I was a Project Manager before Agile. Am I now a dinosaur?

Posted on: May 31st, 2020 by admin

I was a Project Manager before Agile.  Am I now a dinosaur?

Jeff Sutherland is one of the developers of Scrum. At a recent webinar, he was heard to say this:

“When I created Scrum, I specifically assigned all responsibilities for the project leader to the Scrum Master and the Product Owner in order to get the performance that we get with Scrum. And if you have a project leader or project manager in the mix, you will generate priority conflicts which will slow teams down. A project manager does not exist in Scrum.”

For those who wonder “How can the team get any work done without a project manager to drive them?”, the answer is that Scrum is a very different approach and in Scrum, the team is self-organizing. The team:

  • Decides what to do and when
  • Organizes its own work
  • Commits to each other
  • Project Management is everybody’s job

Strictly speaking, the team is effectively doing what the project manager does in a traditional waterfall environment. In Agile, the team leads and directs itself. Not only does it not require a PM, but that role is also actually a hindrance to the way Agile works

Unlike in traditional waterfall projects, teams do not use long-term scheduling tools like Microsoft Project but instead favor shorter-term task boards (Trello, Jira) that display To Do – Doing – Done. But the team needs to stay focused on their goal, sprint-by-sprint. They will run into blockers or impediments and they need to have them resolved.

And this is where the Scrum Master comes in. The role of the Scrum Master is to:

  • Remove impediments
  • Guide, coach and facilitate the team
  • Reinforce the agile mindset
  • Provide servant leadership

So, if you are a project manager in an Agile project, it is important for you to take on the role of servant leader as the team does not need you to lead and direct them.

If Project Managers want to enter the world of Agile, they will need to retool and retrain. They will have to accept that it is a completely different role.

However, while there is no Project Manager role in Agile, a PM can still add large business value and easily play the role of technical or business program level management for multiple projects and multiple teams. For example, a Project Manager may oversee overall portfolio level reporting, Issue Tracking, Risk Tracking, and program level communication management at the overall program level, while individual self-organized Scrum teams work on delivering working software.

No, project managers are not dinosaurs! They can still play a critical role with a revised title and a new role as a Scrum Master.


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