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Do Agile Projects Need Project Managers?

There is a notion that Agile projects do not need project managers. I think every project needs to be managed and therefore there is a project management role. Whether that means there is person designated as PM is another thing. PM as a role can be shared. The important thing is to make sure that planning, monitoring, controlling, communication and stake holder management are being done well with the right degree of formality and discipline.

In Agile software development projects the team has all the means needed to control their work and to easily deliver metrics that give management above the project level a clear sense of progress and status.  They follow a disciplined approach that embeds quality control into their work.

There is a feature set that has been described and a very concrete set of accomplishments as the team completes the features.  Clearly someone has planned and decided on the feature set and the sequence among the features.

As the team assesses the work they apply a “burn rate” derived from work on past, similar projects – analogous or parametric estimating. As they burn through the feature set they can compare actual rates to expected to measure productivity and report accomplishments.

A Scrum Master or equivalent plays part of the PM role acting as communicator, making sure issues are addressed and buffering the team from interruptions and other drains on their productivity.

Additionally, most if not all Agile projects are embedded in projects and programs, for example, new product development, and business process improvement involving application software development.

These higher order projects are generally more complex than the typical Agile software development project and must be managed in a more traditional way, with a designated PM, while encouraging the Agile approach on those sub-projects where it is appropriate.

In the end whether Agile projects need a PM is not worth arguing.  All projects need project management. How it is applied can vary from situation to situation.

To be successful in Agile environments (and in fact to do well in most environments) PMs must first favor people over process and avoid a command and control approach, relying on and promoting a shared vision and collaboration, including healthy conflict and its resolution.  The objective is to cultivate and reinforce self-managing teams in which the team members, considered peers of the PM, make decisions and perform many project management roles.

The project management role includes a leadership component, which when done well leads to the team thinking that they did the work and the leadership themselves.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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