“Scrum doesn’t have Project Managers, so we ignore them in our organisation”

Are you serious? — Episode 49

Scrum doesn’t know a role called “Project Manager”:

“The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. — Scrum Guide 2017”

Many consider this as evidence that the Project Manager role is obsolete. That’s too easy though, because according to the same logic you’d also ignore:

  • Management
  • Sales
  • Customer Relations
  • Business Operations
  • IT Operations
  • The USER
  • The CUSTOMER

None of these are mentioned in the Scrum Guide!

Instead Scrum refers to all of them as Stakeholders or Scrum Team members. This is intentional, because Scrum is a framework. It consists of 3 roles, 3 artifacts and 5 events. It is purposely lightweight so that the framework can be used in many different environments. Some of these environments have Project Manager functions. Many other environments don’t. Many of these environments have customers. Some don’t. Hence the Scrum Guide uses the term stakeholder instead.

Project Manager as stakeholder — The Scrum Guide

So we established that the Project Manager is a stakeholder (if not Development Team member). Stakeholders are being served in the following ways, according to the 2017 Scrum Guide:

  • “Only the Product Owner has the authority to cancel the Sprint, although he or she may do so under influence from the stakeholders, the Development Team, or the Scrum Master.”
  • “During the Sprint Review, the Scrum Team and stakeholders collaborate about what was done in the Sprint.”
  • “The Product Owner tracks this total work remaining at least every Sprint Review. The Product Owner compares this amount with work remaining at previous Sprint Reviews to assess progress toward completing projected work by the desired time for the goal. This information is made transparent to all stakeholders.”

Scrum also leaves plenty of room for other ways to align with the stakeholders, as it is a framework where many practices can fit.

Project Manager vs Scrum Team

It is important to note that many of the traditional Project Manager tasks are brought within the Scrum Teams:

  • The Scrum Teams (and the Development Teams) are self-organising their work to create potentially releasable increments.
  • The Product Owner manages the Product Backlog which will order what is being built.
  • The Scrum Teams determine the Sprint Goal and determine what items will need to be picked up to achieve this.
  • At the review “the Product Owner discusses the Product Backlog as it stands. He or she projects likely target and delivery dates based on progress to date (if needed);” — Scrum Guide 2017
  • The Scrum Team manages risks by using Scrum. They make their artifacts as transparent as can be and plan per Sprint.

What also is important to note is that Scrum Teams work on products. They don’t work in projects spanning multiple Sprints.This makes the name “Project Manager” a difficult one. You can argue that a different name would be better suited.

Project Managers are also often viewed as persons that push work to the teams. Scrum teams teams pull the items from the backlog. So the way the Project Manager approaches the team can’t be the same as it used to be.

This makes the following question valid:

Do you really need Project Managers when you use Scrum?

The need for a Project Manager

In many organisations the Project Manager role indeed vanished. But there are also still many organisations that have them. Often their work is very valuable. Here are some situations where a Project Manager may be required:

  • The Scrum Team is depending on persons or teams that are outside of their control. It is true that the Scrum Guide says that the “Development Teams are cross-functional, with all the skills as a team necessary to create a product Increment;”. Many organisations are working towards this, but this is often not easily established.
  • Certain parts of the organisation want a different way to be kept up-to-date than via the Scrum Events. As an example: organisations that still have steering committees. I’d argue that the Sprint Review can perfectly replace this — enhancing transparency — but this is simply not established everywhere.
  • The Scrum Teams are only covering a piece of the product puzzle, often only software-development. All other pieces that make a product complete (like sales and operations) are not within the Scrum world. A Project Manager typically manages the part outside Scrum. In my opinion it would be best to introduce the other teams to Scrum too so that they all can benefit from it. Also I would argue that this is part of what a Product Owner can do.

Scrum is disruptive for an organisation. Practices and roles that used to be key can end up being not key anymore. To acknowledge this can take time.

Conclusion

Many organisations work with Project Managers that liaise with Scrum Teams. They are stakeholders of the Scrum Team. Scrum brings forward how you can engage with your stakeholders.

The bulk of responsibilities of a traditional Project Manager are within the Scrum Team. However many organisations still feel the need to have someone to connect the dots between the Scrum world and the Scrum-less world (often IT or software development vs the rest of the organisation). I am of the opinion that the best way to resolve this is to include the non-IT related teams in the Scrum world. Making the classical Project Manager role obsolete.

But… until you have established this you can’t simply ignore the structure of the organisation. The Project Manager however also can’t ignore how Scrum Teams work. This means that Project Managers need to respect that the Product Owner, Scrum Master and the Development Team all have responsibilities that used to lie with the Project Manager before Scrum came.


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