Friday, April 24, 2009

Scrum does not kill the need for a PM...

Jack Milunsky posted on the Agile Software Development blog a great 2nd part article about change caused by agile. I agreed with many of his ideas and points, but one of his statement rubbed me the wrong way. Here is his statement and my response:
You said, "Scrum essentially does away with the traditional Project Management role."

Why do I keep reading this everywhere? Why is this becoming a standard statement? Is it really true?

I not sure it is always true, I think it is dependent on the environment.

My first experience with Agile was at Siemens Medical. On our "project" (product release effort) we ended up having ~5 scrum teams across India and Philadelphia. Each had a scrum master who spent a lot of time focusing the team on the agile transition and the process. We still NEEDED a PM to help coach and guide the teams, scrum masters, and product owners. In this case, the PM and PO (two separate people) were very helpful in guiding the 5 teams to draw their slices of their sprint backlog from a single unifying product backlog. I do not know how we would have done this without a PM and PO. Note: our PO was a person from the clinical domain, I would not have expected him to also fill that role. The scrum master role was focused on helping the team transition and function daily, the PM role focused on interfacing with the company and handling reporting, staffing, metrics, and buffering us from the company (we had 2500 people on our campus alone). The PM (with the PO) was the single voice of the 5 teams to the company, the scrum masters could not have done this.

So the question is... is this an issue of Agile at scale, or was my experience unique due to the domain? Either way, I argue it is not a foregone conclusion that scrum does away with the PM role.
Sorry Jack, I wasn't picking on you specifically... you were just the third or fourth person who said that this week.


  1. Sounds to me that in your sample that what you are calling a PM sounded more like a coach or traditional manager or portfolio manager and less like a project manager.

    I suspect that in most cases (maybe not all) that the project manager role disappears. It is consumed by the Scrum Master and Product Owner role.

    I think that is why you keep hearing it over and over again. :)

  2. Well, I'm not so sure. When looking at my PMI training, there were many aspects of project management that were driven by him instead of me (as the scrum master).

    For example, risk management, budgeting, resource management and allocation. These were done by him and couldn't have been done by the scrum masters. I would debate that these are part of the PM role. If our entire team was under one SM and PO, then I would agree with you, but my point is that we had a PO over 5 teams and 5 SM's. This is where the separate PM came into play.

    On your other points... He wasn't a coach. The scrum masters were the coaches. He also wasn't the portfolio manager, the product owner was.

    Good points, good debate. I'm not sure there is a black/white answer. I'm kind of insinuating that it might be an issue of scaling, company structure, culture, etc. I don't believe there is any "right" way with agile as long as you uphold the principles and philosophies.

  3. No offense taken Kevin :-)

    I think, by definition, the Project Manager role as it was in traditional waterfall goes away. However, Scrum is a learning framework and if a team decides that they have a need for a project manager (whatever that role implies) then that should be ok.

    Agreed, great debate.


  4. Mmm, I'd go much further than that Kevin. For me the PM is a vital in almost every project and has everything to do with the need to successfully execute the project, not whether that project is Agile or has a Scrum Master. I had a go at blogging about it:

  5. Paul-

    Read the linked, post... great work! I agree. I've been a scrum master and a PM (now I'm a process/project coach) and you are hitting the nail on the head!