The Agile methodology is ideal for projects where
requirements are uncertain, or may change during the life of the project.
Businesses need to adapt quickly to changes in the market and start-ups are
ideally placed to do this.
There are 3 defined roles in an Agile project: Scrum Master,
Product Owner and the Team. So what happened to the Project Manager?
Agile empowers the team; everyone has the opportunity to
perform well. One might think that with an empowered team, an experienced scrum
master and a product owner with skin in the game, there would be no need for
the project manager role. Absolutely untrue.
Here we take a brief look at how and why Agile works; we
consider the “traditional” project manager workload and why it is still very
relevant in Agile.
Agile was born in response to a failure in software development. In the 1990s, the widespread use of methodologies such as SSADM meant that software systems took years to build. By the time they were production-ready, the business need had changed or disappeared. Many projects were cancelled or failed to deliver what the client needed.
By replacing sequential and specification-heavy processes, Agile promised:
“Working software over comprehensive documentation.”
Sprint and Scrum
The sprint is the cornerstone of an Agile project. A sprint
normally lasts between 2 and 4 weeks and delivers a working, tested piece of the
final deliverable. The project is delivered as a series of sprints, each
contributing to the whole.
Sprints allow the team to iterate to a solution; complex and
uncertain pieces can be evolved and verified with the client. Clients can
change their requirements, to an extent, without breaking the project. Quality
is inherent as only completed work gets through. Incomplete or faulty work is
put into the “backlog” for a future sprint.
Scrum is the tool for close management of the sprint. The
team meets daily under the direction of the “Scrum Master” to feed back on
progress and issues. Tasks move across the “Scrum Board” and are reassigned
within the team until they are completed.
To deliver its benefits, Agile requires a level of training for everyone involved. The Scrum Master, in particular, needs training in Agile practices (https://www.prince2training.co.uk/courses/scrum-training/scrum-master-certification/) to keep the project moving. The team, as they are being asked to be more proactive, need to understand the Agile concepts.
Finally, the project manager must tread a fine line between
allowing the team the authority to make their own decisions whilst keeping the
project on track. Agile project management training with a
recognised body, is essential if you want to get the most out of this
methodology from your staff.
It’s also valuable for the project manager to achieve a recognized certification. The client may feel some uncertainty with Agile. The consequences of a team given some autonomy may make them feel uneasy. Certification will reassure them that the project manager is in on top of things.
Agile Project Manager role
Despite the role of Scrum Master and increased
responsibility in the team, there is still a role for the project manager.
Firstly, on a small project or in a startup business, the
project manager may take on the Scrum Master role. This makes sense, as the
roles are complementary; in fact, they are the only roles that can be combined.
There is (rightly) a tension between the Product Owner and Project Manager so
the two may not be combined.
A necessary strength in project management is fighting for
resources. This is especially critical in Agile as the team needs to bond and
perform well as a unit. Having team members pulled away to other work will
seriously harm the project and the morale of the team.
The project manager also needs to balance resources. While
the team members can, to an extent, work across roles, this will harm the
project in the long term. The project manager must ensure that the team has the
right balance of skills and no one is overloaded.
Issues and risks
Day to day issues can be handled within the scrum meeting. The project manager must take ownership of wider issues, such as those that require resolution with the client. There is also a need for robust risk management, including assessment, mitigation and monitoring of risks.
The project manager is the communication link to the
stakeholders, shielding the team from interference while facilitating
clarification of business needs. In Agile, the stakeholders play a vital part
in giving feedback on evolving functionality; changes to functionality are
likely. The project manager must manage the Change Request process to capture
and agree changes and assess their impact.
Agile can bring tangible benefits to projects. The team is
able to adapt to changes in the market and to evolve functionality to meet
client requirements. This improves morale and gives everyone the opportunity to
The project manager role is as critical for Agile as any
other methodology, motivating the team, involving stakeholders and managing