Agile Project Management

In organizations that are migrating to Agile, the question often come up what the role of project managers will be? Are they still needed? Yes they are, but their day-to-day work will change. They will be supporting (in stead of directing) the agile teams in delivering working software. Scrum can perfectly work together with a project management method, in fact, they support each other. Let’s see how that works out in practice.

I’ve worked with several organisations that introduced agile, and adapted their project management method to Agile, to match with the way that agile projects are managed. What follows are some of the changes that I have seen for the project managers.

First, agile projects often have multiple teams. It is the responsibility of the project to coördinate the interaction between teams. Often a scrum of scrums is used for the synchronization of the teams, while cost and manhours are monitored and reported at the overall project level. Also, project managers (or in some organizations line managers) can facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences between the teams, for instance with Communties of Practice.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...
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Also, agile includes the planning and day-to-day tracking of the activities, using the planning game and stand-up meetings. Keeping a detailed planning at the project level adds little value, therefore this is often not done anymore by project managers. They focus on the delivery planning, and ensure that agreements are made with the receiving parties.The teams and the product owner prioritize the user stories, which assures maximum contribution towards agreed upon deliveries.

Thirdly, the focus of the project manager changes. The biggest change that I often see is that they become more externally focused towards their stakeholders (project sponsor, product managers, customers, line managers, etc). They will however pick up and handle any impediments raised by a team regarding delivery schedules, money, working environment, skills, and training, etc. Project managers have to assure that their project members are able to do their work, effectively and efficiently.

These are just some of the changes that I have seen to project management when organizations implement agile, there will probably be more. The conclusion is that, with agile, there is still a need for project management, but the role of the project manager changes.Training for project managers can be useful, to understand the agile principles and how agile teams work, and to practice skills that are needed to facilitate agile teams.

Did you implement agile in your project organization? If so, what was the impact on your project managers? Please share your experiences by commenting on this article.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ben Linders

    This post triggered a discussion about the role of the project manager in Agile on LinkedIn, as a result of my profile activity. Enjoy it!

    Grant (PG) Rule  Agile practices are derived from Lean systems thinking (arguably) or are attempts to implement the Lean 5-step thought process (1. Understand stakeholder value; 2.Understand all the steps in the value stream; 3.Enable value to flow; 4.Arrange for value to be pulled at the pace of stakeholder demand; 5.Seek perfection (continuously adapt & optimise)). Hence the search for perfection will pull the organisation into a shape that facilitates single piece continuous flow of value to stakeholders. Perfection excludes the batch & queue nature inherent in the project concept. And the role of the manager is to focus on removing impediments to understanding, flow & pull. No PMs needed, thank you. 

    Ben Linders:  The agile/lean combination can indeed assure continuous delivery of to customers by teams, and doesn’t need project management. But what about setting the conditions needed for the teams to do this? And managing the interfaces from the teams with the demanding/receiving organization? This is where Project Managers can and should contribute.

    Grant (PG) Rule :  Value streams address the end-to-end, concept-to-consumption, demand-to-deployment set of process steps. They don’t start & end with a group of developers or even the ICT Group. The value stream extends through the entire organisation. That is where so many ‘agile teams’ go wrong. The work isn’t ‘done’ until the product or service is deployed & delivering value to the end-consumer(s). The PM role is subsumed into the role Allen Ward calls the ‘Entrepreneurial System Designer’ aka Toyota’s ‘Chief Engineer’. There is a role for ‘competency managers’ to develop the professional skills of the various groups of functional specialists. But wrt the PM’s role as assumed by e.g. PRINCE2, well…?

    Sankaran Natarajan:  After studying about Lean concepts, i also second Grant that Agile practices are derived from Lean (old wine in new bottle:-) ) and with respect to your question Ben i see PM should take additional role for instance say Scrum Master to help the team to remove impedements, set conditions, helping team to understand the modalaties in Agile WoW,etc.

    Grant (PG) Rule :  ;–) of course, most organisations have a long way to go before they perfect value, flow, pull, etc

    Ben Linders:  @Sankartan, this is indeed where the PM helps the team, by assuring that they can do their work without being hindered

    Ben Linders:  @Grant Fully agree that PM role in Agile will not be “standard Prince 2”, but Prince 2 is a method the helps to manage projects, and always need sto be tailored towards your situation and needs. You are very familiar with that, given your recent article in Methods & Tools. But I guess there is still a role for PM.

    Ben Linders:  BTW: I’ve copied this great discussion to the original posting at…. Thanks guys for your feedback!

    1. BenLinders

      I recognize the roles that you mention in your blog, and they can indeed be beneficial additional to the Scrum roles. I’ve seen some of the roles filled in by line managers, e.g. people development.

    2. Ben Linders

      I recognize the roles that you mention, and they can indeed be beneficial additional to the Scrum roles. I’ve seen some of the roles filled in by line managers, e.g. people development.

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