Project manager as coach

Photo by Uwe Groeber“Project manager” is not a well-regarded role to many in the agile world. But there is no avoiding the fact that someone has to be accountable for spend, for schedules, and for co-ordinating all kinds of third party activity. A traditional “product owner” in a Scrum team may do this, but often they are not well-equipped to do so.

The role of project manager is often frowned upon because it has strong associations with the pre-agile way of doing things. This is the person who, stereotypically, tells the team they aren’t doing well enough, demands they work later and longer, puts schedule ahead of quality, and a big up-front plan ahead of evolving user needs. This stereotype does not fit into an agile world where change is embraced, sustainable delivery is prized, and uncertainty embodies every decision.

However, the product owner—the person on the ground making priority decisions with the team—may not be in a position to do the important jobs of tracking time and budget, and co-ordinating third parties. This can happen in any team that’s just started to embrace agile, or where there are so many products that product owners come go.

In an agile world, the skilled project manager can therefore act as a coach or an aide to the product owner. Their primary relationship is no longer with the hands-on people, but with the product owner, and potentially the scrum master, to resolve external issues and help the product owner take more ownership (e.g. of the budget). The nature of their role changes to being more collaborative.

Regardless of whether you have a project manager in your team you almost certainly need to deal with the kind of issues they have historically dealt with.

Photo by Uwe Groeber