What Should We Do With Our Project Manager if We Are Adopting “Agile”?

If you read the Scrum Guide, you may realize a few things that you may have expected to be there. Where’s the “Project Manager” in Agile organizations? In Scrum, there is no such a person to “oversee” a project, since the team is expected to self-manage in an autonomous fashion.

This all sounds fine if you are starting from scratch, right? What if you already have a staff of Project Managers within your organization, and would like to adopt Agile/Scrum? What will happen to them?

There is no single “right” answer to this situation, since there are many factors to consider. Does it make sense to get rid of all of your Project Managers in Agile Adoption? Maybe, maybe not. Below are a few options you might consider.

Option 1 – Replace your Project Managers with Scrum Masters

It is possible that Scrum Masters may be less costly resources to sustain for your organization. Again, this depends heavily on many factors such as the size of the organization, the type of business, the geographic location, etc. Hence, it might make financial sense to reallocate your budget to Scrum practitioners that can help you build and operate an effective Scrum team.

Option 2 – Convert your Project Managers to Scrum Masters

This approach seems fairly popular based on my observation of companies that are in this situation. This is possibly a less intrusive approach than Option 1, but you might want to approach with some caution. Not all Project Managers are capable of becoming effective Scrum Masters, for one reason or another. From my own experience, many Project Managers are accustomed to the “big schedule”, plan-driven project management approach, and are not able to learn the “Agile” way of planning and working. Also, many Project Managers are comfortable with the “carrot or the stick” approach to motivating teams to perform. Agile teams may or may not respond to this mode of operating.

To make the transition from a traditional Project Manager to a high-performing Scrum Master is not impossible, but it is rare in my experience. Does this mean you shouldn’t try it? Not necessarily. You might want to consider consulting an experienced Agile Coach to help you evaluate the current skillsets of your staff and then decide what makes the most sense.

Option 3 – Convert your Project Manager to Product Owners

This option is less common, but might make sense if your Project Manager has significant domain knowledge and/or a strong relationship with the customers and stakeholders. As usual, you will likely need to provide some training and coaching to ensure he/she is positioned to be successful in this new role. Arguably, the Product Owner role is the most important role on a Scrum team. Hence, it is worth investing some time and energy towards helping this person make a smooth transition.

In closing, your existing staff may be the best resources you have to help you change the way work is managed and executed. If you take time to help them identify growth opportunities within this change process, you may accelerate the change as well as achieve even better results!

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai