The Role Of A Project Manager In The Scrum Setup

November 30, 2018 By

The role of a project manager within the Scrum setup is often debated. Its relevance, function and authority in the volatility of an agile atmosphere are thought to be conflicting. Yet, the project anarchy that is felt in the absence of a project manager is disastrous. On the other hand, there’s a certified Scrum master within every Scrum project, who coaches the team, protects their best interests and ensures quality compliance.

The two roles often overlap, and given an average project with a low-risk profile, having two different people take on the roles may often lead to ‘over-managed’ teams frustrated with having two opposing parties to report to. However, for relatively large and unstructured projects, the role of the project manager in terms of agile scrum is best described as the facilitator of relationships and communication.

So What Are The Responsibilities Of The Project Manager In Agile Scrum?

1. Minimizing the implications of the product backlog

The project manager within a scrum setup is involved in all the details that define the project, so much so, he/she is a hands-on champion of the team. This means that the manager is involved in all areas that a product’s release or delay will impact. It also entails studying the backlog closely to weed out unnecessary items, focusing on the important ones and constantly revamping priorities so that the features remain relevant through changing priorities. For the uninitiated, here is a look at the suitable methodologies to subscribe to for your project, before you can move onto structuring backlogs and releases.

2. Managing stakeholders both internal and external

As a direct consequence of the first point, it is also important that the project manager understands the feasibility of timelines and works on generating overall consensus in regards to the release dates that are deemed fit. This will protect both the interests of the deadlines as well as the team’s workload while at it. As much as you’d find timeline negotiations to be a rather niche area to stand on its own as a responsibility of the manager, drawing feasible timelines is crucial to the successful delivery of a scrum project since unsolicited changes can wreck the team’s spirit, drive and general well-being. Given the develop-evaluate -repeat process that Scrum follows, release dates will practically be the most crucial aspect to manage.

3. Establishing seamless communication

As teams get categorized within their niches, communications begin to suffer given how there is certain awkwardness in being able to be upfront and concise. In addition, they’ll need to be collaborative enough to express opinions clearly, seek the help or resources they may need and ultimately deliver tangible outcomes rather than adhering to stereotyped norms. Since such interactions are not always pre-existent in silo-based work cultures, the PM becomes the facilitator and the primary point of contact, helping different parties evaluate each others’ points of view.

Role of a Project Manager in Scrum

4. Facilitating agreement on the product roadmap

The fact that agility – of which Scrum is a subtype- is gaining the momentum it is, can be attributed to the changing nature of product roadmaps and business priorities. The project manager, here, takes the role of a decision-maker who liaises between the competing agendas a product is slated to meet, be it revenue, relevance or innovation. The product manager will need to stand with the product owner and help him/her root for features that really add value. Often, this requires an analytical bent of mind and a strong sense of confidence in the product roadmap as well as stakeholder management skills.

5. Sound financial and change management

Within the agile methodology, a project manager’s role expands and begins to include financial and change management requirements. This can range from status updates, revenue analysis, periodic budget reviews to the overall management of the process. When the project is relatively traditional and involves different departments, this can either dilute and branch into further relationship management responsibilities spread across divisions. On the other hand, for a relatively small team, the project manager will often be the go-to person to oversee such responsibilities.

The Different Possibilities Within A Scrum Setup:

1. Roles of both Scrum Master and Project Manager

The roles are similar and yet different. While the project manager has responsibilities ranging from project planning, execution and monitoring, the Scrum master is concerned with overall adoption of the Scrum methodology and compliance. He/she also facilitates sprints ensuring that everyone concerned participates in the sprint cycle and the meeting. Often, the scrum master coaches while project managers instinctively direct. The roles are both processes driven and hence will see individuals in the roles complement each other as long as the lines are clear enough. If the responsibilities are not defined, there can be unnecessary complications and tension among teams in how duties are performed and the team’s way of handling multiple managers.

2. The Product Owner as the Project Manager

This is quite a rare scenario since the product owner is often chosen from within the business so that his/her wealth of domain expertise and experience can help critical decision-making and the strategy that surrounds the product. On the other hand, the project manager is someone who is highly data-driven and organized – attributes that product owners don’t necessarily come equipped with. So when a manager has to take care of both spectrums, it is important that he/she get acquainted with the aspects that are do not come naturally to him/her.

3. Project Manager as the Scrum Master

With low-key projects, it is not uncommon to find the project manager and the scrum master roles fuse into one comprehensive role that encompasses both the business side of responsibilities as well as the process-driven ones of the project manager. Such projects though are categorized by minimal requirements, low risks and a small team wherein stakeholders are fairly comfortable with one another. When the project is relatively risk-prone or large-scale, it is acceptable to have a dedicated Scrum master and have a project manager step-in as well so that there is enough attention paid to details.

Assess your project’s various requirements before you decide which one of the combinations you’ll need in order to manage the risk appetite described. This way, the journey is both smooth and significantly engaging.

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Nityashree Yadunath

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