More To Master

There's No Way Around It: Going Agile Requires New Skills


By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, contributing editor

In the race to go agile, project leaders are discovering a hard truth: What got you here won't get you there. The problem is that you can't just stretch plan-driven delivery skills in an agile environment—you need to master new ones. Here are the three must-have skills demanded by agile approaches.


The easiest way to deliver faster is by delivering less. Want that project in half the time? Cut half the scope. It's simple—and really hard. Complex products involve dependencies and customizations. Where to begin?

The technique is called “story slicing.” Begin with the ideal user experience to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP), and worry about exception cases later. Support a single vendor first, and then add more.

Scope slicing can be overwhelming. Your sponsor might struggle to define a “minimum viable product.” Your team might protest building a prototype because of the associated rework with building out the full product later.

But the approach is here to stay. Whether it's software projects building a series of “full stack” deliverables or marketing projects featuring “micro campaigns,” the point is to get an incremental glimpse of the final product.



If negotiation is an important project management skill, it becomes mission critical in an agile environment. Everything is a trade-off. For example, a customer might want to accelerate the schedule, but then complain about part of the scope being unable to make the new deadline.

Such common project tensions are even more palpable in high-change, high-demand environments. But an array of agile techniques exists to help project managers negotiate. Good arguments should involve quantitative elements (e.g., dot-voting, burn-up charts, cycle times) and qualitative elements (e.g., vision, MVP). Taking the time to add to your negotiating toolkit will help overcome awkward moments.


Agile is messy. One executive told me that she warns sponsors agile projects will be scary at first. “You'll get to see all our mistakes as we figure out how best to deliver. But if you have the stomach for it, then we'll be able to get you a better product sooner.”

The agile project manager must learn how to present mistakes in the positive lights of learning, progress and risk reduction. As author Eric Ries has written, the agile-minded leader “eats failure for breakfast.” That might not sound appetizing to someone new to agile, but it's the truth. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Agile Practice Guide and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at [email protected].