Agile approaches generally do not talk about Project Managers, though it’s a role found in many organizations that use these approaches. I am certain that they are not there merely as figureheads!
I would like us to take the time to reflect on the Project Manager’s place within an Agile team. Let’s imagine that we, the people directly involved in the project, as well as the management team, ask ourselves the following question at the beginning of each project: “How will we organize ourselves to achieve what we want to achieve together?” What if we asked ourselves this question instead of systematically applying the usual model in which each role is frozen and where each project is inserted (sometimes by force) in a pre-defined governance framework.
It then becomes rather easy to list what needs to be or will be done. This list of actions that includes everything from financial monitoring and coordination with the stakeholders to breaking down and assigning daily tasks, following up with suppliers, production, and support, involves internal operating elements as much as it involves external ones. So far, nothing new…
Different possible approaches
Now, several options are available to us. The first step is to ask ourselves who is going to carry out each of the tasks required to ensure the project’s success. As everyone has different, and hopefully complementary, skills and preferences, all tasks should find takers. If it is not the case, the team may be short one member. Participants can volunteer to fulfill the associated responsibilities. Note that a collective skills matrix workshop can help solve this situation.
You then obtain an organization that corresponds to the reality of your project’s human context. New or traditional appellations can be used to name or identify each person’s duties. What seems essential to me is that all this must be explicit during conversations and then made visible (which is a good opportunity to introduce visual management.
Another approach matches the responsibilities defined in frameworks such as Scrum with the different duties listed, then allocates all the tasks that have not been attributed. For example, with the Scrum framework, work is broken down and distributed by the development team. You can assign tasks that have not been covered by the Scrum roles to the Scrum team or to external people. A tool like Delegation Poker is very useful in this situation.
At this stage, you should—hopefully—have a list, created collectively, of the duties and responsibilities that will help you achieve success. Don’t forget that with the Agile approach, inspection and adaptation allow you to adjust along the way!
The Project Manager
But where is the Project Manager in all of this? There is no one answer to this question. At this point, I want to know if, as someone who’s involved, you have found your place during the previous exercise. If so, the matter is resolved! If not, I would like to ask you the following questions: Whom are you serving? And what? Are you present in this team or business?
All these questions may give you the feeling that I’m not helping you. Your business is very structured and each role is well defined. Your role is Project Manager and your colleague’s is architect or business analyst. What you’re interested in is knowing where your place is now that the business is putting into practice the Agile approach. But maybe your organization is trying to fit squares into circles…
Your responsibility is then to question your organization’s approach or your own. Many of us are attached to our roles, our status. We sometimes have the impression that they define our identity within the business. In a way, this is true! But on the other hand, it’s only part of what we are (however admittedly important since it takes up more than a third of our lives).
What’s my place?
So I think the question should be: “What’s MY place in the Agile approach?” And this question, only you can answer.
You will understand that I am inviting you to reconsider the question from a different perspective. That of exploring the value that you can bring to your team or your business by being the person that you are.
For example, I have obtained varied answers while working with different clients. Project Managers who are more interested in the professional aspect tend to go toward the Product Owner’s (PO) role when Scrum is being used. Those who are more oriented toward human and team dynamics seem to be comfortable in the Scrum Master’s role. Finally, some remain Project Managers and focus more on what is external to the team, that is, managing external partners (suppliers, other departments, etc.) and providing support to the PO regarding financial aspects, for example.
I believe that copying and pasting the positions developed in a traditional context and with traditional project constraints into the Agile approach is a mistake. It does not take into account all the complexity of the situation and much less the fact that an Agile transition is a shift in paradigm. You fulfill your duties under the title of Project Manager? Fine! However, I think it is essential that the scope of the role be revised and adapted to the Agile paradigm.