Coming from a traditional project management background, I was taught that the role of a PM is to manage both the human and the process elements of a project.
On the one side, PMs must provide leadership and vision for the project’s team. On the other, they should determine the project’s schedule and make content decisions about scope, budget, risks, and sometimes even specifications. Authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand under the PM’s role for the project to be delivered on time, on budget and to the required specifications. In the PMBOK® Guide, 5th Edition, it is stated: “The role of the project manager is to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives” (PMI, 2013, p. 40).
On the contrary, in Agile frameworks and methods, the PM does not have a defined role; there is no need for an official role for a PM as agile teams should be holistic with cross-functional expertise, and all team members are assigned with distributed responsibilities.
Instead, Agile frameworks denote that for unlocking and fostering Agility throughout the organization landscape, the role of Agile Coach or Master is critical.
An Agile Coach or Master, however, has a different perspective. Since the project team assumes more responsibility for project execution, continual management oversight becomes unnecessary. Agile Coaches or Masters have fewer activities to perform during the project or release life cycle, and they make no decisions on what gets built and don’t do any of the actual work building anything. They don’t get involved in the game; they rather work with the team to make them better at the overall process.
They are quite literally facilitators!
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a facilitator is “someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/facilitator).
In this respect, Agile facilitators support the team to effectively evolve the project and chart out the best possible course for the project to ensure its success by experienced guidance and necessary mentorship throughout the project’s life. They drive results by focusing on developing the capabilities of the people and teams over-optimizing for immediate, short-term results; they resolve impediments, mediate, shield the team from external distractions, and reinforce team members to improve their communication.
Even if we sometimes forget, experienced traditional PMs portray a lot of the above traits!
They are individuals who deal with the team’s emotion, and hence they are closely associated with the team members. They struggle to prevent project delivery and team performance failure by depending on all stakeholders for decisions and accumulating feedback to elaborate risks. They undertake more strategic thinking, help the team integrate with non-product development stakeholders and support monitoring of project metrics during project phases, iterations and releases.
Many may say that “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks”!
As I see it, old-style PMs should be more than welcome and sometimes necessary for the transition to the Agile world. And, they don’t have to acquire a complete new set of traits or capabilities. Nevertheless, they need to undergo a paradigm shift from leading projects to becoming the facilitators of the responsible teams.
It is necessary for all of us traditional PMs to demonstrate personal Agility towards embracing the role of servant leaders!