Agile Project Manager

The Agile project manager role has become quite common. As more organizations adopt Agile, the traditional project manager role has morphed into a hybrid Scrum Master. For those of us working as Agile project managers, we have the challenge of blending two different, even opposing, roles into one. It begs us to question, can one even be an Agile project manager? Ken Schwaber seems to think so. The co-founder of Scrum wrote a book called “Agile project management with Scrum”.

Let’s back up and take a look at the differences between a Scrum Master and a project manager.

  • The Project Manager – If you have your PMP, you know that project management is all about planning, control, and communication. The traditional project manager role is big on command and control. The PM has authority over the team. The PM manages the team, assigns work, and is accountable for the success of the project. The PM is responsible to create a detailed Gantt chart project schedule and all planning happens at the start of the project.
  • The Scrum Master – If you have your CSM, you know that a Scrum Master is not a project manager. Whereas the project manager is about command and control, the Scrum Master is about servant leadership. The Scrum Master does not have authority over the team, he is more of a guide and coach. The Scrum Master shields the team from interference’s. He removes impediments, and ensures Scrum the team understands processes and values.

Knowing the differences between the two roles, we can now see how working as an “Agile Project Manager” is an art form.

Below are some tips to help you be an effective Agile project manager:

  1. Let go of the idea that Agile or traditional project management has to be one way, all or nothing. Organizations are complex and tackling a change like Agile adoption is difficult. This is especially true for large organizations used to rigid structure and control.
  2. Don’t be afraid to switch hats, between PM and Scrum Master, when necessary. For example, I try to empower the team and not tell people what to do (with my Scrum Master hat on). Yet, when the team starts running into trouble, I create a sense of urgency and give direction (putting my PM hat on).
  3. Help to educate the leadership team on the difference’s between Agile and Waterfall. The real value in Agile is in the core values, not the practices. In fact, most Agile projects that fail are a result of company culture not aligning with Agile core values.
  4. Make the Agile ceremonies mandatory. Agile teams may be self empowered, but you have to at least follow the key ceremonies. If you’re not having daily standups, sprint reviews and retrospectives, don’t call yourself Agile. These Agile practices are low hanging fruit. They are the easiest things for teams to adopt. The hard stuff is getting the core principles right.
  5. Perform the Agile PM role to the best of your ability, and do it with a smile. Whether you are an employee or a consultant, your job is to fulfill the need of the organization. Try to improve processes, but as Dale Carnegie says “don’t criticize, condemn, or complain”.

The art of being an Agile project manager means being flexible and willing to lead. It means accepting that some roles won’t always be by the book.  It means understanding the value in both the Scrum Master and PM roles, and finding a way to make them work together.

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