If you are a scrum master or product owner, your role in an agile organization is pretty clear. If you are not sure about your role, you can pick up any agile book or ask Google and you will quickly get a clear picture. Unfortunately, there is little role definition for other traditional project and program management functions in the agile organization. This post, along with others to follow, will begin to explore the roles of project and program managers and PMO members in an agile environment.
The following diagram is my attempt to understand the landscape a little better. I've plotted level of change in the role (in an agile organization) against the level of definition provided for the new role.
As noted, the scrum master and the product manager roles are pretty well defined. And they haven't changed all that much.
The senior management role hasn't changed much in the agile enterprise either. In "Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises", author Dean Leffingwell identifies two related roles of senior management which I think sums it up pretty well:
- Demonstrate dedication and commitment to the process
- Lead by example
This shouldn't imply that the role is either easy or insignificant. Leading through any type of organizational change is critical and the senior management needs to walk the talk.
That leaves the group of 4 project and program management roles. These are roles that are largely undefined in agile and that will experience medium to high levels of change. The exact level of change in the role depends on several factors including the type of organization (Internal IT, SW Product, or other), the level of agile adoption planned or underway, and the existing role definition.
Let's look at each of these 4 roles and see if we can identify the key changes for each. I will tackle the project manager role in this post and the other 3 in my next.
The Project Manager
The role of the project manager is probably one of the most hotly debated ones in the agile community. Most agile purists believe that project managers are no longer needed or don't exist in agile team environments. I heard a speaker recently say that once agile is implemented, the project managers can become either a scrum master, a product owner, or find another position. That seems to be the prevailing thoughts about agile and project managers. In a previous post, I quoted agile enthusiast Tobias Mayer who blogged:
"...There may be such a thing as “Agile Project Management”. I don’t know, and don’t really care. It is of no interest to me."
Similarly, I was quite surprised in the first scrum master training course that I took when the instructor said that project managers could not be scrum masters. He referred to the PMs as the voice of management, while the scrum master is the voice of the team. This training and his opinions are reflective of the trend by agilists to be anti-management. It makes no sense to me! How can someone be for the team but against management at the same time?
Jim Highsmith, co-author of the Agile Manifesto, refers to this type of black and white thinking as a Dilbert view of the world where employees are the downtrodden and management are the trodders. I am pretty sure Jim thinks that there is a role for agile project managers since he wrote the book "Agile Project Management", now in it's second edition. Some of the key role changes that Jim speaks to for project leaders include:
- focusing on leadership-collaboration
- championing the vision
- putting more emphasis on staff selection, development, and encouragement
- creating an environment of high-trust
Note that it is a little sad that this list implies that only PMs in agile environments need to think about these leadership behaviors!
Something that has become increasingly obvious to me in the last year is that one reason for the perceived lack of need for project managers is that we are often comparing apples to oranges. Many agile teams are highly focused on software development, often on a product that is sold in the marketplace. While project management may apply, the type of work these teams do is more like product management or a production activity. Applying project management techniques are likely to be the wrong tool.
There is also a tendency to think only of the agile software development activities and ignore all the related activities that projects or programs would address. This includes work before the development begins (business cases, prioritization and approval) and those that happen after development (customer training, customer support, product maintenance). The agile team can be highly productive by thinking only about the agile sw development activities, however, in most cases someone needs to think about and plan for those other related activities.
So that part of the PM role doesn't and won't change. Working with those external stakeholders like the customer and support teams, executives, and others is required for coordination and managing expectations. Like always, the PM is going to need to deal with schedules, reports, and plans.
As PMI continues to actively embrace agile methods, I expect that PMI will begin to refine the role of the project manager for agile organizations. The first foray into this is the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) Certification. There is also work underway to create a SW Development extension to the PMBOK.
In my next post, I will look at the roles of the program manager, the PMO, and the portfolio manager. As always, I welcome your comments.