Is Agile a Quantum Leap for a Project Manager?

I have been asked why you can’t have Project Managers in Scrum, and there are a number of discussions on boards that have entertained me, where there is a question about whether there is such a thing as an Agile Project Manager?

The problem for me is that Project Managers are measured on the wrong things, their objectives conflict with Agile goals they are almost always put in a position where they are pressured to conform to a dysfunctional notion.  I see them as a sort of dysfunctional Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap “…striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that..” well you get the picture. There is a notion that the plan in their mind is more important than the reality in front of them.

But in Agile we value “Responding to change over following a plan”

At it’s heart, the job of a Project Manager is to plan a project – usually in fine detail, and then to manage the project to ensure it doesn’t deviate from the plan, and when it does deviate, which of course all but the simplest projects do, the PMs job is to take corrective action to get a project back on plan.  It is about dates, and deadlines and the all-important plan. (cue lightning, harsh shadows and ominous Gantt charts).

All we need is a strangely dressed hologram saying “Ziggy predicts that if we skip all testing of the software there is a 93% chance that we will meet our deadline and the software wont devolve in to a pile of un-maintainable junk for 9 months and 3 days.”

Al_Calavicci_Handlink

The project Manager then gets to ‘Leap’ to a new project without having to stick around to see the mess left behind.

This is in so many ways the very opposite of an Agile philosophy, I see nothing wrong in having a plan, understanding the vision and the goals is crucial. Even some milestones are often beneficial, but the more detail there is in the plan the more waste there is. Everyone including the Project Managers know perfectly well that the plan is flawed, just like every other plan they have ever produced, the difference is that in Agile we accept that the domain is too complex for a fixed and immovable plan. In agile we adjust as new information becomes available, but the traditional Project Manager wrestles with reality and desperately fights to shoehorn a complex reality into a flawed plan.  We all know this, the statistics on ‘failed’ project plans are staggering and yet some still persist in this notion of creating fixed plans and punishing teams for deviating from them.

Agile in contrast focuses on getting the customer what they want, and they do this by getting something to them as early as possible and as often as is practical and then responding and re-evaluating, changing the plan to accommodate the customers evolving requirements. Maximizing value early for the customers benefit.

So can there be an Agile Project Manager? I don’t know, but if the role involves valuing following a plan over responding to change then it becomes an oxymoron.  And with a Product Owner and a Scrum Master I fail to see what useful purpose they can serve in a Scrum framework.

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