Guest blog: How agile transitions impact product and project manager roles

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What happens to the traditional roles when transitioning to Agile? In this guest blog post Shibabrata Mondal asks himself this question, and explores how agile transitions impact product and project manager roles and how these traditional roles are related to the new roles of Scrum master and Product Owner that Scrum brings in.

Agile introduces new roles like Product Owner and Scrum Master. A traditional company with existing roles like Product Manager and Project Manager need to think how these roles will transition when adopting Agile.

Here we will discuss some of the aspects that needs to be thought through and either the team structure or some cultural changes needs to be instituted to suit Agile or the Agile process itself needs to be adapted to suit the team structure and culture.

Product Owner vs. Product Manager

Large software companies typically have a Product Management team. Scrum teams should have a Product Owner. The roles are somewhat overlapping but different. So when adopting Scrum, a critical dilemma for teams is how to rationalize these roles.

The options are:

  • Convert all Product Managers to Product Owners
  • Keep both Product Managers and Product Owners

Before we can analyze the above choices, let’s try to understand the difference between these roles. Both Product Owners and Product Managers are expected to straddle and bridge the external business side and the internal technical side of the organization. However, in large companies using traditional Project Management, Product Managers are typically more business focussed with basic understanding of the internal technical details. The gap is typically bridged by Project Managers, Architects, and Team Leads.

On the other hand Product Owners are expected to have deeper technical and product know how and are expected to be available to answer detailed questions on a daily basis. So when thinking of the first option of converting Product Managers to Product Owners, keep in mind the re-skilling that is needed and the career aspirations and goals.

Also, be aware that the number of product owners needed in a large team would typically exceed the number of Product Managers present in the team. While there are some cases where this strategy can work, for large complex products with a complex business model this will likely fail. Fulfilling both roles might be too much load on one person, even if you can find someone with the skills and willingness to fill both roles.

When thinking of the second option of keeping both Product Managers and Product Owners, there are two issues that needs to be solved:

  • how would you create the team of Product Owners, and
  • how would the Product Owners work and collaborate with the Product Managers.

Setting up the right collaboration and communication framework between the Product Managers and Product Owners is critical for success in this case.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

The issue here and the ensuing confusion is similar to the one we discussed above about Product Owners and Product Managers. Large software companies have Project Managers and Program Managers. When adopting Agile, again the choices in front of companies are:

  • Convert all Project Managers to Scrum Masters
  • Keep both Project Managers and Scrum Masters

The Project Manager’s role is a leadership role to manage all aspects of the project. It’s a soup to nuts kind of responsibility starting with ideation to making sure the business outcome of the project is met. Scrum Masters are more concerned with the scrum team only. The role is to coach and make sure the process is working and to remove impediments. While they sound similar, the roles and responsibilities and scope is quite different.

There will be cases where one person can perform both roles and there can be situations where keeping these roles separate is for the best. This is a critical judgement teams must make when embarking on Scrum adoption.

A longer version of this blog is available at the Wizergos Blog page .

Roles are impacted when organizations transition to agile

Thank you Shibabrata Mondal for sharing your insights and ideas on what happens to the traditional roles when transitioning to agile in this guest blog post.

My (Ben Linders) opinion on roles is that organizations use roles to organize work that needs to be done. Scrum provides a set of simple yet powerful roles, which can in some situations be enough to get the job done. If that’s the case, then roles like project and product manager are no longer needed, and professionals fulfilling these roles should migrate towards the Scrum roles that would best fit with their skills and ambitions.

But as Shibabrata explains above, there can be situations where traditional roles still serve a purpose. Most probably the traditional roles will be impacted when an organization transitions to agile. My suggestion is to visualize the activities that need to be done, and (re)design roles that would provide the easiest solution that ensures that all activities can be done effectively.

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About 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.
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  • Ben Linders – Independent Consultant Agile, Lean, Quality, and Continuous Improvement

    Ben Linders
    Ik help organisaties om effectiever software te ontwikkelen. Neem contact op voor mijn diensten.

    I help organizations to effectively develop software. Contact me to hear about my services.