Navigating the Future of Work with an Agile Mindset

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September 2023


This is an exciting time for project managers and their organizations who find themselves navigating through unprecedented challenges and opportunities driven by the pace of change, shifting customer expectations and rapidly expanding technologies.

Organizational agility is about embracing these challenges and proactively shaping them to your advantage, leading to improved team collaboration, continuous improvement and eliminating waste. It requires a change-ready mindset and team empathy, as well as the skills to identify and implement the best approach for the project at hand.

We believe that organizational agility is not a destination but a continuous journey, one that requires commitment, dedication and a willingness to challenge the status quo by empowering teams to choose their way of working.  Project professionals and organizations who embrace this challenge shift from being best practice to world class.

In this article, we discuss how agility – at the organizational level, as a mindset, and as a project management approach – can become a driving force for project success in the modern world. Are you ready to embark on this journey with us?

Kristy Moeller's signature

Kristy Moeller
Product Manager at Project Management Institute

Agility Is a Vital Foundation to Thrive in the Future of Work

Adaptability and resilience are key signifiers for the durability and relevance of any enterprise. Faced with globally interconnected challenges like climate change, sustainability, war, complex supply chains and many others, organizations must constantly innovate while striving to develop products and services in an expedited fashion to satisfy customer expectations. As a result, organizational agility remains vital when implementing business transformations that positively impact value delivery and project outcomes.

To facilitate a more customer-centric, cross-functional and communication-driven approach — the foundation for more efficient delivery of products and services — organizations and their program and project teams are increasingly turning to methods that depend on an agile mindset.

PMI spoke with thought leaders and experts from the agile and Disciplined Agile® communities to get their insights on agile approaches, the role they play in the future of work and how these concepts are relevant to a broad range of organizations and endeavors. 

Meet Our Contributors

Headshot of Tammy Ashraf

Tammy Ashraf


• Systems Integration
Manager, NASA
Goddard Space
Flight Center
• Washington, DC, USA
• 10 years experience

Headshot of Andre Barcaui

Andre Barcaui


• Professor / Author /
• Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
• 20+ years experience

Headshot of Yash Chepuri

Yash Chepuri


• Product Consultant
• Nashville, TN, USA
• 15 years experience

Headshot of David Dabscheck

David Dabscheck


• New York, NY, USA
• 15+ years experience

Headshot of Mitchell Fong

Mitchell R. Fong


• Global EPMO
Technology Leader,
• Toronto, Canada
• 15+ years experience

Headshot of Mike Griffiths

Mike Griffiths


• Content Developer
• Canmore, Canada
• 20+ years experience

Headshot of Katharine Kamp

Katharine Kamp


• Mgr Innovation
Comm & Capability,
Molson Coors
• Milwaukee, WI, USA
• 5 years experience

Headshot of Guillaume Lapierre

Guillaume Lapierre


• Organizational
Coach & Managing
Partner, Pragsix /
• Quebec, Canada
• 25+ years experience

Headshot of Jonathan Lee

Jonathan Lee


• Agile Coach and
Vitality Chicago
• Chicago, IL, USA
• 25+ years experience

Headshot of Kristy Moeller

Kristy Moeller


• Product Manager at
Project Management
• 7 years experience

Headshot of Nick Sonnenberg

Nick Sonnenberg


• Founder & CEO,
• New York, NY, USA
• 10 years experience

Headshot of Jon Ward

Jon Ward


• Transformation
Lead / Senior Agile
• London, UK
• 30 years experience

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PMI: Presuming that the human drive to become “bigger, better, faster” results in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA), how can project managers maintain balance through effective agile approaches to project management and continue evolving the process in a sustainable manner?

“Balance is not easy,” Barcaui says. “A good dose of good, old-fashioned planning linked to continuous education/communication with all stakeholders can help.”

Sonnenberg adds, “As the workplace becomes more demanding, project managers need to adapt by implementing the right systems, tools and methodologies so their teams can operate efficiently to meet this demand without burning themselves out.”

