Don’t throw away your PMs yet…

There is a common mis-conception that Project Managers (PMs) are not required when scaling Agile teams and a view that the miraculous unicorn of Agile Zeolotary will ensure team culture, ownership and delivery. Well i got news for you — that’s not the case and you need your PMs (for a little while anyway ;)). How they operate however, must change in-order for you to effectively support scaled Agile delivery.

In a traditional enterprise context the PM effectively drives outcomes through tasks and management against phases and milestones. If you want your Agile teams to be successful the PM needs to take a lens that is more outcome focused with a view on value delivery (i.e. keeping the customer front of mind). This is a massive mindset shift as traditional project management learnings lend themselves to providing assurance through phases and gates — thus creating a perceived confidence on delivery. The key is to move away from a schedule and phase driven mindset to a feature and value driven mindset.

This shift doesn’t negate the need for planning. Infact, it becomes front of mind for Agile teams. Through the various ceremonies this by default is covered and when working at scale key items relating to delivery are drawn up through a ‘bubble-up’ process (team-of-teams retros). The PM does however, have to recognise their place in an Agile environment, with one of the key responsibilities being to act as an interface to ‘non-agile’ teams or other systems of complexity within the enterprise.

In many traditional enterprises the system of works is riddled with complexity — typically coming from years of application complexity in ‘core’ systems. These things can’t change overnight!! So it is key this is managed and co-ordinated to ensure the slowest moving part in your system of works does not end up being the bottleneck to planning an end-to-end view on delivering for your customer.

 

A few practices that work:

  • Having lite-weight pipeline/pre-planning kanban helps to line up dependency platforms in your system of works. This in turn helps influence priorities of works.
  • Cross cutting initiatives should be planned together (across teams) not in isolation. (align where possible and synchronise the teams)
  • Plan to a known Horizon — forecast the rest. Pretty self explanatory really — only plan what you know and line up your cross platform dependencies. Forecast to a roadmap based on learnings and assumptions on complexity.
  • Go beyond your stand-ups. Implement a Scrum-of-Scrums (SoS). invite everyone that matters to achieving the outcome (ensuring the Pigs are the ones that speak). The SoS should be kept short and provide a snapshot view on the key focus areas for the teams.

 

A few practices that don’t work

  • Task managing teams. PMs you need to stop this shit!! A major anti-pattern to team collaboration and ownership
  • Seeing every deviation from a ‘mythical’ schedule as an escalation. Let the teams work it out.
  • Assuming a project is locked in stone in scope, cost and time. I have not seen anything delivered with certainty — hell my mail doesn’t come on time what makes you think your project is going to be done in 12 months?

Conclusion

The bottom line is PMs are still needed in Agile environments operating at scale. Enterprises are loaded with complexity with platforms and systems that have been built over time. Some are more Agile than others but this activity still requires co-ordination and alignment.

This is one of the new roles the PM starts to play — a shift from the traditional approach of task and resource management.

About Bobby Singh

Bobby leads the Tribe at Momenton. Our mission: “Enabling impactful change through technology and a relentless passion for delivering customer value.”

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