Project Management Institute

True agility

THE AGILE Project Manager


Recently, I heard an agile consultant say, “We're trying to force the client to track progress the way we want her to.” Good luck with that.

Over and over, people tell me things self-appointed agile experts have said that not only violate the spirit of the agile movement, but also just sound silly. Have you heard any of these?

“Our project will succeed only with full, immediate implementation of an agile approach and its associated project tracking software.”

The authors of the agile manifesto explicitly value “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Granted, a shrink-wrapped set of people-friendly policies can be a good foundation for transforming a losing team into a winning one. Indeed, I actively promote Scrum and the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM credential. But just doing those things will not automatically improve team performance.

Instead, a true agile practitioner asks simple questions:

Are we all on the same page?

What agreements can the team install to address gaps?

How can we customize our current approach to support these agreements?

The approach doesn't matter. What matters are the principles you embrace toward delivering your project.


“We're agile now; we don't do project documentation.”

This myth is seeded in the manifesto's favoring of “working software over comprehensive documentation.” While many projects waste money on piles of reports nobody reads, we shouldn't throw out everything.

Instead, a true agile practitioner seeks to understand why those documents are mandated. Sometimes a risk register or Gantt chart can increase credibility and stakeholder support for a project. The document doesn't matter; addressing underlying needs is what actually matters.

“Fixed-price contracts are immoral. All our projects will be time-and-materials.”

This is a fanciful interpretation of the agile manifesto's preference for “customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” True, many projects are launched as the result of zero-sum negotiations, leaving a project team underfunded and understaffed. But that does not mean we refuse to have the conversation.

Instead, a true agile practitioner will strive to forge a positive working relationship with his or her sponsor through deeper questions such as:

What are the client's concrete business goals for this project?

If push comes to shove, can we achieve the goal with only half the features to stay on schedule?

Could more budget be approved for extra safety reviews?

Fixed-price doesn't matter. What matters are agile contracting structures that support a positive working relationship around project goals.

“We're agile now, so we don't have to estimate. The project will be done when it is done.”

This delightful gem is inspired by the value the manifesto places on “responding to change over following a plan.” Granted, many projects are mindlessly judged on budget and schedule, regardless of how wrong the deliverable is. But that doesn't mean we stop planning altogether.

Instead, a true agile practitioner generates as much meaningful data as possible about the health of the project by asking:

Will we run out of money before we achieve our goals?

Does our sponsor have enough data to make hard trade-off decisions?

“That's not agile.”

In the end, a project is judged not on the mechanics used but on the objectives met. The agile movement was launched as a reaction against a focus on bad mechanics. If you're falling in love with your agile mechanics as the silver bullet, then you're dangerously close to losing your agility. PM


Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is a founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice and is coauthoring the upcoming software extension to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). He can be reached at

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