”Agile is less about doing things right than doing the right thing,” adds Dabscheck.

For Ashraf, “Some key aspects of agile that have proven to be successful include developing measures to ‘burn down’ risks early in the project life cycle, increasing the visibility and frequency of communication with key stakeholders and building a minimum viable product in short iteration cycles. Agile methods like these have proven successful in helping project managers balance the demands of the VUCA environment while still being able to sustain earlier returns on investment and business value than traditional approaches would.”

Kamp provides three suggestions for project practitioners who want to adopt the future of work approach:

  1. Embrace continuous improvement.
  2. Don’t compromise quality for the sake of speed.
  3. Make sure leadership priorities are communicated clearly throughout the value chain.

Practitioners should “manage delivery of value with continuous, small-batch delivery and allow shifts and changes that can be adopted quickly,” says Chepuri.

“Project managers need to take a pivotal role in increasing organizational agility by focusing on value streams and becoming accustomed to incremental delivery and continuous improvement,” says Ward. “Value stream optimization focuses on improving the efficiency of a company’s operational and development processes. It involves identifying and eliminating waste, increasing speed and reducing costs. By making these changes, organizations can achieve higher-quality products at lower costs and increase their profits.”

Sonnenberg says agile team practices are “flexible and adaptable to allow for easily shifting priorities and alignment on the most pressing goals within short periods.”

Key Takeaways

  • Agile practices have proven successful in helping project managers deal with uncertainty and embrace a change-ready mindset.
  • Project leaders can increase organizational agility through power skills and business acumen such as well-coordinated communication, continuous improvement and a focus on value creation. 
Headshot of David Dabscheck

Agile is less about doing things right than doing the right thing.

Co-CEO, GIANT Innovation

New York, NY, USA

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PMI: How can project leaders empower their teams in both in-person and remote work settings with the full spectrum of power skills that are essential to nurturing an agile mindset?

“Project managers should begin by assessing their own leadership biases and attitudes toward their remote team members,” says Ashraf. “They can utilize digital tools to encourage frequent, flexible and active communication among the hybrid team, motivate remote workers by empowering them with autonomy to take on tasks and provide more engaging professional learning opportunities to elevate the hybrid experience and break down silos.”

“The agile mindset focuses on trust and collaboration between team members, allowing them to work together to solve problems and achieve goals more effectively by harnessing the intelligence, creativity, energy and commitment to purpose of each member of the team,” Ward explains.

“Design empathy and team empathy are two crucial skills that must be fostered in any workplace and are needed in abundance by modern project managers. Design empathy is understanding customers’ needs and delivering products or services that meet those needs. At the same time, team empathy — the capacity to work with colleagues — establishes an environment based on understanding and appreciation for their points of view.”

Lapierre characterizes empathy as “emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions within the team.”

For Fong, the team-centered approach fosters “proper planning and allows for celebrating wins and building a psychologically safe environment to learn.”

“Project managers should never put safety at risk or ignore mandated operational protocols, but we can be supportive of ‘smart failures,’” says Dabscheck. “A ‘smart failure’ occurs when a team runs an experiment or managed trial and their new idea doesn’t work, or the result is unplanned.

Leaders should nurture these changes by using the 4Cs model:

  1. Clarify objectives. Decide exactly what you are trying to learn.
  2. Confirm a test plan. Choose a low-risk test.
  3. Collect results. Document the outcomes and learnings (not just whether it worked or not).
  4. Communicate results. Other teams can learn from your efforts (and it encourages more experimentation).

Lee says, “In order for the project to succeed, team members need to embrace the top four power skills: communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking. One of the most effective ways is for the project manager to not only talk the talk but walk the walk.”

Sonnenberg says his company exemplifies the agile mindset by “setting extremely clear and specific goals through objectives and key results (OKRs) and allowing project teams to figure out how they'll achieve them through their own mechanisms and paths. OKRs are basically what you want to accomplish. The work (aka projects) then ties into this as how you plan on accomplishing the goal.”

