The future of Project managers

As to this topic, I am only talking about project managers in software industry. Same thoughts may not apply in other industries.

Traditional project managers

There is traditionally contract game between business (or product or customer) and R&D (or IT or technology or vendor). In the beginning of the project, business and R&D negotiate a contract, then it is handed over to R&D, and R&D is held accountable for the delivery.


Project manager is usually located in R&D side, and he/she is responsible for the successful delivery of the contract. The success is usually defined as on time, scope and budget. The focus is on the output - the delivered features, rather than the outcome - the delivered value. Even today if you look at chaos report, it keeps the same assumption. Project is still considered successful as long as it is well delivered with those measures, even when nobody uses it after it is delivered. Therefore, traditional project managers are delivery focused.

Change from Agile

In Agile, business and R&D work together to optimize value. There is (or should be) no such thing called delivery success, but business success. Agile, Scrum in particular, holds business side accountable for the project success, which is measured by delivered value and ROI. Self-organizing team is focused on delivery and business collaborates with them to maximize value on sprint basis. With this setting, it makes no sense and is actually harmful to keep delivery-focused project managers.

The future of Project managers

While discussing with a few thoughtful PMO heads about the future of their team, two possibilities emerged.

  • Business

Some project managers developed strong domain knowledge and network with business side after working in the industry for 10-20 years. If they can abandon traditional project management thinking (e.g. fixed scope, push team on short-term delivery, manage tasks for team) and adopt Agile thinking (e.g. value driven, support team to build high performance, enable team self-organization), they become good candidates for PO. From what i have experienced, the lack of good POs is one big constraint to adopt Scrum effectively. It is certainly valuable if some project managers could transform to good POs.

  • Coaching

Traditional project manager has little overlapping responsibility as ScrumMaster, and their qualification is also quite different. It is actually misleading to call ScrumMaster as Agile project manager. However, some project managers are indeed very good at working with group. If they are open to practice Agile and gain experience, they become good candidates for ScrumMaster and even Agile coach. Remember that great ScrumMasters work beyond team coaching, they coach Product Owners and organizations too. Project managers often developed broad view, which helps them on coaching beyond teams.

I foresee that traditional delivery-focused project managers will become less and less relevant in the Agile world. On the other hand, i believe that great people can adapt well and sustain their value in a different way.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lv Yi published on October 26, 2014 9:34 PM.

Empirical process control in Scrum was the previous entry in this blog.

Examples, Acceptance Criteria and Acceptance Tests is the next entry in this blog.

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