Are you agile?



If you're worried you're behind the curve, these three steps will help get you up to speed.


This month, the Project Management Institute will grant its first batch of PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM credentials. Considering this milestone, you may be wondering, “Do I have what it takes to be agile? Is passing an exam enough to be successful—or are there other key skill sets I need?”

It’s a good question. There are three critical skills that project leaders must develop for their agile projects to deliver real results.

Take something big and make it small. We've all heard the benefits of moving to an incremental project life cycle: Delivering in several smaller increments allows more customer feedback, more frequent lessons learned meetings and less risk at the end of a project. Unfortunately, we are not trained to work this way. For example, we've been trained to believe that all the graphic design elements need to be finished before product developers can see it, or that the full hardware platform has to be production-ready before features can be built.

An effective agile project leader needs to encourage developers to start applying an unfinished graphic design, for example, to verify that it will fit. Challenge engineers to use the prototype operating system to verify system interfaces. Your teams will complain about rework and dependencies, but don't give in. Smaller project increments happen only when you have the ability to work with smaller product components.

Build in slices, not layers. It's not enough that each departmental team builds its work in small pieces—you are now expected to bring it all together into something that actually works. An agile project manager aggressively focuses on building small increments of the entire product.

The local bakery builds a cake in layers, but nobody eats a cake in layers—we eat it in slices.

Technology projects allow us to build the product directly into thin slices of vertical functionality that run across all the layers. That layer of unfinished graphic design needs to fit together with the incomplete logic layer, which in turn needs to process a limited data specification. As a result, you have only one small vertical slice of product behavior, but the business sponsor will have more confidence that you are making progress toward the final product.


Interested in the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM credential?

Read about eligibility requirements at

Learn to soften the blow. Changing from large technical layers to small business slices requires considerable change. Such change could lead to a “stress storm”—with the project manager caught in the thick of it. Engineers will complain about having to work more closely with artists; analysts will fight for more time to finalize a complete specification. Be patient with team members. Listen to their anxieties. Understand which battles to fight and which to let go.

This approach may not come naturally, so you might have to do some emotional exercises to get there. Develop some “people skills muscles” to ease the pain your team experiences when moving to an agile approach.

These three skills can help any project manager, regardless of methodology. But if you aspire to pursue an agile approach, these skills are essential to achieving project success. PM

Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is the managing director for offshore agile projects at Ripple-Rock India and founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice He can be reached at [email protected].





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