Project managers and Agile: Five ways to make it work

Section offigure writing at desk with the word 'Agility' and related icons in the foreground

It may seem at odds with purist Agile thinking, but project managers are increasingly finding themselves allocated Agile projects.

This trend is partly because Agile projects have become the norm rather than the exception in a number of disciplines, such as IT, where digitalization is accelerating the pace of change. But it’s also because some organizations haven’t fully transitioned to different ways of initiating, funding and governing change; either because they are not yet fully prepared or simply don’t want to.

Many of these companies are, in fact, looking for project managers who they know and trust to provide a vital transitional layer between an Agile team and the non-Agile organization. But this naturally adds a new dimension to the traditional Agile team dynamic.

In fact, the issue is not so much about defining the scope of individual roles – after all, there is nothing in either PRINCE2® or PMP® that would preclude a project manager operating in a very Agile way – but rather the governing paradigm: plan-driven versus adaptive. So, until all organizations move away from an “eat it at once” approach, project managers are likely to straddle two worlds.

With this in mind, while every project is different and brings its own unique set of challenges, there are a number of general guiding principles for “Agile project managers” to bear in mind.

Making it work

  1. Learn about Agile: invest time in understanding all aspects of Agile methods and practices. After all, knowledge is power. So, explore the theoretical basis behind it, as well as the core planning and progress reporting processes, and know how to implement them. You need to be able to explain these key principles to the wider organization which is not yet up-to-speed.  
  2. Hone your skills: the core skills that you already possess as a project manager will stand you in good stead and are undoubtedly transferable. However, you also need to broaden your understanding and adopt a more Agile outlook. This means taking on board the benefits of “servant leadership”; adapting your behaviours to meet the team’s needs, encouraging self-organization and offering support where it is needed to ensure a positive outcome. 
  3. Let go of what no longer serves you: it may seem counterintuitive, but you will need to relinquish certain practices which are embedded in project management methodologies. Task allocation and micromanagement have no place within an Agile, iterative development process where ideas are given time to evolve and improve. 
  4. Complement the skills of your colleagues: project managers are brought onto Agile projects because the organization wants “a wrapper around the jar”. In other words, you have skills that are valued by the company and not covered by most Agile methods. Procurement and contract management, for example, are not part of a Scrum Master’s skillset – nor are they expected to be. 
  5. Be open minded: you may find a better way of doing things and this can only be of benefit to the potential success of a project.

In this blog post, Carl has been sharing key points from his recent presentation, How To Make Sense Of Your Role As A Project Manager or Sponsor On An Agile Project, at the ITx 2018 Conference in New Zealand.

Current rating: 3.9 (8 ratings)


8 Sep 2018 Kaylee My
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Wow really interesting article, may later be able to share other helpful information are more interesting. Thank you!
13 Oct 2018 Kabuwa Mbulo
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Wow, well articulated and very informative and useful article
1 Nov 2018 Jesse Cohen
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Clearly informed and to the point. I would also emphasise point 4, extra skills on a project can be invaluable.
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