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Large Organisations,Patterns,Scrum Roles,Uncategorized,Values

June 16, 2014

Can you be an Agile Project Manager?

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AgilePMSo, is there such a thing as an Agile Project Manager? Is it possible for a Project Manager to behave in a way that would make them worthy of that title?

The Agile community doesn’t seem to believe so, and this is mainly driven by the fact that in Scrum only 3 roles are defined and that a lot of people now only refer to these 3 roles when discussing roles in Agile. And maybe it makes sense when a company is agile not to have too many roles around, keeping project structures flat and decision process as streamlined as possible.

However, there are a lot of situations where it actually makes sense to keep Project Managers in the frame and part of the delivery life cycle, in particular during¬†“transitions”: taking a group or a company from state A to state A’ then A” then B, etc… and since being in transition is an attribute of an agile organisation, it is possible to envisage an everlasting project management presence.

For example, most of the organisations I have worked with so far had Project Managers on day one of their experimentation with Agile. Some have caused problems, some have not, some have tried to sabotage the whole thing, some have been an essential part of the adoption, some have remained project managers throughout the transition, some have changed title as their role evolved, some have left, some have stayed…

The reality of a transition is that an Agile team does not form and live in a vacuum; it is part of a larger organism, which has evolved its specific communication pathways and channels, decision mechanisms, investment reflexes, sensory organs. A team beginning to run Scrum as part of the entire system is going to need support from the rest of the company (well, unless a entire new self-supporting organism is created on the side). The team needs access to the resources the parent organism can provide, and for this, Project Managers need to be seen as allies and even more, be somehow grafted onto the Scrum team.

When looking at Project Managers that way, the next question could be: can a Project Manager ALSO be a Servant Leader and provide the team with the feedback and support it needs to succeed?

Well, this is where it starts being interesting, because the answer is not linked to the actual title, it is based on behavioral traits of the person. Just the same way as you could have someone with the title of Scrum Master acting differently to what could be expected from a Servant Leader, you could have Project Managers behaving in way that make them extremely important for a team in transition.

To summarize, judgement cannot be based on title alone and I don’t particularly feel obfuscated when I read or hear the term “Agile Project Manager”, I just re-adjust the context, and move on. Indeed, I have met and observed Project Managers who had a real common and shared goal with the team to deliver value, incrementally and at regular and short time intervals. They would carry out some essential communication and mediation duties for the team during the project life cycle. They would not interact with the team in a way that suggested that they were managing them, and they would not micro manage people or insist that a plan once made has to be followed. I have even seen some of them truly shielding the team from “outside” feuds, or get really hands on to get the team access to additional budget or support from other teams.

In a company that HAS project managers, we should not try at all cost to ostracize them when implementing Agile. Being Agile is indeed a lot more than following the edict of a particular methodology, it also helping a company to transform, people to adapt, and new (or hidden?) behaviours to emerge.

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  1. After thinking about it for roughly 2 months – an agile project manager can exist, if he follows the agile manifesto. The method is just something which facilitates agile behaviour, values can be implemented even without any method at all. Whatyathink?

    Comment by Dennis — September 5, 2014 @ 10:39 pm

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