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Is There a Project Manager in Scrum?

One of my students asked me an interesting question about “Is there a Project Manager in Scrum?” If you read the official Scrum guide, the answer is very obvious; however, if you look at how Scrum is used in the real-world, the answer to that question is not as obvious as you might think.

Is there a Project Manager in Scrum?

Is There a Project Manager in Scrum?

Here’s the complete question he asked:

“In the SCRUM Guide, it is clearly stated that there is no Project Manager role in the SCRUM Team. Since SCRUM is probably the most popular AGILE method used in the Projects Development Arena, how do you create context and consistency  to the Project Manager role in your Agile Project Management courses?  Is this kind of controversial point in your perspective ?”

How Is Scrum Being Used?

It is certainly correct that there is no defined role for a “Project Manager” in the Scrum framework itself; however, that answer might be misleading. That doesn’t mean that there is no need for some kind of project management in a Scrum project. Scrum is only a framework and how it is being used can have a big impact on the answer to that question.

Project Size and Complexity

Scrum is a very basic, team-level development process.   Out of the box, Scrum is well-suited for small, single-team Agile projects, but it can require significant extensions to scale it for large, complex, enterprise-level projects that may require multiple teams. As you try to scale and extend Scrum, there is typically more of a need for some kind of additional management.

Projects versus Products

Even at the level of small, simple, single-team projects, Scrum is intended to be adapted to fit the nature of the project, and there can be a big difference between using Scrum for product development work and using Scrum for projects that would not be considered “product development”.

  • Agile and Scrum are very well-suited for product development work. In many cases, a product development effort is an ongoing effort that may not have a well-defined end-point and it may have a somewhat loosely-defined budget and schedule to develop the product and enhance it over a period of time.
  • On the other hand, projects typically have some kind of more clearly-defined expectations about what the end-result of the project will be and what the cost and schedule associated with that effort will be. Very few people get a ‘blank check” to do a project without some expectations about the end-results of the project and the estimated cost and schedule to produce those results.

Using Agile and Scrum for project work is a different environment than using it for product development because it requires more management of customer expectations. Although Scrum does not explicitly say anything about how that is done, that doesn’t mean that there is no requirement to manage customer expectations.

A more extreme case is the need for hybrid Agile projects. Many people seem to think that there’s a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between Agile and a plan-driven approach (what some people loosely call “Waterfall”) and they don’t see the possibility that there might be a need to blend those two approaches in the right proportions to fit the nature of the project. There are lots of situations that require a hybrid approach (Agile contracts is an obvious example) and its best to fit the methodology to the nature of the project rather than force-fitting all projects to one of those extremes.

It is very possible to blend an Agile/Scrum development approach with a higher level project management framework to create a hybrid Agile approach and that typically requires some additional level of project management.

What Is “Agile Project Management”?

Another thing to consider is that even though you may not find anyone in a Scrum project called a “Project Manager”, there is actually a lot of project management going on in an Agile project:

  • It’s a different kind of project management with an emphasis on maximizing the value that the project produces in an uncertain environment rather than a more narrow emphasis on managing project costs and schedules for well-defined requirements, and
  • Many of the project management functions that might normally be performed by a “Project Manager” have been distributed among the roles on the Agile team.  

I call that “Distributed Project Management”.   Here’s an article on that:

https://managedagile.com/what-is-distributed-project-management/

“Agile Project Management”, as I define it, is not necessarily a position held by someone called an “Agile Project Manager”.   It’s a way of thinking that:

  • Recognizes that Agile and plan-driven project management methodologies (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”) are complementary rather than competitive, and
  • Can involve blending Agile principles and practices with classical, plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation.

How that is implemented in terms of roles will depend on the situation.

Is This a Controversial Point?

The final part of the question that was asked was “Is this kind of controversial point in your perspective ?” The answer to that is that there are many stereotypes in this area that still impact people’s perceptions of this question. For example:

  • From a project management perspective, some people (including many project managers) think that there is only one way to do “project management” and that is a classical plan-driven approach. There is also a widely-held notion that “project management” is something that is always done by a “Project Manager”
  • From an Agile perspective, some people think that it is totally inappropriate to apply some kind of overall management to an Agile project

When I published my first book in this area in 2010, there was a big chasm between the project management community and the Agile community. At that time:

  • From a project management perspective, classical plan-driven project management was seen as the only way to do project management and PMI did even not recognize Agile as a legitimate form of project management. It was not until the PMI-ACP certification was created in 2013 that Agile was recognized as a legitimate form of project management. However, afer that and up until very recently, PMI has treated Agile and classical plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little-or-no integration between the two.
  • From an Agile perspective, Scrum was heavily used for small, single-team projects that did not require much additional management. Since that time, there have been significant new developments to extend and scale Scrum for larger and more complex enterprise-level projects requiring multiple teams

That chasm has closed considerably since 2010; but it still persists, to some extent, today.

Overall Summary

Scrum is an excellent framework; however,

  • Scrum is not a solution to any problem that you might have and you have to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem
  • Scrum is not intended to be done mechanically and religiously “by the book”; it is intended to be a flexible and adaptive framework and you have to use good common sense in applying it to projects

In answering the question, “Is there a Project Manager in Scrum?”, you have to think of Scrum in a broader context:

  • You have to realize that Scrum is only a team-level development framework and frequently needs to be extended for large, complex projects requiring multiple teams, and
  • Just because you don’t see a role for a “Project Manager” in Scrum does not mean that there is no need for some kind of project management

Seeing this question in this broader perspective, requires a different mindset and getting past a number of stereotypes that exist about both Agile and classical plan-driven project management.

4 thoughts on “Is There a Project Manager in Scrum?”

  1. Hi Chuck,

    How does this mesh with the Agile Project Framework/DSDM? It seems to me that your perspective would align pretty well with that paradigm.

    Tom

    1. I don’t know a lot about DSDM because it has no significant usage in the US; however, I do have some observations about similar frameworks.

      Here in the US, both the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and the Disciplined Agile tool kit have moved away from well-defined frameworks towards a more general, principles-based approach.

      The idea is that “cookbook” frameworks that give you a well-defined approach for what to do and how to do it don’t work well. There is a recognition that it takes a higher level of skill to move away from a well-defined “cookbook-style” approach to using a deeper understanding of principles to figure out how to apply an approach to a given project.

  2. Chuck,
    You make a lot of good points but I have never seen anyone point out what is to me the major point — Project Methodology is a TOOL that is supposed to help get to an end — the product the project produces. Sometimes the tool gets in the way of getting the end product produced because the tool is treated like the purpose of the project.
    The artifacts produced during a project can be very important and useful but the project is only successful if it produces a product that performs as needed and, hopefully, is produced on-time and on-budget. Regardless of the tools that help get there.

    1. I think anyone would certainly agree that project methodology is only a tool but the more important point is that you have to fit the project methodology to the nature of the project and a classical plan-driven project management approach is not the only way to do project management.

      Your comments seem to be primarily based on a classical project management approach and it’s really a much broader issue than that.

      An Agile environment is very different. In an Agile environment, instead of producing a well-defined product on-time and on-budget, the emphasis is on maximizing the value that the project produces in an uncertain environment.

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