Why Agile Doesn’t Kill the PM

November 27, 2013 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Agile Project Management

Why Agile Doesn’t Kill the PM
By Chuck Snead

One supposed “selling point” with regards to Agile is that removes the need for project managers for controlling a project. Part of this is due to the correct idea that some of the duties traditionally performed by project managers are fulfilled by other members of the Agile project team. However, another part of this is due, in my opinion, to a misunderstanding of project management as both a specific knowledge domain, and a domain for which there exists highly trained and certified practitioners.

With Waterfall, project managers are typically considered part of the management team for the project, and operate within an authoritative management framework that often places them at odds with the development team and product owners as they seek to enforce the predicted development schedule and project scope. With an Agile project, there is no “management team” per se, and the role of the project manager is altered from that of a top-down manager to one of a facilitator/coach. So, solely on the operational side, there is a case that this role can be fulfilled by someone other than a trained project manager – such as a Scrum Master in the scrum lexicon.

However, when it comes to planning and driving projects that span multiple iterations, or projects for which there are multiple concurrent iterations, then the services of a trained project manager (albeit one trained as a agilest) are still highly desirable. And since the vast majority of projects meet either or both of these criteria, then project managers are still needed for most projects, Agile or otherwise.

The Agile PM’s Duties

The figure below shows how a project manager relates to the various roles and processes of an Agile project:

Agile PM Duties

Figure 1: Agile PM Duties

With an Agile project (or any other), specific members of the team may understand their associated roles and responsibilities with regards to the overall process, but the Agile project manager is almost certainly the only person who understands all the roles and responsibilities. Thus, the Agile project manager is probably going to be the most highly trained agilest on the team.

Product owners have a say in the scope and priority for development, but they generally have little or no say in the process the development team uses to build the product. Conversely, the development team is in charge of the development process, but works on stories as they are prioritized by the product owner. And the stakeholders have little say on either, except for their interest in the project’s health and performance. The project manager, however, is instrumental in facilitating all of these activities, and this is the main reason they are positioned in the central role in the above figure.

Now, a case can be made that the product owner can fulfill these needs, but this removes one very important role of the project manager, which is objectivity. Product owners are, by definition, mostly interested in getting the product developed as quickly as possible, and thus will be unable to shield the development team from this desire. A product owner will also find it very difficult to not sidestep the process and change development priority in the middle of an iteration as new desired features manifest themselves. A designated project manager, however, can have the authority to keep both the product owner and the development team “honest” with respect to the Agile process. Additionally, while some product owners may have a desire to learn some project management techniques, this does not make them a “project manager,” nor will product owners generally be willing to take the time and effort to become highly trained experts in this domain. There is a reason, after all, why they are product owners and not project managers, by trade.

Therefore, when it comes to fully understanding and promoting the Agile methodology, facilitating and coaching its operation, and objectively guarding it, there is no replacement for highly trained and designated Agile project managers. Their roles may have changed significantly, but their need has remained the same.

Chuck Snead is a Project Management Professional (PMP), PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) with over fifteen years of experience managing Waterfall/Traditional and Agile projects, for both the private and public sectors. He also has a Master’s degrees in both Information Technology and Business Administration, and he teaches various IT and project management courses as an adjunct professor. You can read more articles from Chuck on his blog.

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3 people have left comments

Dear Chuck

Thanks for the nice and deep insights. Being a PM myself for large waterfall projects, i have always wondered what role would i be playing in a hypothetical agile scenario. A scrum master does the operational work and a product manager does what he is best at - scope management. There would be strategic piece that would be left blank, but in an agile world isn’t strategy a function of scrum and relative to the success/failure of each sprint - Strategy is a fluid piece in the agile world and hence managed well by the team again.


Sudarsan wrote on November 29, 2013 - 2:16 am | Visit Link

Chuck, I think you missunderstood the concept of Scrum completelly. And that is why you came to wrong conclusions. The role of team, SM and PO are broader than you limit them here. Role of team for instance is not blindly follow storeis as given by PO, but they are part of product / solution design and developments. They activelly influence the project. I would like to invite you to Scrum training, I will explain you in detail there.

Michal Vallo wrote on December 2, 2013 - 5:36 pm | Visit Link

G’Day Chuck. I stopped shortly after “…driving”. TLDNR However, I thank you for acknowledging the “agilist” “PM”s are what’s needed in the more humane, realistic and proven effective, Pull versus Push paradigm. The PMI-bred PM’s that I know that made that leap is NOT because they were baited, bought or bred, they were reborn.
Perhaps study how to do so and arise as the desperately essential Agile Program Manager.

Jim Bo Rice wrote on December 7, 2013 - 12:02 pm | Visit Link

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