With agile methods all the rage, the role of the project leader is changing but remains as vital as ever
‘Agility’ is well and truly in fashion. I myself am a true believer. It means being able to adapt swiftly to changes in our environment.
But ‘agile’ is not a licence for anarchy. There’s still a place for planning and organisation. It’s first and foremost a way of thinking. Besides, several different fields did not wait for the advent of agile methods to start managing projects this way. What’s changing is that the thinking is spreading increasingly to new sectors.
How does all this affect projects? How has project management evolved? Answer: the same as the environment in which projects are being conducted.
If we consider society as a whole, methods for managing teams have evolved. Individuals are given more responsibility and managers now exert a less paternalistic ‘coaching’ role.
This change has also influenced the way in which projects are managed. Project managers have learnt to work in tandem with project teams, keenly aware that they do not have the monopoly on expertise. A good project manager, like a good people manager, does not micro-manage.
Currently, project managers:
Make available the resources for the team to estimate the effort required to produce the expected deliverables – they trust the team for the result
Coordinate the work from the perspective of the deliverables, focusing on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’ – they know that the smart people are the ones inside the team
Structure communication around the project, ensuring that the best person to deliver the message is actually the one who does it
Include the team and all stakeholders concerned in the risk management side of things
Consult as many people as possible before making choices, aware of their responsibility for ensuring that decisions are timely
There are three broad categories of method for managing projects:
Whichever method is adopted, the responsibilities intrinsic to project management must be assumed just the same. Projects must always be conducted:
Within a defined scope
To achieve these targets, we need a team that can produce the expected result and a person who ensures that the work can be performed within the timetable and the budget established.
In ‘waterfall’ and ‘rolling wave’, the role of the project manager is left intact. But with agile thinking, it seems to be obsolete at first glance, considering that it is mentioned nowhere in Scrum, the best-known framework for agile management.
That’s not my interpretation. I believe that the project manager is not mentioned explicitly because this approach covers product development but does not include the tasks required to manage the entire ecosystem surrounding the development process.
Scrum tells you how to develop the product. It doesn’t tell you how to manage its market debut or slot it into the company’s existing operations. Neither is information provided about managing stakeholders or how to communicate inside and outside the company. All this falls outside the scope of the product. Such responsibilities correspond to the project manager’s job spec. Scrum is silent on the matter.
Some might retort that the project manager’s responsibilities are implicitly divided between the project owner, scrum master and the team. That’s certainly true when it comes to project development.
But that does not mean that project managers are not needed. Depending on project complexity and how impactful it could be on the company, it makes sense to appoint a project manager to an oversight role.
In this framework, the project manager will be working closely with the product owner and scrum master but much less with the team.
Responsibility for delivering the best value within the time and budget allowed is transferred to the product owner. The product owner, as the name suggests, focuses primarily on the product.
Responsibility for ensuring that the project goes smoothly and yields the expected benefits as quickly as possible remains within the remit of the project manager.
The project manager and product owner are partners in guaranteeing the success of the project.
The product owner contributes product expertise and acumen in making value-maximising choices.
The project manager contributes expertise in the areas of communication and change management.
Summing up, the present-day project manager will ensure that teams are giving their best, irrespective of the method used to deliver the solution. Their role is flexible, and it can be adapted to serve in agile teams.
What about you? Do you have similar or different experiences? Let me know, I'll be happy to discuss it with you!
Artwork: Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2020, © Marakoudja.