Here's How To Blast through Obstacles and Build Agile Experience

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


When I give presentations or mentor people on the value of agile approaches, I'm often interrupted by frustrated project professionals who feel locked out of agile. They're eager to try it and become agile project managers, but they have no experience and see no opportunities to build it at their agile-reluctant organizations.

It's a common conundrum. But it doesn't have to be a barrier. Creating your own opportunities can help you develop the type of knowledge and skills that opens agile doors.


Agile opportunity might be staring right at you. Even in an organization that only uses waterfall (predictive) approaches, there's a chance to blend in agile on your current project. Any degree of hybrid approach can show that you have an emerging capability to identify which parts of a project should be agile. The good news: PMI and the Agile Alliance published hybrid guidance in the Agile Project Guide, a free download to members of either association. Among the document's helpful tips are:

■  Are you worried about maximizing quality of certain deliverables? Explore mistake-proofing techniques like test-first development or pairing team members together.

■  Does your mostly plan-driven project feature a minor creative workstream? Iterative prototyping can help with that part, without impacting the overall plan.

■  Are customers waiting anxiously for your fixed-date project? Perhaps slicing the final deliverable into meaningful increments can build goodwill without changing the final deadline.


Instead of an agile ambush, consider introducing changes in disguise. For example, improve morale by replacing the typical tame weekly team meeting with a brief daily standup. You can even record daily updates into a cumulative weekly status report. Foster alignment and transparency with customers by offering reviews of intermediate deliverables, documents or plans. Or schedule formal lessons-learned meetings more frequently, and challenge team members to achieve immediate improvements. Some project professionals call this “undercover agile,” using techniques without calling it agile. Covert agile can burnish your reputation as an innovative problem-solver.


If you don't have the discretion to use agile in the office, find an external opportunity to build your experience. Perhaps iterative prototyping could help your child's innovation project for school. Maybe some team-building and chartering techniques could mobilize neighbors together to clean trash from the park. Certainly, some prioritization techniques could help create alignment around how to use the budget at the local temple. In addition to building agile confidence, those experiences could let you list “community agile project manager” on your résumé or CV.

Don't despair, aspiring agilistas. If you can become a project manager without previous experience, you can become an agile project manager too, no matter what stands in the way. 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].
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