Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core
team of the Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide
and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A project manager recently told me she was frustrated with her team. “Every month they do a week of requirements, followed by two weeks of work, followed by a week
of verification. They’re delivering every month, but
it’s a mini waterfall, and it’s driving me crazy.”
Many project managers smitten with agile will
demand that teams implement new methods per-
fectly right out of the gate. It makes sense: They
want to do it “right” so teams can excel faster.
Unfortunately, the frustrated project manager
I spoke with was so fixated on the technique of
continuous collaboration that she missed what
mattered: Her team’s imperfect agile processes had
dramatically accelerated delivery.
Anyone new to agile goes through a very bumpy
progression: Nobody is perfect on day one. Agile
practitioners have developed a rather esoteric
shorthand for this progression borrowed from the
idea of shuhari in the Japanese martial art aikido:
from shu (follow the rules explicitly) to ha (bend
the rules by tailoring to context) to ri (transcend
the rules by doing only what is necessary). I prefer
a more familiar analogy: crawl, walk, run.
Start by crawling. In the beginning, your team
is confused. Decomposing large deliverables into
incremental pieces is a skill that takes practice, so
half-completed work might be all you have at the
next iteration. Having people collaborate across
silos can be uncomfortable, so you might only get
a few people talking in those multi-vendor meetings. The key objective in these early stages is to
encourage and praise progress of any kind.
Begin to walk. Eventually, you’ll see momentum.
That monthly life cycle
will begin to feel routine;
will become more substantive; stakeholders will start
to engage in the project.
Once the team members gain
confidence, a project leader
can start to challenge them to
experiment with new approaches
and techniques. The objective is to
keep improving. Forget perfect—
Evolve to run. If your team
sticks together long enough,
it might break through to
a high-performing state.
Almost always, this
kind of supercharged
change in work
practices over time
initiated by the team
itself. For example, meetings are replaced with
organic coordination; designers and testers volunteer to help each other; somebody finds a shortcut
through repetitive tasks. Wise project leaders
guide a team from where it is, not where they wish
it were. Wrong at first is okay—give it time. PM
Mastering agile techniques takes time, so
By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, Contributing Editor
THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER
a project leader
can start to