washington DC on investment appraisals for major development projects.

Robert is a Master of Business Administration (Henley Management College), a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 2010, Robert received a Distinguished Service Certificate from the BSI for services to national and international project management standards, and in 2013 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management.

To view other works by Robert Buttrick that have been published in the PMWJ, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robert-buttrick/

[1] Source PRINCE2® Agile (adapted)