Agile everything

an iterative approach can deliver solutions to nearly any problem -- whether at work or in life


An iterative approach can deliver solutions to nearly any problem—whether at work or in life.


Yes, the agile movement was formalized at the start of the century by computer programmers. It was their way of saving failing software projects. However, those programmers didn’t anticipate their movement would turn into a project management revolution across industries. Today, agile methods can be applied to solve almost any problem, as the following examples illustrate.

Agile expert Steve Colasinski, PMP, knew he needed a structured plan to control his weight; he chose Scrum. Every day, he kept a log of meals and pedometer steps to achieve. Every two weeks, he weighed himself and conducted a personal retrospective to examine the goals he reached and the challenges he faced. It worked.

One retrospective revealed he ate better when he cooked his own food, so while traveling, he booked hotel rooms that had kitchens. Mr. Colasinski used the process to reveal the causes of his slow momentum toward his health goals, and lost 30 pounds (13 kilograms) in 16 weeks.

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State of Florida project manager Al Cacace knew that a phase-based approach would not work for upgrading some 500 water pumps and water-level sensors in lakes, rivers and the Everglades. A traditional demolition of all the sensors would leave the metro areas exposed to potential flooding. Instead, he formed a small team of experts with the skills needed to demolish, install, upgrade and inspect one pump or sensor at a time. Rather than reporting, “The demolition phase is 47 percent complete,” Mr. Cacace could tell executives, “We’ve modernized 232 units out of 500.” This iterative-incremental approach reduced risk and improved visibility on progress.


When the infrastructure and operations group at Spotify found themselves drowning in support tickets, they turned to an agile approach called Kanban, a scheduling system that manages workload. But the textbook techniques were not enough. To triage incoming requests, they modified the process. They added an “expedite lane” to their process board for emergencies, as well as a wiki page to detail larger projects. Breaking the process improved results.


When planning my talk at the 2013 PMI Global Congress—North America in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, I knew I wanted to give away a book. I let the deadline drive my strategy: Since I didn’t have the time to learn self-publishing, I pulled together a cross-functional team with a cover layout person, an artist and a book layout service. When I realized I was missing an editor, I asked my family to step in. The first edition featured a typo on the spine, but I distributed the book to my Congress audience anyway.

What do these examples tell us? First, understanding the problem at hand will drive the process you choose. Second, the concept of continuous improvement tells us that progress trumps perfection. Whatever product you have or process you implement is likely not ideal. Instead, adapting and tailoring is critical to maintaining momentum in any pursuit. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, participated on the core team of the Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide. He can be reached at [email protected].




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