Agile downsizing?

THE AGILE Project Manager

Why agile skills improve a project manager's job security.


If I've teamed anything over the last few years, it's that a bad economy can drive terrible business behavior. During the height of the recession, one bank manager asked me whether agile approaches could help him cut staff by 30 percent.

Today, businesses are recovering faster than they are hiring, creating even more pressure to use agile approaches to do more with less.

Agile wasn't designed to improve the bottom line like that, but it's a misconception that has some project managers worrying whether a move to “self-organizing” teams would make their position redundant. Even more concerning, many of the formal agile approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban, do not define a project manager role.

However, the broader pattern is much different. PMI research shows the use of agile approaches tripled from December 2008 to May 2011, and 63 percent of hiring managers would encourage their project managers to pursue agile certification.

Project managers with agile skills are in higher demand than ever. Here are a few skills that project leaders with agile experience can tout on their résumés. (Hint: It's not doing more with less.)

Conventional wisdom used to hold that job security was found in being more critical to more areas of the business. Define the technical details, manage the customer, type up the process documents, run meetings and double-check the product for defects the testers missed.

Sound familiar? I used to do this. I liked being the hero, and the agile notion of equipping and trusting my team seemed both naïve and not in my best interest. But over time, I realized that my results improved when I stopped doing a hundred tasks at once.

Do you know the business domain better than others on the project? If so, do the customer-facing work with excellence, and ask a team member to backfill your technical contributions. Do you have a bent for process and facilitation? Then create that well-oiled machine and groom an analyst to manage the business. The most successful project managers I‘ve met have focused on their strengths, and found capable hands for the rest of the work.


Agile approaches place a dogged focus on delivering business results by improving collaboration. Once you've delegated the daily minutiae to the project team, you can invest in more strategic relationships.

When the stakeholders demand unrealistic dates or the sponsor tries to cut your budget, you will have the time and relational capital to enforce boundaries and craft workable alternatives. Not only will you be able to intercept problems early on, but you will also shift the perception of your role from a complainer to a strategic partner.


The Agile Manifesto challenges project team members to “reflect on how to become more effective, then tune and adjust their behavior accordingly.” This is nothing new for project managers. We've all heard of kaizen and continuous improvement, but honestly, who has the authority or even the time to change policy or break down political silos?


Well, if you've equipped and trusted your team to handle the details and you've improved collaboration with stakeholders, then you finally have the energy and the influence to brainstorm solutions to that quality problem, stabilize a more reliable delivery cycle than last year, or launch a product-strategy working group to mend some broken fences and get everyone on the same page.

The modern project manager faces more projects with added complexity and increased business constraints than ever before. The project manager with agile skills has evolved beyond a positional title babysitting details. The new role is about building the capability of your teams, partnering with senior stakeholders and driving incremental improvements across the board.

That's what you want on your résumé. PM

images Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice and is participating in the development of a software extension to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). He can be reached at [email protected].
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