The Role of Project Manager On An Agile Project

I talk to a lot of project managers and they always have the same question for me…

“What is my role in an agile organization?”

They see the scrum roles of scrum master, product owner and scrum team member and they say, “Wait a second, there is no role for a project manager in there.  Do I even have a place in an agile organization?”

Well the answer to that is an emphatic yes.

I think that most project managers have a skill set that transfers over very well to scrum, but the key is understanding which skills do transfer over well and which ones are going to have to adjust.

For example, it is very common for former project managers to move into the scrum master role and that works great on a number of fronts. Good project managers are often very comfortable with conflict management and that’s definitely something you’ll be using in your scrum master job.

But you need to also remember that good PMs often have strong, very directive personalities.

You’re used to being in charge, right?

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When you become a scrum master, you have to become more of a facilitator, more of a coach.  You have to be a evangelist of entrusted leadership.

For some of us who came from the PM world that can feel really different. You have to watch that part of your personality and make sure that you kind of tamp it down a little bit.

For me I couldn’t have been happier.  For years, I had been implementing entrusted leadership.  I believe there are two types of PM’s. One that delivers the project and but the team will never work with them again because of how they were treated, then there is the new leader… the PM that delivers the project and the team begs to stay with them.

It’s the last PM that we want as Scrum Masters.

Another common transition for project managers is to move into the product owner role. That can work particularly well in the consulting world.  For example, if you were a PM that was the client contact before.

Now you can become a product owner for that client as well. Works very well. It is sort of a driving role, it is role where you can use that strong part of your personality, but again you have to remember that you don’t manage your scrum team. You work with them. You need to negotiate with them to decide things like how much they can commit to in every sprint.

Finally, another thing to consider is simply staying in the project manager role. That actually does have a place in the scrum organization. For example, if you are doing a very large scrum project, one that might have 5, 6 or 7 scrum teams, it can be really nice to have a project manager to help with that.

Typically what you would be in-charge of is what you are always in-charge of as a PM, things like budget, staffing allocations. It is really nice to have someone taking care of that, that the product owners and scrum masters can focus on the work that they need to do.

…but remember, if you stay in that role as a PM, you are a stakeholder and what I mean by that is you want to relate to the teams in the right way. You want to have good scrum behavior.

If you can do that, you’ll definitely be an asset to the teams and they will be very glad to have you there.

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