Don’t overlook project management in Agile

Photo by Oliver QuinlanThe other day a colleague expressed his concern about our Agile way of working: projects were routinely broken down into small user stories, but many delivered user stories don’t necessarily make a coherent whole.

He saw portfolio managers prioritising and shaping projects, business analysts shaping user stories within those projects, and software engineers turning those user stories into working software. But who keeps it all together? Who makes sure the myriad tiny changes (requirements re-interpretation, prioritisation changes) continue to make a coherent whole. And who—and this question was the catalyst for the conversation—was going to keep on top of external dependencies such as buying and installing hardware?

These are all good questions, and the truth is that focus on incremental steps must not exclude responsibility for the bigger picture. Sometimes it’s easy to think Agile development makes project management redundant, but that’s just not the case. The big picture still needs to be taken care of. Governance is critical to ensure the ground-level changes continue to align with the end user goals and the strategic aim. Someone needs to take responsibility for the long range dependencies that span several iterations. Among other roles, project management continues to be critical.

It’s true that the concept of project management changes with Agile; there is a shift away from the management of people’s time, and a shift towards those higher level issues mentioned above. And it isn’t necessary for someone to have the job title of Project Manager. But whoever takes on those responsibilities—and each of those kinds of responsibilities needs to lie with a named individual—has a role that is no less significant than before.