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Project Managers in Enterprise Agile

Reading: Project Managers in Enterprise Agile

Recently, I was engaged in a lively conversation about enterprise agile transformations and the topic turned to Project Management Offices (PMOs) and, specifically, Project Managers (PMs). The gentleman I was speaking with said that in ideal agile, there is “no need for Project Managers”. His argument was that they are replaced by Product Owners, Delivery Teams, ScrumMasters, and/or Functional Managers.

At first glance, there may appear to be merit to his statements. Let’s look at some of the evidence:

  • In most agile methodologies and frameworks, there is no Project Manager role. In fact, there might not be projects at all.
  • No need to build teams around a project – teams are stable and work is brought to the team.
  • No need to manage scope and build detailed GANTT charts – that is done by Product Owners through a well-defined, prioritized backlog.
  • No need to gather individual estimates – that is done by the teams progressively.
  • No need to gather individual progress status – that is done through working, tested software and burning down work.

So was the gentleman correct? I contend that he was not, especially as you start to scale agile in larger organizations. In fact, in my experience, buy-in and alignment of the PMO and Project Managers could make or break your transformation.

I will not deny that the traditional role and responsibilities of a Project Manager changes and may be distributed in agile, however, the skills and experience PMs bring to the table are extremely valuable.

Effective Project Managers have good organization and communication skills. They are well versed in risk and dependency management. They understand ways to manage time, cost, and scope. They know the organization and how to remove impediments.

So what becomes of Project management in an enterprise agile world? There are many roles a traditional Project Manager can play. One such role is as a Portfolio Manager on a Portfolio Team.

Portfolio TeamThe Portfolio Team is responsible for setting the vision and strategy, deciding on initiatives in which to invest, and ensuring value is aligned with business strategies. The Portfolio Manager helps make sure that the team has everything it needs to function effectively. This goes beyond just scheduling recurring meetings. The Portfolio Manager can act as a servant leader, removing impediments, measuring progress, and enabling the team to make decisions on the portfolio.

The Portfolio Manager is the facilitator for the team. They help keep the team accountable to adhering to processes and working agreements, as well as ensuring the team operates efficiently.

Product Owner TeamAnother role could be that of a Program Manager on a Product Owner team. As an organization scales, it becomes difficult to manage dependencies and risks. It becomes overwhelming for a Product Owner to provide clarity of the backlog to their delivery teams.

By forming a team around a Product Owner, many individuals can lend support and capacity to the Product Owner, providing delivery teams that backlog clarity. A vital part of that team is the Program Manager. They help to clear impediments, manage dependencies and risks, hold the team accountable to providing all the things necessary to ensure the delivery teams are never starved of requirements. They can also serve as an escalation point for blocks and issues that cannot be resolved within the delivery teams.

Other areas and roles a traditional Project Manager could serve or grow into include Release Manager, ScrumMaster, Community or Practice Lead, Product Owner, or Internal Coach. I tell Project Managers to really think about their long term career goals and be proactive in pursuing those areas of interest.

The biggest lesson I try to impart is how to be a servant leader. Changing your mindset from directing to serving can be difficult. But, in an Agile world, servant leadership is what is needed to be truly successful. Enabling others to be successful, will make the organization and the individual successful. When the teams win, everyone wins.

I encourage Project Managers to seek opportunities where they can help the organization and the transformation. With a Project Management background and a servant leader mindset, PMs can grow into incredibly effective agents of change.

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