Spot the Agile PM

Last week I was able to attend the excellent Thomson-Reuters/PMI Project Management “Unconference”, held at Exeter University. I also volunteered to host a couple of the bar-camp sessions, one on Coaching for PMs and the other Stakeholder Management.

The event offered plenty of opportunity for discussion during the breaks, and it struck me in particular how much Agile came up as a topic of debate. This was even more remarkable because it wasn’t particularly a subject on the agenda. Even in my bar-camp sessions if I spoke about coaching, I got asked about best practice as an Agile Coach. If I spoke about stakeholder management, I was asked about stakeholders in Agile projects. It is clearly a hot topic!

One thing that seems to be happening is that project managers are concerned about their role in the Agile world. Quite a few are going on Scrum Master training courses, and are confused because there is no explicit PM role in Scrum (which is, of course, just one flavour of Agile – but seems to be the one that most are going for).

Here are the three roles defined in Scrum (source: The Scrum Alliance):

Product Owner

  • The product owner decides what will be built and in which order
  • Defines the features of the product or desired outcomes of the project
  • Chooses release date and content
  • Ensures profitability (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features/outcomes according to market value
  • Adjusts features/outcomes and priority as needed
  • Accepts or rejects work results
  • Facilitates scrum planning ceremony


The ScrumMaster is a facilitative team leader who ensures that the team adheres to its chosen process and removes blocking issues.

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
  • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
  • Removes barriers
  • Shields the team from external interferences
  • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint planning
  • Facilitates the daily scrums

The Team

  • Is cross-functional
  • Is right-sized (the ideal size is seven — plus/minus two — members)
  • Selects the sprint goal and specifies work results
  • Has the right to do everything within the boundaries of the project guidelines to reach the sprint goal
  • Organizes itself and its work
  • Demos work results to the product owner and any other interested parties.

So where has the PM gone? The answer, of course, is that the responsibilities have  been redistributed.

If we start from The Seven Essentials being the basis of project management, how do these map onto the Scrum roles?

  • Benefits – clearly the responsibility of the Product Owner
  • Scope and Quality – also Product Owner, since they define the features, and accept or reject
  • Stakeholders and Communications – not really mentioned, but external communications (to senior stakeholders) will also be handled by the Product Owner
  • Plan – This one is split. Scrum Planning (i.e. high-level planning) is facilitated by the Product Owner. The Team organises its own work (detailed planning).
  • Team – Scrum Master looks after the team.
  • Suppliers – Not explicitly mentioned, but both the Product Owner and the Scrum Master have a role here. The Scrum Master in particular has a responsibility to remove barriers, which could indeed be due to suppliers.
  • Risks – Again, not mentioned, but there is a touch of risk management in everyone’s role. The Product Owner will be concerned with external and commercial risks, the Scrum Master with risks to the team’s efficiency, and the Team itself organises its work accordingly.

So, to summarise in table form:

Scrum roles


Now can you spot the PM?

I’m not saying that Project Managers shouldn’t retrain as Scrum Master. I’ve done it myself, and the training will teach you a lot about Agile. And the Scrum Master role itself can be interesting, demanding, exciting… I’m sure it would suit many former project managers. But if you’re a “seven essentials” sort of PM and you want to continue to develop those skills, then you should think about moving towards becoming a Product Owner.


Update March 2015

I’ve been reading Essential Scrum by Kenneth Rubin. Interestingly the book contains a very similar table, but using the PMI’s 9 knowledge areas from PMBOK Version 4 (since superseded by a slightly different set in Version 5). Here is Ken’s analysis:

[table id=2 /]

By |2015-08-19T10:54:45+00:00April 30th, 2013|Agile, Project Management|4 Comments

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  1. amitsinghmalikalik August 30, 2013 at 09:21

    This is certainly a very good article on the agile roles and their responsibilities. Thanks for writing this blog. I am also detailing the roles and responsibilities of the different roles like Development Manager, Scrum Master, QA Manager, Program Manager, Product Owner in the scrum product development project. I am working as a scrum master in this project.

  2. Mike Dwyer December 14, 2013 at 16:13

    Spotting the Agile PM is a lot like spotting the Agilest.
    You might find “Succeeding As A Self-Managed Team” by Chang and Curtin a good reference
    What I have taken from them is:
    The abilities you need to look for are not job skills
    they are often subjective and emotional in nature
    They include a WILLINGNESS to:

    Accept change
    Try new things
    Take on more responsibilities
    Be held accountable for results
    Take action, instead of waiting to be told what to do
    Act in the best interests of the team rather than oneself
    Work responsibly without the need for supervision
    Help other team members succeed
    Take risks
    Be open-minded

    • Russell Whitworth December 14, 2013 at 21:52

      A great set of attributes; thanks Mike. Actually that would apply to just about any sort of team, but especially an agile one.

  3. Malcolm Lowe August 7, 2015 at 09:33

    Russell – Great working with you recently. What is not clear is who does supplier planning and management, procurement planning and management, dependent system planning management, planning and management integrating into wider Enterprise Services. Are these specialist roles within the team over and above the standard Business Analyts, Tech Archs and Developers.

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