Leadership Limbo

Do Agile Projects Even Need a Project Manager?


By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, Contributing Editor


During a recent conference a project manager asked me, “We have a scrum master, a product owner and a coach. So where do I fit in?” She’s not the only one wondering.

With the rising popularity of agile methods, we see more self-organizing teams and specialized roles creeping into project managers’ responsibilities. This raises a question: What does the modern project manager actually do?

Let’s acknowledge the silver lining here first. At organizations that cut costs by understaffing project teams, the project manager was somehow supposed to deliver a successful project anyway, usually by taking on extra work. With the shift to agile methods, more people are expected to take on more of the load, allowing project managers to focus on adding value.

That said, the elephant in the room remains: How do we add value to projects when the team (or sponsor) believes they no longer need us? Here are three tips.

Every project has conflict or missed expectations. Our job is to prevent, minimize and fix those problems. This is called Pareto analysis: find the project area causing the most pain, and fix it first.

For example, perhaps you’re a strong technician working with great talent but suffer from poor business sponsors. In that case, you should delegate your natural technical decisions and instead fill the duties of an agile product owner role.


Once you identify where the project needs the most help, you might discover you don’t have the right skills. For example, many people move into project management from a technical background and never learned how to make a business case.

This is why PMI created the Talent Triangle™, comprising technical skills, strategic and business skills, and leadership skills. The emerging industry expectation is that project managers can hold their own in all three areas. Take the time to fill gaps in your knowledge.


Several years ago, I explained to a department vice president my ideas for changing the organization’s structure to improve team output. He was not happy, saying, “That’s not your job—you are a tech lead.”

Let’s be honest: As project managers, we often come across as bossy know-it-alls. But what if we instead practice listening and use stakeholders’ own words to discuss the issues? Our job is to fix problems, but we must also speak the truth with a high dose of diplomacy.

At the end of the day, the source of a project manager’s value is not in what we do, but in what we fix.

At the end of the day, the source of a project manager’s value is not in what we do, but in what we fix. Invest your energy where the need is greatest, even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide and the steering committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at [email protected].




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