One of the questions I hear all the time with people transitioning to using agile is this: How do we organize the project if we don't have a project manager?
If you read Manage It!, you know I don't buy the idea of a controlling project manager. But a facilitative project manager? Oh my. That is a horse of a different color.
In organizations where plan-driven approaches have reigned supreme, managers think about managing people, not projects. Nope, managers exist to create the environment in which people can do great work. Project managers might even be quite helpful. I have talked before about when I am the “wall around the team, protecting the team from management mayhem.”
Here is a list of what an agile project manager might do:
- Facilitates the team’s process. New-to-agile teams don't have agile baked into their DNA. Who will learn more about how they can make agile work for them? Who will schedule the retro and make sure it occurs? (PMs do not have to facilitate the retro. They make it occur.)
- Removes the team’s impediments, that the team members cannot remove themselves. Many impediments are at the organization level. The team isn't going to tackle them. The team needs to “delegate” the impediment to the PM.
- Assists the team in measuring the team’s velocity and other measurements. For example especially for new-to-agile teams, I like burnup charts. I like to measure defects over time. I like knowing the fault feedback ratio. I like cycle time, cumulative flow and other lean-related charts. Who has the time to do this? Because PMs assess risks, the PMdoes.
- Assists the product owner in writing stories for the next iteration. I don't know of too many POs who understand how to write small-enough stories for iterations.
- Prepare the project vision/Facilitate the project vision.
- Prepare the release criteria/Facilitate the release criteria.
- Facilitate the team's definition of done.
Assist the team in managing the team’s risks. This can be many different things:
- Managing sponsor expectations
- Managing the project portfolio so there is no context switching
- Obtain more funding
- Making sure the long-lead-time items show up on time
- If there is intersection with items across the organization/outside the organization, that everyone understands what those intersections are and that everyone resolves them.
There may well be more PM functions. (If you know of any, please comment. Thanks.)
Project managers who act as servant leaders fulfill useful functions. Project managers can be especially helpful if managers don't understand the difference between resource efficiency and flow efficiency.
Controlling project managers? Not so much.
In part 2, I'll describe what agile PMs do not do.