“Distributed Project Management” is a new approach to project management. Here’s a brief overview of what it is all about.
What is Distributed Project Management?
“Distributed Project Management” is very important to help people see the relationship of “project management” and Agile in a very fresh new perspective. It has the potential to redefine many of the heavily-ingrained notions that we have about what “project management” is.
There are a number of people in the Agile community that believe that “project management” is not consistent with Agile.
- Some people have said that “project management is antithetical to Agile”.
- That opinion is based on a very narrow and stereotypical view of what “project management is that has been well-ingrained into our minds for years.
- In that view, all project management functions are typically done by a single person called a “Project Manager”.
I think it is time to take a broader and more modern view of what “project management” is.
How Is Project Management Implemented in an Agile Team?
There is actually a lot of “project management” going on in an Agile environment, but many people won’t recognize it as “project management” because:
- It’s a different kind of project management, and
- The project management functions have been distributed among multiple people on the team
1. It’s a Different Kind of “Project Management”
We need to broaden our thinking about what project management” is
- The traditional view is based heavily on planning and control to achieve predictability over project costs and schedules.
- A more modern and broader view of “project management” is based on delivering business value.
- That doesn’t mean that meeting cost and schedule goals is unimportant.
- Achieving cost and schedule goals is only one component of business value and not necessarily the most important component.
- Creativity and innovation to maximize the value of the solution can be at least equally important
2. The Project Management Functions Have Been Distributed Among the Team
The functions that would normally be performed by someone called a “Project Manager” at the team level have been distributed among other members of the team. As a result, you typically may not find anyone at the team level in an Agile project called a “Project Manager”.
In an Agile team, everyone on an Agile team has some kind of responsibility that might normally be performed by someone called a “Project Manager”:
Product Owner Role
The Product Owner comes closest to the overall responsibilities of a project manager:
- He/she has overall responsibility for the success or failure of the project.
- However, the Product Owner role actually goes beyond a project management role
- It is more like a product manager role with overall business responsibility for the project
Developers have responsibility for:
- Planning and managing their own work,
- Reporting on progress, and
- Integrating their work with others on the team
Scrum Master Role
The Scrum Master is responsible for:
- Facilitating the work of the team,
- Coaching the team in Agile practices and
- Removing any obstacles that might be impeding the team’s progress
A project manager in a traditional plan-driven environment would normally perform those functions. A “Distributed Project Management” approach distributes these functions among multiple people.
Why Does This Make Sense?
In the environment we live in today:
- Solutions can be much more complex and the level of uncertainty can be much higher. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to completely define a solution prior to the start of a project.
- That environment requires a much more flexible and adaptive approach.
- In that environment, it is essential to further elaborate the requirements and the design of the solution as the project is in progress.
- That calls for a very different approach to project management.
Distributing the project management functions among the different Agile team roles provides a much more dynamic approach.
- Instead of centralized control where all decisions are made by a project manager;
- Decision-making is more decentralized among the various roles on an Agile team
- The team, as a whole, is self-organizing and empowered
- That approach is very well-suited for an environment with a high level of uncertainty
What’s the Impact on Traditional Project Managers?
This approach may be threatening to many traditional project managers because, in many cases,
- It could eliminate the role of a project manager at the team level in an Agile project, and
- It also could require a significant adaptation for many project managers who are used to being in control of a project.
At the team level, if a project manager is involved in an Agile project at all, he/she may play more of a coaching and mentoring role rather than a management and control role. There is a much more significant role for project managers for:
- Larger and more complex projects that require multiple teams and
- Projects that require a hybrid approach such as Agile contracts.
For the project management profession to continue to thrive, we need to recognize this fundamental shift in thinking and develop a broader vision of what “project management” is.
You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.