The Project Manager and Scrum

Most Agile Journeys begin with Scrum. As I was reading through a blog post over at agileheads it occurred to me that what to do with the Project Manager is perhaps the biggest mystery in Scrum.

Think of it. A classic project team goes to Scrum training together. The Project Manager, the developers, the testers, the analysts. Perhaps there’s even a customer representative that goes, or someone from sales. Out from the training should emerge a Scrum Team, (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Developers) and Stakeholders. In this case “Developers” are not equal to “developers” – but we’ll look at that another day. There is no PM in that list. No “boss”. So what happened? Does the PM stay in the training room forever? Did they sneak out the back – no longer part of the team?

Of course we all know what really happens. It says right in the Scrum Guide, err, well. I guess it doesn’t say. It just indirectly informs us that Scrum has no Project Manager role defined. But we knew that. So what should the PM do? It depends.

Before Training

The Project Manager has historically been in charge of the project. They need to define and assign tasks. They do everything in their power to make sure the project stays on track. Often they have command and control authority over the project team. The project team exists to help them get the project done as close to on time and budget as possible while not sacrificing quality. The project team looks to the PM for tasks, guidance, direction, and assistance.

Project Manager = Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is in charge of the Scrum Process. A new Scrum Team looks to their SM for guidance and assistance. The SM is a servant-leader for the team. This is not the same as a Team Lead who doles out work and checks it for completeness. This is a position that enables and empowers the Scrum Team to succeed on their own while ensuring Scrum is understood and followed. Often this feels like a natural place to put the Project Manager. There is risk in this move.

Putting the person that the team has looked to for direction and tasks as well into that position may make it hard for the team to get their direction and tasking from somewhere else. The Scrum Team is supposed to get their direction from the Product Owner. They are supposed to create their own tasks as stories are hashed out with the PO.

A mature Scrum Team should have no problem with this division, but the new one? They will need a lot of help with the Scrum process itself leading them to (properly) take a lot of direction from the Scrum Master on the process. However just as an addict continuing to go the same places with the same people will have a large chance of failing, a Scrum Team taking direction from the old Project Manager will likely take their direction and tasks from the same place.

Some Project Managers will have trouble letting go of the project. The Scrum Master does not hold the project close. They may assist the Product Owner, coaching them on the role being filled, but that is as close to owning the project as they get. A SM holding too tightly to the project itself will clash with the PO.

Project Manager = Product Owner

The Product Owner is in charge of getting value from the Scrum Teams work. They are the final word on the product being developed. They are likely getting fed information and priorities from the rest of the stakeholders. All of that input finds its final resting place with the PO. The Development Team will get their answers from the PO. They might interact with other stakeholders, but the PO is still the final authority.

This is a good place for a Project Manager. The PM has been in charge of projects for many years. As such the PM is no stranger to the idea of being the final decision maker. The rest of the company can support this as well since it matches closely with what they are used to seeing. The Product Owner is the keeper of the backlog, feeding it to the team every sprint to best advance the project. As with an automatic assignment to Scrum Master there are risks.

The Product Owner does not assign and manage tasks, that duty falls to the Development Team. This granularity the Project Manager is used to needs to be let go of. Knowing when to draw that line could be hard for a new PO. On the bright side, the Scrum Master should be able to help the PO with that.

The Product Owner is not in charge of the process. No more Gantt charts showing progress flow to the business. The Scrum Master is in charge of the process, and it is not going to be the same as it used to be.

Project Manager <> On The Scrum Team

Depending on the structure of the organization and the Product Owner’s ability there may be a very natural place for a Project Manager. They might function best as a Project Manager! In many cases the company may benefit from having a PM outside of the Scrum Team, working with the PO. This PM might be a representative of the PMO that works with multiple POs. The PM could focus on translating between Agile projects and the more classic PMO. The only risk here is that the business might not need that role filled out.

Final Answer = It Depends

Some Project Managers will make great Scrum Masters. Some will be horrible at it. Some are best fit into a Product Owner role. Some need to stay PMs. Much like a square peg in a round hole a PM might not be a perfect fit for any of the roles in a new Scrum organization. A perfect fit doesn’t mean no fit though, and with some willingness to change the PM will find a home in the newly Agile team.

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