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The Future of the Project Manager in an Agilizing World

The Future of the Project Manager in an Agilizing World

Plan-Collaborae DeliverThere is no project manager role in agile frameworks like scrum and SAFe. Project Managers seem to have ignored this fact as there are still plenty of projects around to be managed. But the world is changing. Like with the greenhouse effect, the changes are not noticeable to everyone, but one day it may be too late to change. If you are a Project Manager this article is for you.

The real issue is not about the roles in the agile organization. This will not affect whether the world will need Project Managers in the future. The real issue is that we live in a world where the product lifecycles are decreasing rapidly. This means that change is no longer a temporary thing – it is permanent, and organizational survival is strongly related to the ability of the organization to cope with change.

A project is an organization created to support a temporary change. A project manager is a person who is managing this temporary organization. When changes are no longer temporary, winning organizations organize around long-lived value streams, instead of projects. This might not be visible everywhere yet (especially heavily regulated industries still live in a world where this is invisible). But the writing on the wall is that the number of projects will be decreasing.

I recently conducted a SAFe workshop for a group of highly skilled and experienced project managers. They had experience in many types of projects, including working with agile teams. Spending two days with them was a memorable experience, as their skillset was well above many Scrum Masters I’ve coached.  And I couldn’t stop wondering if such people are not needed in a future without projects.

Approaching the Project Manager from a skill perspective instead of a role perspective, yields some interesting findings. Because in a changing world you still need skilled people to:

 Solve problems
Build organizations
Facilitate communication
 Work with stakeholders (stakeholders have never been manageable)
… (enter more skills here)

In other words, the skills that project managers possess are still needed in agile organizations. But the role has changed. There is no longer a need of delegating work. The project manager should no longer be a single point of failure. And the project manager is no longer responsible for scope, time and financial progress. 
In a world where projects will become rare, as winning organizations thrive on change, the project manager needs to acquire new skills to bring the skills he already possesses into play in such organizations. The key skills that may need an upgrade are:       

Agile Leadership
Agile methods

In order to work in an agile organization, the project manager need to let go of the directive leadership style advocated by traditional schools of project management. This can be a hard change (I’m still learning), as it may feel uncomfortable to leave the center stage. But good agile leaders are masters in delegating and intent based leadership, empowering their organizations. 
To work in an agile organization, the project manager will need to learn the mechanics of the agile frameworks and learn how existing skills fit into this. This will take some learning by reading as well as some learning by doing. It takes a humble attitude, as you will be serving your team rather than managing them, and you will need to constantly re-visit and re-organize, what you have already learned, while realizing that there is always more to learn.

There is no project manager role in agile frameworks like scrum and SAFe. Project Managers seem to have ignored this fact as there are still plenty of projects around to be managed. But the world is changing. Like with the greenhouse effect, the changes are not noticeable to everyone, but one day it may be too late to change. If you are a Project Manager this article is for you.

The real issue is not about the roles in the agile organization. This will not affect whether the world will need Project Managers in the future. The real issue is that we live in a world where the product lifecycles are decreasing rapidly. This means that change is no longer a temporary thing – it is permanent, and organizational survival is strongly related to the ability of the organization to cope with change.

A project is an organization created to support a temporary change. A project manager is a person who is managing this temporary organization. When changes are no longer temporary, winning organizations organize around long-lived value streams, instead of projects. This might not be visible everywhere yet (especially heavily regulated industries still live in a world where this is invisible). But the writing on the wall is that the number of projects will be decreasing.

I recently conducted a SAFe workshop for a group of highly skilled and experienced project managers. They had experience in many types of projects, including working with agile teams. Spending two days with them was a memorable experience, as their skillset was well above many Scrum Masters I’ve coached.  And I couldn’t stop wondering if such people are not needed in a future without projects.

Approaching the Project Manager from a skill perspective instead of a role perspective, yields some interesting findings. Because in a changing world you still need skilled people to:

  •  Solve problems
  • Build organizations
  • Facilitate communication
  • Work with stakeholders (stakeholders have never been manageable)
  • … (enter more skills here)

In other words, the skills that project managers possess are still needed in agile organizations. But the role has changed. There is no longer a need of delegating work. The project manager should no longer be a single point of failure. And the project manager is no longer responsible for scope, time and financial progress. 
In a world where projects will become rare, as winning organizations thrive on change, the project manager needs to acquire new skills to bring the skills he already possesses into play in such organizations. The key skills that may need an upgrade are:       

  • Agile Leadership
  • Agile methods

In order to work in an agile organization, the project manager need to let go of the directive leadership style advocated by traditional schools of project management. This can be a hard change (I’m still learning), as it may feel uncomfortable to leave the center stage. But good agile leaders are masters in delegating and intent based leadership, empowering their organizations. 
To work in an agile organization, the project manager will need to learn the mechanics of the agile frameworks and learn how existing skills fit into this. This will take some learning by reading as well as some learning by doing. It takes a humble attitude, as you will be serving your team rather than managing them, and you will need to constantly re-visit and re-organize, what you have already learned, while realizing that there is always more to learn.