WTF Project Manager is doing in Scrum team?

IMG_6532Thousands of companies are changing to agile, thousands are already agile (they tell you so very confidently). Some of them implemented Scrum. But I still come across of a lot of Project Managers in such companies. Ok, even better – I have a title of “Senior PM” myself (I hope no one from my teams/colleagues will not see my business cards, as they don’t know I am a PM ^_^). When company implements scrum they have to make a hard decision – what to do with these PMs we have? And usually they have a lot of PMs. I have seen companies where there is 1 PM per each 2 developers. Usually they become Scrum Masters or Product Owners, as it seems the most natural way. Just change the title and that is all – you are the Scrum Master now. Sometimes PMs are left as they were – they still “manage” the projects.

Management often treats the agile transformation as “let’s allow these children play”, as agile is something “not serious”, definitely too far from the serious year or quarter plan. As the result teams are told – “You can play…em…implement Scrum. Your PM will help you.” And we get smth like the following:

The “bottom layer” is “agile”, all the other layers are good old management hierarchy. This system is far from stable, as development team already tasted “the freedom” of agile development and want changes, but above layers try to hold the stable situation.

Organizations are implicitly optimized to avoid changing the status quo middle- and first-level manager and “specialist” positions & power structures.

Larman’s Laws of Organizational Behavior

It is very hard to change the company’s mindset, so one of the best solutions which comes to the PMs mind is to become the Scrum master, because it is the best way to “mimic” the new “agile” environment. Because every PM is smart enough to understand that there is no place for PM in the Scrum team)

Why PMs make bad Scrum Masters

In fact, many of the responsibilities of a scrum master do fall upon management in a more traditional organization. So it looks like it is the most natural way to fill the SM position.

The Scrum Master is a “process owner” and coach, not a project manager.

But there is a basic conflict of interest between the duties of a manager and a scrum master. A manager sits at the top of the pyramid in a team’s hierarchy, but Scrum master is not on the top of the hierarchy – the hierarchy is absent at all.
Manager can’t give up been responsible for the work, he can’t understand, that a scrum team needs to be responsible to itself for delivering the work. Usually managers think that if team is allowed to do anything they would like no work will be done at work.

With PMs being Scrum Masters I can often see the following picture: during the daily meeting the team reports to the Scrum Master, SM gives the tasks to each team member and checks the progress.

Why PMs make bad Product owners

As PM is not a role in scrum if it is a PM, should have the correct training and coaching to inspect and adapt to the framework.

The Product Owner is the one who is responsible for “what” part of development. So it is really crucial for the product to have a good PO.  PO doesn’t control the team’s work, the technical details of who does the work or how.
If the former PM gets the Product owner role he often try to focus on “planning” – backlog for him is just a “plan”. So the PM will take into account all the external dependencies and “optimal staff loading” when planning the sprint. He event can try assigning tasks and plan the sprint according to what staff is available.

Usually PM is not responsible for the project profitability. Yes, PM is responsible for meeting the budget, but knows nothing about the product’s success. And the budget is often set not by the PM.  So, PM is not the customer and often asks the business knowledge to make the right decisions, which the PO should make – “what” to develop.

What PM really can do in Agile teams


They should become more “managers” than “project” – there are many tasks apart from the team coordination: for example, Hiring and Firing, Employee Reviews, etc. As I understand it is usually called the “functional manager”. So their role can be in caring about the environment in which the agile teams work, not leading the teams, not directing them – just “gardening” them.

Caring, that the teams have everything they need and support in the processes and procedures which are inevitable in the non-agile organization. Because if your company adopted Scrum not only on the lowest level, all Project Manager responsibilities which are not waste were divided between SM, PO and Dev Team.


14 thoughts on “WTF Project Manager is doing in Scrum team?

    1. Scrum Master should be a separate role. It can be one of the developers from the development team or QA. For 1 small team there can be no need to have a full-time person. As for reporting – depends on the company structure. It can be functional manager, it can be Scrum masters guild leader. But it is if you still have this “reporting” relationship in the organization. It can be more horizontally spread structure, so I can say SM is reporting to the team, as he is their servant leader)))

      1. Yes, of course you can be scrum master) and other team members can be. Better to have some training beforehand. And forget about the Technical Lead title, there is no such title in Scrum) Often implementation of Scrum in the company becomes the battle – we try to leave the existing structure and just “wrap” scrum over it. Then there are a lot of questions – what our Team Lead will do now? What role PM will become now? And then they end with hiring an Iteration Manager half a year later.

  1. Good article! It’s so important for organizations to not just “play” Scrum, but actually BE Scrum. Essential to succes or failure.

  2. Rly? Structured software development requires structure. Companies don’t need ‘free range dev’, they need predictable outcomes, including long-term architectures (i.e. tech debt/risk mgt), cost containment, utilization management, etc. That’s why the pm role exists. The issue is that companies run on the language of Finance, not story points.

    1. I am not saying we don’t need the Project Managers. I am just against so called “changes” when we just give everyone new titles and that is all. With Scrum your development can provide a predictable outcomes, take care about the architecture, take care about the utilization, budget. There is no rules for all of these things in Scrum, but Scrum does not mean “do not use your brains” – it is compatible with all engineering practices and provides the guidance about planning and budgeting. Just set it up properly. There is no role of PM in Scrum and if we are changing roles (if we don’t want why not to choose Kanban, for example?) – be consistent and train your people to fill the new roles.

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