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The Role Of a Project Manager in an Agile Environment

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12th Jul, 2022
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09th Apr, 2018
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The Role Of a Project Manager in an Agile Environment

Let us first understand the Project Manager’s role in a traditional/waterfall environment. The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide - 4th Edition states that a Project Manager is known to be responsible for the successful implementation of a project through the five stages/processes of a project lifecycle: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and controlling, and closing the project – see figure 1. Included in these phases are identifying requirements, management of stakeholders, and balancing the competing project constraints arising during the project. The project constraints include the:

  • Scope,
  • Quality,
  • Schedule,
  • Budget,
  • Resources, and
  • Risk


An effective Project Manager is required to be knowledgeable about Project Management, apply this project management knowledge in order to drive their performance and that of their team, and have a positive personal attitude as it will be spread out to the project team. These are key characteristics of an effective Project Manager.

Know more about project description and conflict management.


PRINCE2 (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment version 2) is another waterfall methodology and states that the project management project lifecycle and processes are: starting a project, initiating a project, directing a project, managing a stage boundary, controlling a stage, managing product delivery and closing a project – see figure 2. A Project Manager is responsible for ensuring that the team performs and delivers the product accordingly as initially defined by Management ( the Project Board). The Project Manager also ensures that there are clear requirements communication between the project board and the project team to ensure quality delivery.

Get to know more about agile vs traditional project management.

The Agile methodology seems to be emerging very fast with most organizations requiring to do away with waterfall and utilize Agile rather. For some organizations, Agile has proven to work well in the sense that implementation happens timeously in small chunks of releases instead of a big-bang implementation that has a high probability of failure if other detailed risks and issues are missed. The stages of the Agile product development life cycle include: requirements gathering, planning, design, development, release, and track, and monitoring. Agile aims at releasing small chunks of the full product in sprints (popularly defined in a two-week period) rather than a big bang full release. The cycle is iterated until the full product is developed and released. 

check out the blog post for more information on the 5 whys root cause analysis process and how Agile teams can use it.

I have worked in a full waterfall environment, as well as a waterfall but being so-called Agile, and I am currently working in a seemingly fully Agile environment. There are different roles in this fully Agile environment which include: Project Manager, Product Manager, Product Owner, Scrum Master, and others. These roles are a combination of waterfall and Agile roles although we call ourselves fully Agile. We – as a team call our environment fully Agile, absorbing this information from our organization’s Senior Management, who manage the appointment of these roles. 

A Project Manager works very closely with top management for strategic decision-making. A Project Manager still maintains the role of being the sole responsible person for the successful implementation of the quality-defined product, and also supports the team throughout the iterations and shields them from distractions. Although there are different frameworks in Agile, the roles within Agile do not differ much, for example, the role of a Scrum Master. A Scrum Master works very closely with the Project Manager to close the communication gap between the project team and top management. A Project Manager manages project/product risks while the Scrum Master manages the team’s performance and impediments. In waterfall, a Project manager works very closely with the delivery team while in Agile, the Project Manager works with the team indirectly – managing team communication through the Scrum Master.

Although the Project Manager is responsible for the successful release of a quality product, the Scrum Master is the one that manages the delivery of this quality product while working with the delivery team, since the Project Manager does not communicate directly with the delivery team. The Project Manager manages time delivery more than quality. The Scrum Master manages the quality delivery of the product. The Scrum Master also manages impediments as well as the development/delivery team while the Project Manager manages risks and addresses them with strategic management. 

Then the question arises, do we still need Project Managers in Agile? Although there is no Project Manager role in any Agile methodology, in real work-life environments, we still have Project Managers. To differentiate the two roles, both are responsible for the delivery of a quality product. However, a Project Manager works strategically with the management team (project sponsor, project owner/requestor, etc.) to define the product’s epics, while the Scrum Master receives management-defined epics from the Project Manager and works with the delivery/development team to break-down the epics into features, stories, and tasks. A Scrum Master also manages impediments at the development team level and resolves what is possible in his capability. Impediments that are rated high are now channeled to a Project Manager to be managed strategically by the management team.


 
Although organizations that are going Agile see a need to diminish Project Managers’ roles in their organization, it will be challenging as there is also still a need to understand roles like Product Manager – which is a strategic role as well and might at times overlap with the Project Manager role, if they work together in a team to deliver the same product. Are Project Managers still required in Agile? According to my opinion and how things are working out in my organization, my answer is actually yes! Project Managers are still required and must work closely with the Product Managers and Scrum Masters. Although there can be confusing which can cause a conflict of responsibilities between a Project Manager and Scrum Master at times. Figure 3 illustrates the clarity of the Project Manager and Scrum Master roles.

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Mkateko Shibambu

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Mkateko Shibambu is an experienced Business Analyst and writer who has  diverse experience in Telecommunications, Banking, Healthcare, Insurance and Investment industries.