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The new project management for Agile ALM

Changing times require managers to acquire new project management skills for the Agile ALM environment.

One thing project managers are skilled at is managing change, whether those are changes in a software application,...

changes in processes or tools or changes in their own roles and responsibilities. How has Agile ALM changed the landscape for project managers? Are there new skills that the project manager working in an Agile ALM environment must learn? Is the role of the project management shifting? Changing times require that project managers learn Agile-savvy skills to meet the demands of an ever-changing industry.

The role of the Agile project manager

“The discipline of project management has always required a mix of quantitative skills, soft skills and domain knowledge, along with knowledge of specific project management skills. A good project manager draws on all of these to achieve the goal of delivering the planned scope on time and within budget. The same general mix is needed in Agile project management as well, but the balance shifts more towards soft skills, and to delivering the maximum value in a specified time period rather than delivering a specified scope by a planned date,” says Dr. Kevin Thompson, an Agile practice lead at cPrime, Inc.

The Agile project manager works more as a facilitator of progress, helping to remove obstacles that are blocking the team’s forward movement, rather than controlling how they work.

Scrum and other Agile frameworks have opened up opportunities for traditional project managers to learn a new method of tracking projects using many of the same skills they used in traditional project management, but with a different twist, as well as a different title.

“There have always been many types of project managers, because there have always been many types of projects. What has changed is the formalization of specific Agile processes, which has led to new formalized roles such as Scrum Master or XP Coach,” says Thompson.

In his soon-to-be released book, Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process, Ken Rubin, lists these traditional project management responsibilities:

  • Integration – Identify, define, combine, unify and coordinate processes and project management activities.
  • Scope – Define and control what is and is not included in the project.
  • Time – Manage timely completion of the project defining necessary resources.
  • Cost – Estimate, budget and control costs to meet approved budget.
  • Team – Organize, manage and lead the project team.
  • Communications – Generate, collect, distribute, store, retrieve and dispose of project information.
  • Risk – Plan, identify, analyze, respond, monitor and control project risks.
  • Procurement – Acquire products, services or results needed from outside the project team.

While these tasks still need to be handled, Rubin writes that in Scrum they are often distributed among Scrum Masters, product owners and other members of the Scrum team, and that often a traditional project manager will transition to one of these roles. For example, “Many project managers make excellent Scrum Masters, if they can forgo any command-and-control management tendencies,” says Rubin. He goes on to say, “Frequently, however, the product owner role can assume as many if not more of these traditional project management responsibilities than the Scrum Master role.”

Another role that those who have a strong project management background might fill is one called "Agile program manager." This role would be one which would facilitate and coordinate work across teams.

The project manager role still exists

Certainly there are Agile organizations in which there are still employees who maintain the project manager title. In some cases, this is because a project manager is needed to roll up and report on the efforts of multiple Scrum teams.

“Companies that have large and complex development efforts sometimes decide to retain a separate project manager when logistics and coordination tasks are so overwhelming that the teams cannot be expected to keep up with them,” says Rubin.

In other cases, organizations may be implementing Agile practices other than Scrum, and expect their project managers to play a part in helping development teams with Agile adoption.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has recently added the Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) to its list of certifications. The methodology-agnostic exam tests project managers on their knowledge of the Agile Manifesto, Agile principles, XP, Scrum, Lean and Kanban. It requires knowledge and skills associated with over 40 Agile tools and techniques.

“The PMI is what we’re rebelling against. It didn’t feel right,” says Mike Griffiths, an independent project manager, trainer and consultant, in talking about an Agile certification being given from an organization that has a reputation for touting the more traditional Waterfall approach to development and project management. However, with surveys from Forrester and Gartner reporting that up to 80% of development organizations are now using Agile approaches, the PMI recognized that they were in danger of becoming less relevant unless they included Agile offerings. Griffiths, a contributor to the new PMBOK v5, says the new guide will include Agile principles. 

Changing technologies

How have changes in technology, such as cloud computing or mobility, affected the role of the project manager? “Very little,” according to Thompson. “Technology projects have always been very diverse, and projects in cloud computing and mobility do not require qualitatively different skills to manage.”

That being said, certainly an awareness of changing technologies and how those might affect a project is something that is important to any project manager, regardless of what his or her title is.

Understanding the ALM tools and organizational alignment is also important for the Agile project manager. For example, a firm understanding of how collaboration is being used throughout the lifecycle will better prepare the Agile project manager to facilitate stronger communication between business and IT, development and QA and development and operations.

Agile ALM is about breaking down the barriers between different organizations where roles and responsibilities are not as clearly defined as they once were. This holds true for the project manager as well. There is a morphing of roles and responsibilities, and the whole team is expected to help resolve issues, regardless of their title.

Agile is a mindset and approach to managing work that can be applied to more than just software development. With the continued growth of Agile in all areas of business, it would benefit business leaders and managers, regardless of their titles, to learn what it takes to add agility to the tasks associated with project management. While the same types of project tasks are still needed, the way those tasks are accomplished are changing.

This was last published in July 2012

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