Navigating Your Changing Role Between Traditional and Agile PM

At the PM Symposium 2015 event held at the PMI Chicagoland chapter last Friday, I had a chance to see several presentations.   One in particular caught my eye:  it was called “Traditional PM, Meet Agile:  Navigating Your Changing Role” and was presented by a team of two people.   Jeff Singleton who runs The Project Factory, Inc., and Jeanine Izzo, who runs Viage Partners, Inc.   Jeanine was the voice of traditional PM, and Jeff represented the voice of agile PM, because he has had more work experience in the agile world than Jeanine has.

The Project Management Continuum

In the entrance to the presentation, they had a poster which had the words THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT CONTINUUM on it, with T for Traditional at one end, and A for Agile on the other.   They had people mark with a circle where they stood on their PM journey in transitioning from traditional to agile project management, and they also had people mark with a square where their company stood in that transition.

The results of the informal survey were as follows:

If traditional is -3, and agile is +3, with 0 being the midpoint, the median response was somewhere between -2 and -1.   NO one was as far as +3 on the agile scale.   Interesting, it seemed as if the companies were clustered more between -3 and -2, which shows that people are farther along the way to transitioning to agile than their companies.   This became a theme in the Q&A session after, where many people said as project managers, their teams were agile but that management was traditional, and one of the challenges they faced was, not only running an agile team, but also translating the progress on the project into “traditional PM” language so that the management could understood what was going on.

The main point I liked about this “continuum” survey was that it is NOT about “traditional vs. agile”, it’s about learning how to speak two different PM languages if you will so that you can translate between the two worlds with agility (pun intended).

5 Comparison Areas

The next section of the presentation was a compare and contrast exercise, with the “contrast” part coming first.   Here are five areas of comparison between traditional and agile PM and a sample of each comparison that was given at the presentation.  I don’t want give the entire content of the presentation, because my hope is that those who are interested can contact Jeanine Izzo at (630) 833-8357

and Jeff Singleton at (847) 710-7137

to arrange to have this presentation done at your company or organization.

Topic Traditional Agile
1.        People/Teams Accountability by PM Accountability by Team
2.       Structure Robust Documentation Value-Driven Documentation
3.       Mindset Change Viewed as a Disrupter Change Viewed as an Opportunity
4.       Tools Driven by Policy Driven by Need
5.       Communication Manage Communications Facilitate Communications

You can see that the focus is different for each topic between traditional and agile PM.

5 Skill Areas

The main point in this section of the presentation was to emphasize that knowing traditional PM is not a barrier to learning agile PM; there are certain skill sets that carry over from traditional to PM, such as

  1. Working with a Framework
  2. Discipline
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Presentation
  5. Use of Tools

However, rather than replacing these traditional skills, you will add to them in agile PM.   Here are five skill areas you will need to develop.

  1. Strategic Thinking
  2. Flexibility
  3. Transparency
  4. Facilitation
  5. Learning the Agile Framework

As a final exercise, in order to have this be the beginning point of a journey, rather than just an interesting stop along the way, Jeanine and Jeff suggested that we all rate the 10 skills above, both traditional and agile, according to how satisfied you are with your development.    You can either rate each one individually from 1 to 10 (with 10 meaning “highly satisfied”), or do I like I did, where you rate you each of the skills collectively.   For example, I was highly satisfied with my presentation skills do due to my five years of experience in Toastmasters.    I was least satisfied with my discipline skills as I am constantly struggling to get more organized.

Once you do the exercise, then take one or two areas from the list (usually the skills you are least satisfied with and pick at least one action item you want to work on for each area.   Or if you are very motivated, pick an action item for each of the 10 skills, but then prioritize these.


The German psychoanalyst Karlfried Graf-Durkheim once said, “if you are on a journey, and the end seems to be getting farther and farther away from you, then at some point, you realize that the end is the journey.”   In going towards the agile end of the continuum, your goal is not to arrive, but to navigate the journey.   I certainly felt that the presentation by Jeanine Izzo and Jeff Singleton ended up being an extremely helpful guide on that journey.   I can certainly recommend that you get in touch with them so that they can help you on your journey as well.


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