Key Takeaways

  • Power skills, including communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking, are critical to the development of an agile mindset.
  • Project leaders can foster an agile environment by providing learning opportunities, encouraging their teams to experiment and embracing the individuality and commitment of each team member.
Headshot of Jon Ward

The agile mindset focuses on trust and collaboration between team members, allowing them to work together to solve problems and achieve goals more effectively.

Transformation Lead / Senior Agile Coach, London Stock Exchange (Assignment)

London, UK

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PMI: For those who doubt that different approaches can coexist, what types of projects are organizations finding most suited to implementing predictive (waterfall, traditional), adaptive (agile) and hybrid practices?

“Classes of projects and the type of work involved can provide valuable pointers to help with approach and life cycle selection,” explains Griffiths. “For example, infrastructure and construction projects are predominantly defined, repeatable industrial endeavors that tend to favor careful, up-front planning to ensure logistical success and reduce issues due to omissions in planning. However, we also need to consider the type of work being undertaken. There may be pockets of research and development (R&D) in construction projects and work that can benefit from careful, up-front planning in IT projects. Project managers should use the appropriate governance structure for the class of work, not the type of project.”

Barcaui adds, “Companies have very different environments, with teams of different maturities, contexts and cultures. The result is that hybrid is not only possible, but most likely to occur.”

Ashraf agrees: “Hybrid approaches are used with the intent to achieve the highest quality outcome by utilizing the best of both agile and waterfall approaches. The reality is that organizations can use a variety of practices to achieve optimal results.”

Sonnenberg says he has “seen some organizations find success by blending agile and predictive approaches to leverage the strengths of both. This can be particularly effective in projects where:

  • Different project components have varying levels of certainty or complexity. A hybrid approach allows teams to use agile for parts of the project with uncertain or changing requirements, while using waterfall for more predictable, well-defined tasks.
  • Large-scale projects with multiple subprojects. A hybrid approach allows organizations to manage certain subprojects using agile practices, while others follow a more traditional process, depending on the specific needs and requirements of each subproject.”

Ward states: “It is a big mistake to try and mix agile and waterfall techniques on the same project, and should be avoided at all costs. It’s a corporate decision whether to move all projects to agile or continue to deliver some activities traditionally.”

But Griffiths says, “While mixing agile and nonagile concepts does create a nonagile hybrid that can contain conflicting principles that may lead to problems, there may also be opportunities to separate out portions or phases of work without these issues.”

Lapierre provides a helpful guide to using hybrid approaches in various endeavors, combining both predictive and agile techniques, aligned to the primary work type.

Predictive projects that can benefit from a hybrid approach:

  1. Infrastructure and construction projects. These projects often have well-defined requirements and long lead times for materials and resources, making predictive practices a suitable choice for planning, budgeting and execution. Incorporate agile techniques, like short feedback loops and iterative planning, to accommodate changes and adjustments while preserving the structured planning and execution of predictive practices.
  2. Regulatory and compliance projects. When working with strict regulations and standards, the predictability and structure of predictive practices can help ensure compliance while minimizing risks. Use agile strategies, like risk-based prioritization and regular retrospectives, to continuously improve processes while adhering to the predictability and structure of traditional approaches.
  3. Hardware and manufacturing projects. The sequential nature of predictive practices aligns well with the linear progression of manufacturing processes, where changes can be costly and time-consuming. Implement agile practices, such as cross-functional collaboration and backlog management, to enhance communication and responsiveness within the hybrid framework.

Agile projects that can benefit from a hybrid approach:

  1. Software development projects. Agile approaches thrive in the fast-paced, dynamic world of software development, where requirements and priorities can shift rapidly, and customer feedback is essential for delivering value. Integrate a predictive approach with clear milestones and documentation practices to improve predictability and stakeholder communication in an agile environment.
  2. Digital transformation projects. Agile approaches enable organizations to pivot and adapt quickly to new technologies, processes and business models, fostering innovation and continuous improvement. Leverage predictive approaches for long-term planning and budgeting while maintaining the agile flexibility to adapt to new technologies and processes.
  3. Research and development projects. Agile methodologies support the iterative, experimental nature of R&D projects, promoting flexibility, adaptability and learning from failure. Use a traditional, phased approach to structure and organize agile iterations, ensuring a systematic progression toward project goals.

