No project managers in Agile?

Recently I visited another Lean Coffee in Stockholm. I really like these meetings, they give me new insights and more to think of. This time was no exception. The question that caught on to me was:

”What is the role of the project manager in the Agile world?”

This blog post is a summary of the discussion and my thoughts afterwards.


The role of project managers in software development

The person who wrote the question started to describe that his experience was that a project manager is someone who works ”från ax till limpa”. That is a Swedish expression roughly translated to ”from seed to bread”. It is used to say that you take part in the whole process of something, from the very start until it’s finished.

Now in Agile where the teams are empowered, the role of the traditional project manager becomes more vague. In Scrum for example, no project manager role is specified. You have the team, Scrum Master and Product Owner roles that all share management duties between them. In Kanban, no roles at all are stated, merely ”Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles”. The writer of the question continued to say that the project managers he sees at his company now works with ”packaging”. They ”take the bread from the oven, and put in bags for delivery”.

As I have written earlier, the executives of the company sets the vision. The teams starts to seek and find solutions to the problems that are in line with the company vision. The knowledge and power are now more evenly spread. Teams are autonomous and self-organizing. Management is there to remove impediments and reminding of the overall vision (to prevent sub optimization).

What now?

But what about the ”middle managers” (between the executives and the teams)? What shall they do now? I think that solving this question will remove a huge obstacle that now stands in the way for a wider agile adoption throughout companies worldwide.

First question, shall we have projects at all in software development? We have stable teams that continuously work iteratively with the same product over a longer period of time, so the need of time boxed projects seems to be vanishing. There is a #noprojects movement within the Agile world (lead by Allan Kelly).

In Kanban 2.0 there are actually two roles specified (David J Anderson states this in his upcoming book that will be released in 2016)! From the ”Essential Kanban Condensed Guide” I take the following:

The two roles are:

Service Request Manager: responsible for understanding the needs and expectations of customers, and for selecting and ordering work items accordingly (alternative names for the role: Product Manager, Product Owner, Service Manager)

Service Delivery Manager: responsible for the flow of work in delivering selecting items to customers (alternative names for the role: Flow Manager, Delivery Manager or even Flow Master)

The second one there sounds to me a bit like the one that keep track of all the pieces and put the puzzle together. Or to ”take the bread from the oven and put in bags for delivery”, to put it another way.

Right now I think that many former project managers in agile companies are working as agile coaches or have the role of a release/delivery manager.


So what about project managers? My take is that the role of a project manager, as we have thought of it, will slowly disappear and in some years there will be no project managers in traditional sense left within software development.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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