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Agile Is About Adaptive Actions, Not Corrective Actions or Preventive Actions
By Satya Narayan Dash

PMBOK incorporates many standards, terms and terminologies from a whole gamut of other standards, for example some from the Good Manufacturing Practice (or GMP). Corrective Action and Preventive Action (or CAPA) are terms from GMP specifically. CAPA concepts are improvements to process taken to eliminate causes of non-conformities.

PMBOK: Corrective Action

So, what does PMI say of Corrective Action in PMBOK guide in its 5th edition?

“Corrective Action is an intentional activity that re-aligns the performance of the project work with the project management plan.”

This term is applicable in a highly plan driven environment and above all where one thinks plans are correct. The phrase, “Corrective Action”, implies that project team has made an error and underperformed. Also, it is evidently based on assumption that the plan is correct and the actual performance is lacking.

This happens in the Monitoring and Controlling process group along with the Execution Process Group and spans across the respective processes of various Knowledge Areas. For example, considering the umbrella knowledge area – Integration Management – all approved change requests coming in the form of Corrective Actions from the “Perform Integrated Change Control” process area is fed to “Direct and Manage Project Work” process.

Agile world is not about upfront complete planning and hence the concept of Corrective Action looks somewhat of a misfit.

PMBOK and Agile

Agile is not about in depth planning or completely following the plan. Rather one of the core values of Agile manifesto states – “Responding to change over following a plan”. Conceptually it consists of two things – first being responding to change is valued more than following a plan and second by responding to change, we are saying that we are responding to an “event”, not a “plan”.

Interestingly PMBOK 5th edition introduces the term Agile, explicitly, for the first time. With the introduction of term, PMBOK have refined the life cycles defined in phases. It primarily talks of 3 life cycles.

  1. Predictive Life Cycle – It can be completely planned beforehand
  2. Iterative and Incremental (I & I) Life Cycle – It was there also in earlier PMBOK guides, but has been more clearly defined. This concept is one of the cornerstones of Agile methodologies.

  3. Adaptive Life Cycle – It is similar to I & I cycle but differ in that iterations are very rapid – usually with duration of 2 to 4 weeks and are fixed in time and cost.

Adaptive Life Cycle: Adaptive Actions

Adaptive Life Cycle, as noted by PMBOK, is also known as Change Driven or Agile methods. In Adaptive methods respond to high levels of change and ongoing stakeholder involvement. Due to very short iteration length for Adaptive Methods and constantly being able to respond to the change, the actions taken becomes Adaptive Actions. Actions are no more Corrective Actions.

Now, you are going to ask – so what happens to the Preventive Actions? As you would have seen in PMBOK, it talks of Corrective and/or Preventive Actions in anticipation of possible problems. This is what PMI says for Preventive Actions:

“Preventive Action is an intentional activity that ensures the future performance of the project work is aligned with the project management plan.”

Here again, the assumption of plan is perfect is there and it is the role of Preventive Action to ensure or bring the future performance of the project work in line with the project management plan.

If you look again the core values and principles of Agile, the preference is on shorter iteration cycle – 2 weeks to 4 weeks. For some Agile methodologies like XP, the cycle is even shorter, i.e., 1 week. In such a case, the concept of future performance which typically holds good for projects running for months or years, becomes somewhat outdated. Again, the actions that we take are Adaptive Actions rather than Preventive Actions.

Conclusion

Finally, am I suggesting a change or inclusion in PMBOK now that it has included Agile? I would say – Yes! PMBOK has not explicitly mentioned Adaptive Action anywhere, but as it has introduced Agile concepts from 5th edition onwards. It has also emphasized on Adaptive Life Cylce. Hence, Adaptive Action will be a right addition to PMBOK by PMI.

Satya Narayan Dash is management professional with over 11 years of experience. He has been associated with companies such as Motorola, Subex, Wipro, Zoho in various roles of Program Manager, Project Manager, PMO and Technical Project Leader. He has coached, mentored, and consulted over a thousand of Project Management, Consulting, PMO professionals across the globe. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, India and is a certified PMP® from PMI®, a certified MSP® from Microsoft®, a certified CSM® from Scrum Alliance® and also a certified Java professional. His web presence is at http://managementyogi.blogspot.in/ and can be contacted at managementyogi@gmail.com.

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