Is there a place for a Project Manager in Agile?

In the article I would like to explore my view of a Project Manager’s place in Agile.

Now I know a lot has been written about this topic and for good reason. When you look at Scrum the de facto default in Agile there is no role for the traditional Projects Manager.

My view is that if you have a Project Manager called Dave before you start your journey to Agility, you should end up with a Dave afterwards that is placed as best as possible to use his skills as well as possible to make the whole organization succeed.

Now what his new Role will be depends on what and how Dave worked before the change. If he has been at the organization for a long time with tons of domain knowledge, he may be a product owner afterwards. If he always focused on the team maybe Scrum Master. His most appropriate Role could still be Project Manager. Because even though there is no role in Scrum for Project Manager in the Scrum Guide there could still be a useful place for it if it was done with the correct mind-set.

And this is the important point. Regardless of his role description it’s his mind-set that will have to change. Rarely does it happen that an organization is in a position where it would like to fundamentally change the way it works without there being something wrong with the current mind-set. During the change everyone’s mind-set will have to change, be it developer, tester, business analyst or project manager. Everyone is in for a change.

Since you won’t be starting from scratch you’ll have to take everyone on the journey with you and anyone of the people that currently work for you could be the person most resistant to change. It may not be the Project Manager but it could be. But an Agile transformations that starts out as a reason for a restructure is doomed to fail.

I read an article once where one thing stuck with me. The article was about how to start the Agile transformation from an Agile coach’s point of view. The writer would start by asking the most senior manager in the room: “Do you really what to cause permanent damage to your organization’s culture?”

This questions then starts the conversation down the fact that the way everyone works will change. The way they approach a problem will change. How they interact will change. What they would expect from the organization will change and once Pandora’s Box has been opened it can never be returned to the way things were. Even if the transformation is abandoned things will not be the same.

The change is made to some level with support of some of the people who do support you through the change. These change agents run the most risk if the transformation is abandoned and the organization will most likely lose most of them if the transformation is abandoned.

This is where I would caution patience and a solid visible and thought through plan for Agile transformation before you start down the path. If you start and think of stopping half way through you may end up losing most of your change agents and it’ll take a few years for the for the organization to be able to try again.

So before you start ask yourself a few questions?

  • Do we need this change?
  • Is now the best time?
  • Who can help me thought it?
  • Am I personally ready to change my own mind-set?
  • Am I ready for a change in the way things work?

If you said yes to all of them, you may be ready and at the end looking back you may look back at the way you looked at the Role Project Manager and have a completely different view of it.