Agile Opportunities for Traditional Project Managers

Depositphotos 3220819 xsMany of you who come from a Traditional Project management Background are beginning to understand that Agile is not a passing fad, and can actually be a very important ingredient of successful project implementation. However, it may be difficult for you to understand how your Traditional Project Management skills and experience can fit in an Agile World. The truth of the matter is that although there is not a one-to-one relationship between Traditional Proejct Management roles and Agile Project Management roles, there are Agile Project Management roles available to individuals from traditional backgrounds who want to transition over to Agile. Which agile role you choose to pursue will depend on both your previous Traditional Project Management experience, as well as your career goals in the Agile World. Let’s review a few of these roles and how they fit into agile project management.


Scrum Master

Our first role is the Scrum Master, which is a role specific to Scrum. A traditional Project Manager or Team Leader is usually a good fit for the Scrum Master role because they possess the management and leadership skills that are necessary to succeed. The Scrum Master is responsible for enacting Scrum values and practices on the team and removing any roadblocks from the path of the team so that the team can complete their work unencumbered. The Scrum Master ensures that the team is fully functional and productive, and that each team member possesses all the necessary tools and training to properly complete their project tasks. They also shield the team from external interferences so that the team can spend their time either planning or performing the work on the project. The Scrum Master fosters close cooperation across roles and functions. This means that everyone is constantly focused on the primary priorities at the right time, and that everyone is working collaboratively toward achieving the same goals. The Scrum Master also acts as the ‘Coach’ on the Scrum team and is responsible for ensuring that the Product Owner and the Development Team are versed in Scrum best practices, and are continually implementing them throughout the project.

One of the most difficult aspects of transitioning from a traditional Project Manager role into a Scrum Master role is understanding the difference between the command and control type of project management used in Traditonal, as opposed to the servant leader type of project management used in Scrum. Command and control refers to getting people to do what needs to be done, and is based on an organizational hierarchy with superior and subservient roles. In a Traditional environment, team members ‘have to do’ do what you as the project manager tell them to do based on your position. Servant Leadership involves influencing team members to 'want to do’ what needs to be done by understanding the value of performing their tasks. It is also important to note that the Scrum Master is actually a peer of the other scrum team members, but that they are in a ‘perceived’ position of leadership. There are certain functions that the Scrum Master is responsible for ‘facilitating’ during a Scrum project, but they are not in a position superior to anyone else on the team.

Product Owner

Our second role is the Product Owner, which is used in Scrum as well as other Agile methods. Many individuals who come from a traditional Business Analyst or Product Manager role are a good fit for the Product Owner role. The Product Owner represents the business and act as the representative of the organization as a whole on the project, must report progress back to the organization’s key executives, and must escalate issues that the Scrum Team cannot resolve itself. The Product Owner is also the single voice of the customer and acts as the customer representative or 'proxy' at all Agile Strategic Meetings and Scrum Events. They are the direct link to the customer on any Agile project using the Scrum method for implementation.

The Product Owner is involved daily in the Sprint and the overall project to provide clarification on requirements and user stories, and helps the Scrum Master resolve roadblocks and issues when necessary. They set the Product Vision, Product Roadmap and Release Plan as part of the initial planning and kickoff of the project. The Product Owner also acts as the project requirements 'funnel'. They are the single point of contact on the project for any change in scope or requirements, regardless of where these changes originate. The Product Owner owns the Product Backlog and has complete control of creating it and updating it, which is referred to as ‘backlog grooming’ in Agile. They are responsible for the Project Budget and Product ROI, so they ask for the money, receive the money, and ensure that the money assigned to the project makes money for the organization.

Agile Project Manager

Our next role is the Agile Project Manager role and is often highly contested. This is because may agile purists will tell you that the Project Manager role does not exist in Agile. Well, it does and it doesn't, so let's delve further into the Agile Project Manager role to understand why. Some of the major principles of Agile and Scrum are that the team is self-organizing, self-directing and self-led. However, the Agile Project Manager role can be very important under two specific sets of circumstances, depending on the size of the project and the number of Agile or Scrum Teams working on the project. If you have a very complex project that requires mutliple Scrum Teams in order to successfully execute it, you must have someone that manages and coordinates the efforts of these teams. This role is similar to the Program Manager role in Traditional Project Management. Often with large projects involving multiple Scrum Teams you have what is called a 'Scrum of Scrums'. The Agile Project Manager meets periodically with the Product Owner and Scrum Master of each individual Scrum Team during the 'Scrum of Scrums' to get updates, remove impediments and ensure each team has what they need to be successful. This role is more 'coordination' than 'management' but is a critical role on large, complex agile projects.

The Agile Proejct Manager role is also very important when you are executing a project using a 'hybrid' approach with a combination of both Traditional and Agile principles, practices and processes. It is not uncommon on a hybrid project using Scrum as the implementation method to still retain certain traditional project management aspects. In these types of situations, the Agile Project Manager will not actually be considered a part of the Scrum Team but will meet with the Scrum Team on a regular basis. This is so they can update senior management with the progress of the project, and prepare tradtional reports and documentation required by senior management. This is often the case on projects that include governemnt contracts and compliance requirements. The Scrum Team will use their normal information radiators for reporting their progress, such as burndown charts and velocity. The Agile Project Manager will create executive summary dashboards, Earned Value Management updates, and possibly even monthly or quarterly PowerPoint presentations, depending on the reporting requirements of the organization.

Agile Coach

Our last role is that of the Agile Coach and can really be taken on by anyone from a Traditional Project Management background as long as they have experience and skill in motivating, mentoring, and maximizing the productivity of other project team members. An Agile Coach is responsible for providing feedback and advice to new Agile project teams after they have gone through initial training in Agile, and are embarking on their first agile pilot project. They serve in a mentoring or coaching role only, and are not actually considered part of the agile team. Qualities of an effective Agile Coach include the ability to provide guidance, without personal or political considerations, and to objectively serve the interest of both the team and the business simultaneously. Having experience successfully running agile projects of varying size and complexity are also prerequistes to being an effective Agile Coach in order to understand the different types of situations that may arise on an agile project, and how to best handle these situations. Another important role for an Agile Coach is to help the senior management of the organization 'scale' Agile best practices across other projects and across other departments within the organization. Agile Coaches also periodically check up on teams that are in the middle of executing their agile proejcts to ensure that they continue to follow agile best practices throughout the lifecycle of the project.

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