What happens to a project manager when you start using Scrum?

“So a Scrum team has three roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development team. Where does the project manager fit in?”

This is a common question when someone first encounters Scrum. They are naturally concerned that there will suddenly be no project management, and try to work out whether the project manager becomes a Product Owner or a Scrum Master.

Our standard response is to ask them what they mean by project management because everyone seems to have a different idea of what that is. “What duties does the project manager fulfil?”

Their list includes items such as reporting, communications, governance, facilitating meetings, committing to deadlines, writing the brief/business case/plan, budget tracking/management, negotiating with suppliers, change controls, dealing with issues/blockers/conflicts, risk management, resourcing, telling the team what to do …

Who does the duties of the project manager in a Scrum team?

We then discuss which of the three Scrum roles might fulfil each duty.

Of course, it turns out that project management still happens … it’s just spread across the three Scrum roles. For instance, communicating progress to stakeholders might be done by the PO, while communicating dependencies to other teams might be done by the Development Team, and communicating rate of delivery (aka velocity) might be done by the Scrum Master  [Note: these are just examples – see scrumguides.org for guidance].

So what becomes of the Project Manager? That’s more difficult to answer. My take on it is that it depends on the type of person the project manager is. Are they knowledgeable about the product? Do they understand the users’ needs and business goals? Will they be given the authority to decide what the team focuses on? Or do they prefer to help the team achieve their goals: coaching, facilitating and removing impediments? There’s certainly lots of scope for these skills to be used in the Scrum roles.

But what if the project manager doesn’t want to change? What if they want to remain in control of everything apart from the actual creating of the product? Quite simply, that’s not going be able to happen: the Scrum team deliberately has shared responsibility because everyone on the team is responsible, in some way, for the product that it creates. Having one omnipotent member in the team just isn’t going to work.

Image courtesy of of Rtv 77 (‘Rillsoft Project 6.1 showing the Gantt chart of the project’)

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