The Evolution of Agile Project Management

There is a lot of confusion about the evolution of Agile Project Management – the Project Management profession is evolving and maturing:

  • From a role that is practiced exclusively by someone with the title of “Project Manager”
  • To a broad-based discipline that is much more fully integrated into the way companies do business


  • From simply using a plan-driven project management approach for managing projects against well-defined requirements to meet cost and schedule goals
  • To a much broader focus on blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management in whatever proportions are needed to drive business results in an uncertain environment

We’re still in the very early stages of that transformation, it will likely take a long time to fully evolve, and its causing some confusion and turmoil because its not totally clear how it will evolve.  However, I have seen a similar transformation happen in the quality management profession years ago and we can probably learn a lot from that.

At one time, “quality management” was something that was practiced exclusively by someone with the title of “Quality Manager” who owned responsibility for managing the quality of products and services in their company or their area of responsibility.  I was in such a role at one time – I was a Quality Manager at Motorola in the early 1990’s.  Motorola was a very large and successful company in those days, there were multiple layers of management, and the quality management chain-of-command was parallel to the normal business and operational management structure.

We were frequently getting directives from higher in the quality management chain-of-command to “go over and make the business and operational managers improve their quality in some way”.  That was a thankless role because the Quality Manager had to lead through influence and had no direct control over the people and processes he/she was trying to influence just as a project manager today may have to lead through influence.  That is very similar to the role of many typical project managers who are part of a PMO organization that doesn’t necessarily have direct control of the resources assigned to projects.

My manager at that time was very astute and enlightened and one thing I remember him saying was that “Our role is to teach, coach, and audit”, in that order.  What that means is that to be an effective Quality Manager, you can’t be an “enforcer” and you can’t be the only one who is responsible for “quality” in the organization.  A more effective approach is to engage others in the effort to improve the quality of the company’s products and services.  By teaching and coaching others to integrate quality management into the way they do their work, you can develop a much more broad-based level of commitment to quality management which was much more effective than a typical quality management “enforcement” approach controlled by someone called a “Quality Manager”.

A similar thing is happening in the project management profession today.  If you look at the way “project management” is implemented in an Agile project at the team level, you may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” but there is actually a lot of “project management” going on.  It’s a different kind of project management and the project management functions are distributed among other roles in the Agile team.  That’s probably a much more effective approach to project management – instead of only one person with the title of “Project Manager” being responsible for everything related to “project management”, there is a much more broad-based commitment to project management.

How does that impact project managers and the project management profession?  It is having a major impact and it’s causing a lot of confusion and turmoil at the moment.  There is likely to be a shift in the way “project management” is implemented just as there was a shift in the way “quality management” was implemented years ago.

  • The role of a PMO will likely change from an organization with an emphasis on control of all projects with a lot of restrictions and rules on how projects are managed to more of a consultative and supporting role to help others manage projects more effectively using a more adaptive approach to fit the nature of the project.
  • The role of a dedicated “project manager” will likely also be impacted.   Companies recognize the importance of “project management” and don’t want to give up that discipline but having a dedicated role called a “Project Manager” may not be the best way to preserve that focus.   As a result, some companies are trying to find people with project management skills who can also play other roles such as a Scrum Master or a Product Owner.

This is an evolving transformation, we are in the early stages, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers of exactly how it will evolve but there is no question that there is a transformation going on that we can’t ignore.  The curriculum that I’ve developed in the Agile Project Management Academy is designed to help project managers transform themselves into a high impact Agile Project Management role to align with this overall transformation in the project management profession.


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