With Agile, are IT Project managers obsolete?

When I attended my first Agile chapter meeting, we had a tour of an IT department who had gone Agile all the way. The halls and cubicles were completely lined with whiteboards.  There were electronic burndown charts and other visuals at various key places.  We heard success stories and then had a Q&A session. My first and only question was “where are the project managers?”  The answer brought a cold chill down my spine. “We have none. We got rid of them”. For a moment I was stunned, and then the guide added, “They are now scrum masters”.

After much thinking, I reached the following conclusion.  Agile is just a different approach to managing Software Development, where the project manager can fill the role of a scrum master.   Management still needs the project management function, maybe not the title. Agile has its rules, terminology, and procedures.  Therefore, the project manager, with some training and experience, can successfully become a scrum master.

PMI teaches that its methodology is generic and that industries have their own project life cycles.  Therefore, the PM continues to follow the PMI methodology as well as the project life cycle of the industry. In this case, the project life cycle is Agile, and the industry is IT.

Therefore, Agile is not a threat to project managers. It does, however, add an additional layer of work. Where before, the PM used his project schedule as the basis to manage activities at the operational level, the PM now has to use the Agile tools like the burndown chart, user stories, backlog,  standup meetings, etc. for the operational level.  In Agile, the PM still uses the project schedule, but at a higher level, at a planning level like the control account level. The project schedule is no longer needed at the operational / work package level. The higher level project schedule provides the needed information to for performance reporting, while the Agile tools take care of the operational level.

Come to think of it, the PM now becomes more valuable since their is an increased diversity within the organization and a growing need for someone to standardize reporting across departments. Some departments follow Agile and others follow Waterfall. Some projects are agile-friendly, others, like hardware / infrastructure projects do not.  Managers need to see one cohesive view across all departments. The PM provides that unity because he can act as a translator. He can take information from various project scheduling software as well as various software development approaches and provide uniform performance reporting to the executives.

Written by Jose Carranza, Course developer and instructor, Key Performance LLC.