With the popularity of Agile, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and Scrum, organizations are asked to justify the project manager’s role on a project. Scrum purists reject the idea of adding a project manager to the team as the team should be able to solve all the problems with the help of the product owner and scrum master. I’ve had clients ask, “Why do we need project managers in the portfolio since we’re supposed to be Agile?”.
As organizations change from a systems focus to a product focus, they are seeking to streamline costs and reduce administrative overhead. Agile approaches will help organize the team around a product backlog, increase feedback, and improve incremental delivery. However, don’t throw out the project management role just yet. Below are five reasons why adding a project manager to Agile and traditional teams still adds a lot of value.
#1 Project managers improve predictability
Just because a project team has adopted Agile doesn’t mean the project manager role needs to be eliminated. Agile and traditional project teams have their own set of processes to accomplish work. However, the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing are complementary to Agile techniques.
Staffing a project manager to improve communication, identify risks, and manage outstanding issues and help keep the project on schedule, adds value, and improves predictability. A project manager can integrate those sprints and releases into a more extensive project schedule that identifies both IT and business-specific tasks. Unless the entire company has adopted Agile, you’ll still have a team working in a waterfall manner that requires integration back to the Agile team. The real value is the PM’s experience with traditional and Agile projects, which directly contributes to better predictability.
#2 Project managers improve communication across organizations
Projects don’t operate on an island. They execute in a continually changing business ecosystems across customers, vendors, business stakeholders, and project team members. If the product owner is dedicated to defining, prioritizing, and validating requirements, there isn’t much time to represent status to steering committees, PMOs, and IT status portfolio reviews. The project manager helps to improve communication outside the project and mitigates problems with proactive discussion.
I’ve seen several projects struggle when the technical lead is expected to handle the project management tasks in addition to technical delivery. Challenges also arise when the product owner is expected to deliver the project but lacks formal project management knowledge. Both roles have the best intentions, but in complex projects, communication and management start to fail.
#3 Project managers proactively manage scope
Have you ever had a development team add a new feature because they thought it would improve the product but introduces a new defect or extends the schedule? Scope creep always occurs as requirements evolve, and the team sees working software. Staffing a project manager helps to avoid gold plating and ensures the project goals are still on track.
Proactively managing the feature backlog will help reduce scope creep, but I’ve been in many conversations where a previously unstated feature grew into a mandatory defect. Product owners, development teams, and clients have different perspectives on evolving requirements. A good project manager helps to facilitate balancing project scope, changing needs, and delivery expectations.
#4 Project managers provide faster issue and problem resolution
According to Scrum, the Scrum Master is responsible for removing impediments from the team. In practice, I’ve seen the scrum master facilitate the Scrum ceremonies, but they act as a coach instead of an engaged team member who can remove roadblocks. Often Scrum coaches are assigned multiple teams to coach, so the project team is usually expected to remove barriers. Staffing a project manager is an excellent way to add an extra hand, track all roadblocks, and help resolve issues across the project.
#5 Project managers improve financial management
Project managers facilitate better project scope definition, improved cost estimation, and apply formal cost and budget forecasting techniques. You don’t want your lead developer forecasting costs as they should be architecting code. The product owner is usually involved in the financial forecasting, but the project manager is best suited to track purchase orders across multiple vendors and update financial forecasts with finance. The role is more than just financial tracking. By applying the project management processes, the project will have better financial forecasting and budget control.
Project managers need to be doers
The backlash against staffing project managers is based on project managers being administrative overhead. Projects don’t need purely administrative project managers. Project managers need to be doers! I’ve seen the project management role reduced to scheduling meetings, taking meeting minutes, and updating a project schedule. Projects can’t afford to staff a purely administrative project manager.
Projects require coordination and administration, but the project manager needs to provide the leadership to drive the project forward. If project managers demonstrate their expertise to improve predictability, manage scope, improve communication, resolve issues, and manage the budget, then a project manager’s value is well understood and appreciated.
Agile techniques will continue to transform the way teams work, but I don’t recommend eliminating the project manager role on your Agile team. Organizations still struggle with adopting Agile completely as groups report they are following “Scrummer-fall” or are “Wagile” in their system development implementations. Until the Agile team can support all these project management functions, the project management role remains critical to project success.
Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice, visit the website Tactical Project Management.