Key Takeaways

  • A hybrid approach, combining the best of predictive and adaptive practices, can help achieve optimal results when dealing with projects of varying levels of complexity and uncertainty.
  • Careful discussions should occur between project stakeholder groups to help determine if predictive, agile or hybrid approaches should be used. (Appendix X3 of the Agile Practice Guide provides a helpful assessment tool in the form of the Agile Suitability Filter.)
Headshot of Tammy Ashraf

The reality is that organizations can use a variety of practices to achieve optimal results.

Systems Integration Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Washington, D.C., USA

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PMI: How is project success best defined and measured through an agile approach to project management?

“The advantage of an agile approach is that it increases the chances of being able to deliver working products and services for users,” says Fong.

Sonnenberg stresses the need to “define success criteria prior to project kickoff by clarifying any tangible metrics that must be achieved to guarantee success, and answering questions like ‘How will we know this project has been successful?’”

Referencing the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Ashraf says the agile mindset is “intangible yet highly influential in bringing positive change in organizations, whereas processes and tools are tangible and less influential in bringing positive change.” She adds, “In this context, agile process success can be defined not only by typical project performance metrics but, more importantly, by determining how well the team is practicing the values and principles of the agile mindset.”

“In addition to delivering customer value and meeting their needs and expectations,” Barcaui says, “more specific considerations for project success need to be measured, such as team productivity, adaptability, innovation, quality and sustainability.”

Kamp adds that assessing “project complexity” should be considered as well.

Dabscheck points to “’experimentation velocity’ — the degree to which the team runs experiments as part of their work. Does the team feel secure enough to try new things and test new ideas they might have?”

In the future of work, Ward says, “All project success, whether waterfall or agile, should be measured by the benefits realized. If the reason why an organization invested in an initiative is missed, then it hasn’t succeeded. It’s like paying for a holiday and then not catching the plane.”

Key Takeaways

  • One measure of success is how well a project team is able to apply the core values and principles found in the Agile Manifesto to increase effectiveness and improve project performance.
  • The advantage of an agile approach is that it increases the chances of being able to deliver working products and services that meet customer needs and expectations.
  • Improved outcomes result from aligning organizational strategy to drive greater benefits realization. If the reason for investing in an initiative is missed, then it hasn’t succeeded.

Leading Into the Future with Agility

Organizations that allow project leaders to build self-organized and dynamic project teams will be well prepared for their future-of-work journey. This approach promotes engagement, job satisfaction and continuous learning, paving the way for delivering demonstrative value to customers and meeting client expectations.

A persistent focus on agility and resilience will be crucial to adapting to dynamic technological and customer demands. Project practitioners and agile experts agree that fostering an agile way of working will allow organizations to empower their team members to be curious and innovative as part of this people-centered approach, promoting shared purpose and providing a means for increased work engagement.

There is tangible value in considering a hybrid project management environment that combines multiple approaches depending on the type of work being implemented within specific industry parameters.

As “projects are people,” agile approaches can provide a necessary framework for managing the intricate complexities demanded of the practitioner as the future of work unfolds.

Explore More Agile Content

Disciplined Agile® (DA) Tool Kit
Featured Topics: Agile Practices
Learning Library: Agile
PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®
PMI-ACP® Exam Reference Materials 
Disciplined Agile®: Way of Working (WoW)

PMI would like to thank the agile leaders, including members of the Disciplined Agile® Coach (DAC) and Disciplined Agile® Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC) communities of practice, and Dr. Edward J. Hoffman, PMI Strategic Advisor, for their invaluable contributions to this discussion.

Headshot of Andre Barcaui

More specific considerations for project success need to be measured, such as team productivity, adaptability, innovation, quality and sustainability.

Professor, UFRJ

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil