Over the past several years, there has been much debate and confusion over the role of a project manager as the majority of organizations undergo some degree of Agile transformation. In fact, industry data suggests that approximately 53% of organizations are blending Agile methods with Waterfall.
I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read, and LinkedIn postings I’ve seen, on these subjects. The best material recognizes that a project manager is NOT a Scrum Master and vice versa. And although the description of the Scrum Master role is usually pretty clear in these discussions, nobody has done a really good job of explaining how the two roles (Scrum Master and Project Manager) co-exist or how this role confusion started in the first place.
To be honest, I really never understood the debate until recently as my organization decided to embrace an enterprise agile transformation (which I’ve been blogging about at http://www.actuationconsulting.com/blog/).
I started executing projects back in 2001 using XP (Extreme Programming) and I never had any issues with team members regarding role confusion during project execution. Agile wasn’t evil – Agile worked. Well, fast forward to 2012 and the debate continues to rage on. I finally got sick of watching the continuous debate and decided to take action. I took the classes, passed the test, and became a Certified Scrum Master. And after that investment of time and money, I can honestly say with certainty, I’m not a scrum master – I AM a project manager!
Fundamentally, I think the root cause of the debate is not based on scrum master versus project manager responsibilities but based on our fundamental definition of a project. In the Agile world of minimum marketable features (MMF’s), product backlogs, and continuous integration, the lines of the traditional project have now been blurred.
Let me get some quick definitions on the table to help structure our conversation:
The Scrum Master – The Scrum Master focuses on the development process and mentors the Scrum team. The key responsibilities of the scrum master are:
- Maintaining and removing impediments
- Managing the Scrum process, making the process work
- Planning the release
- Planning the Sprints
- Shielding the team from external interfaces
- Facilitating Scrum meetings as requested
- Ensuring crystal clear communication among everyone involved in the project
A Scrum Master is usually the team leader. A Scrum Master should ideally have a good balance of the following skills:
- Technical expertise
- Understands the Product Owner’s intent
- A good team player and mentor
- Understands the teams capabilities
- A good motivator
- Problem solver
Now let’s take a closer look at the program and project management roles and responsibilities by defining a project and a program…
Project: A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. At most organizations, the boundaries of our “temporary endeavors” are defined through our business cases.
Program: A series of related projects designed to achieve a specific outcome(s).
To state it concisely, the role of the project manager is to manage all (ideation to post-launch support) aspects of the project to achieve the expected outcomes identified within the established business case (investment) – not just the Scrum team. The size, scope, and complexity of the business case will determine the size of the project. Achieving outcomes called out in the investment may take a series of related projects – called a program. At which point, the program manager is now accountable for managing all aspects of the program, with project managers and other accountable resources managing their smaller project portions.
Right now, there are three, possibly four basic categories of “temporary”:
- Product line execution – Temporary relative to a 1 year planning cycle. Basically covering minor incremental enhancements to an already existing product line.
- Big custom projects / new product development
- Within the product line – Specific temporary initiative/projects. For example, a SQL server upgrade.
- Cross organization initiatives – Examples that come to mind are rebranding, ICD-10 (healthcare), data center migrations, etc.
These projects / temporary endeavors at most organizations typically look like this:
If this is a project, then the project manager needs to be the one accountable person responsible for managing all of this work (or for understanding and managing HOW we’re going to get the answers to the questions above in each circle) – They are not responsible for answering the questions!
To put it simply – the project manager is responsible for managing all the boxes together to achieve the desired outcome. They may or may not be responsible for managing the individual boxes. Individual box responsibility is typically done by the subject matter experts.
As you can see, Agile development and the Scrum team are only one box!
Specifically, the project manager is responsible for:
- Understanding the intended outcomes of the project and ensuring the outcomes are realistic and measurable. They need to understand the outcomes expected from the business case!
- Collaborating with the team to define the scope of work (e.g. under each colored box above, what’s in it, what is the expected outcome), who is responsible for delivering it, and when will it be delivered. Specifically:
- Understanding the point person from each functional team(s) associated to the work (each colored box) and how they have been allocated for managing their work. If allocation bandwidth issues exist, this person would be responsible for facilitation and ultimate resolution of the resourcing issue.
- The job of the project manager is to remove ambiguity in roles and responsibilities by clearly mapping out activities against expected outcomes relative to time. Identifying the interdependencies between deliverables and functional teams up front will better determine what teams should be more integrated and when, relative to the overall product development process.
- Deliverables required to complete all the project work
- Cross-functional resource assignments
- Estimates to complete the work and dependencies between work items
Important note: if the scope of work is large enough, another project manager/person may be assigned to specific items (smaller box). The relationship would be a dotted line from this other person to the project manager.
Said another way, if each one of the smaller boxes above is large enough in scope to be considered its own project, then the program would consist of several related smaller projects rolled up underneath the program.
- E.g. Hardware or software procurement, installation, and configuration – Application Operation Project Manager
- E.g. Agile product development – Product owner/scrum master
- Understanding the process and tools required to manage the scope of work relative to the outcomes identified in the business case. Understanding the metrics and the process for achieving those metrics/goals.
- If an identified metric is that the project be completed within a certain capital budget, then the project manager is responsible for understanding the tools and processes required to forecast and track the work. They are NOT responsible for creating or establishing those processes – unless of course that creation has been identified as another project!
- Project managers are responsible for the overall communication regarding the project (not just the development portion of the product). They’re the primary single authoritative source of information to ensure a shared understanding of all parameters:
- Cost management
- Assumptions / constraints
- Risks / issues
- Special considerations / exceptions
- Development methodology considerations
- Team members and associated roles and responsibilities
- Policies and procedures
So, if you agree with all of the above, is there really a debate between the two roles?
 The Study of Product Team Performance, 2012, Actuation Consulting LLC and Enterprise Agility Inc.
|This is the second in a series of three guest posts on this topic from Steven Starke, author of S.T.O.P The Project Management Survival Plan and partner at Actuation Consulting. Steven Starke is the author of S.T.O.P. – The Project Management Survival Plan. He is currently the VP of Program Management for Truven Health Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters Health) and working with Actuation Consulting on training material focused on product team collaboration. Steve has held leadership positions in Program Management, Product Management, Systems Engineering, Product R&D, and Global IT and has run full-fledged PMOs. His industry experience ranges from consumer products and medical devices to global IT Infrastructure, healthcare analytics, and software development. Steven can be reached at Steve@actuationconsulting.com and networked with via his LinkedIn profile. Read more about Steven.|