Does the Agile Revolution signal the end of Project Managers?

Written by Rob Cooper | Blog | Candidates | Clients | Business Change | Posted 29/04/2019 09:41:08

Rob Cooper, Sanderson Delivery Manager of Project & Programme Management, asks if Project Managers have a place in the new era of Agile.

Whilst Agile has been around in various forms for many years, over the last 12-24 months, we have seen a major shift within some of the UK’s largest Financial Services organisations as they start their journey towards Agile delivery.

Traditionally, Agile has been perceived to be best suited to smaller organisations and for delivering IT or Digital projects, however, that thinking appears to have moved on. With the likes of Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society and more making the move to delivering projects in Agile/Scrum, we are seeing some of the traditional project-based job roles evolve.

So where does the Project Manager role fit into an Agile Delivery Team? Who’s going to be the Scrum Master? Who’s best placed to be the Product Owner? And what about the Release Train Engineer??? Do these roles already exist (but in a different job title), or are they new roles needing a completely different set of skills?

The answer…? It depends!

With Scrum being a team-level framework, the theory indicates there’s no need for a PM. However I’m not always seeing that in practice with many clients still using (and recruiting for) PMs on Scrum / Agile projects, although often on Scaled Agile (i.e. larger) programmes.

Every organisation seems to have a slightly different take on what these roles mean, what they’re called and who’s best to perform them...

A Mindset?

I’m often told “Agile is a Mindset” but what does that mean in practice? Is it just welcoming and encouraging change and self-organisation? Is it looking at “failure as an opportunity” or is it wider reaching than that?

And how does “a Mindset” combine with the various “tools” used? (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, Lean, XP, DSDM etc)

If a Scrum Master needs to “think differently” to a PM, does that rule out a large proportion of PMs from ever becoming Scrum Masters, even if they have excellent knowledge of the “tools” mentioned above? Or can they be taught to “think differently”?

Should all projects be run in Agile?

Whilst the accepted theory is “deliver smaller, and more often”, it’s interesting to see that every company appears to have a different opinion on which projects can / should be run in Agile.

Recently, some of our clients have begun to run every project within an Agile Framework. Because of this, they’re busy re-training all their project-related talent in Agile related qualifications – Scrum Masters, Product Owners, SAFe etc. – because they no longer recognise the PM role within their organisation.

Whereas another of our clients is currently making the choice between Waterfall and Agile once the project has been initiated – after initiation, a small team will then discuss the elements of the project, the deliverables / products required, and crucially which colleagues will be working on the project, and if those colleagues are set-up to work “in an Agile manner”?

Once they’ve made the choice between Agile + Waterfall, this then determines whether they deploy a Scrum Master (if Agile) or a Project Manager (if Waterfall). This, at least to me, seems a sensible approach, rather than just forcing all projects to be run in Agile way, regardless of whether that best sets it up for success.

Another client uses the “The Cynefin Model” to help determine the suitability for Agile, which looks to categorise environments as “Simple, Complicated, Complex or Chaotic.” If the environments are “Complex” – i.e. where there is uncertainty, unpredictability or it’s being done for the first time – then this client has found great success with agile ways of working, stating it’s “great for innovation”

What’s the Future for Project Managers?

In my opinion, the move to Agile doesn’t spell the end of the Project Manager role. However, I can see that it could potentially greatly reduce the need for pure Project Managers as Scrum Master roles become more prevalent. I’m confident many clients will never be able to implement the purest form of Agile, meaning there’s still a place for Project Managers, albeit “Agile” Project Managers or “Delivery Leads” or “Navigators” as some organisations are calling them!

What makes a good Scrum Master?

Many companies are seeing their Project Management population retrain as Scrum Masters. I believe there’s definitely merit in that; many good PMs also make great Scrum Masters. However, I’m repeatedly told that this isn’t always the case and some would make “terrible” Scrum Masters as it’s a distinctly differing skillset.

As discussed earlier, one of the key things to remember is that for a PM to be a good Scrum Masterthey need to think very differently, away from a “command + control” structure to a more “servant leadership” role.

So if a Scrum Master is “a coaching role” and being a “Servant Leader”, which PMs are best suited?

My belief is that an individual’s behaviours and personality will determine what roles they’re best suited for in some of the new Agile teams, but that’s not easy to define on a CV. That’s where recruiters are really going to need to know their candidates to ensure they’re providing suitable people. It is also where the trust between hiring manager and recruiter becomes critical.

What are your thoughts?

Can a PM easily retrain to become a Scrum Master?

Are Project Managers and Scrum Masters completely different roles and skillsets?

If you’re a hiring manager, would you trust a recruiter’s opinion re which candidate is most suited?

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