VIE WPOIN TS
THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER
ARE YOU AGILE?
If you’re worried you’re behind the curve, these three steps will help get
you up to speed.
BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMP
This month, the Project Management Institute will grant its first batch of PMI Agile Certified Prac- titioner (PMI-ACP)SM credentials. Considering this milestone, you may be wondering, “Do I have
what it takes to be agile? Is passing an
exam enough to be successful—or are
there other key skill sets I need?”
It’s a good question. There are
three critical skills that project leaders
must develop for their agile projects
to deliver real results.
Take something big and make it
small. We’ve all heard the benefits
of moving to an incremental project life cycle: Delivering in several
smaller increments allows more customer feedback, more frequent lessons learned meetings and less risk at
the end of a project. Unfortunately,
we are not trained to work this way.
For example, we’ve been trained to
believe that all the graphic design
elements need to be finished before
product developers can see it, or that
the full hardware platform has to be
production-ready before features can
An effective agile project leader
needs to encourage developers to
start applying an unfinished graphic design, for example, to
verify that it will fit. Challenge engineers to use the prototype operating system to verify system interfaces. Your teams
will complain about rework and dependencies, but don’t give
in. Smaller project increments happen only when you have
the ability to work with smaller product components.
The local bakery builds a cake in layers, but nobody eats a
cake in layers—we eat it in slices.
Technology projects allow us to build the product directly
into thin slices of vertical functionality that run across all the
layers. That layer of unfinished graphic
design needs to fit together with the
incomplete logic layer, which in turn
needs to process a limited data specification. As a result, you have only one
small vertical slice of product behavior,
but the business sponsor will have
more confidence that you are making
progress toward the final product.
Learn to soften the blow.
Changing from large technical layers to small
business slices requires considerable
change. Such change could lead to
a “stress storm”—with the project
manager caught in the thick of it.
Engineers will complain about having to work more closely with artists;
analysts will fight for more time to
finalize a complete specification. Be
patient with team members. Listen
to their anxieties. Understand which
battles to fight and which to let go.
This approach may not come
naturally, so you might have to do
some emotional exercises to get there.
Develop some “people skills muscles” to ease the pain your
team experiences when moving to an agile approach.
Interested in the PMI Agile Certified
Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM credential?
Read about eligibility requirements at
These three skills can help any project manager, regardless of
methodology. But if you aspire to pursue an agile approach,
these skills are essential to achieving project success. PM
Build in slices, not layers. It’s not enough that each
departmental team builds its work in small pieces—you
are now expected to bring it all together into something
that actually works. An agile project manager aggressively
focuses on building small increments of the entire product.
Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is the managing
director for offshore agile projects at Ripple-
Rock India and founder of the PMI Agile
Community of Practice. He can be reached