Does the Project Manager Have a Future in the World of Agile?

Does the Project Manager Have a Future in the World of Agile?

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 3, 2011]


What does the idea of “Project Manager” tell us about the prevailing mindset of the organisations who have such job titles?

Certainly it tells us that they like to do work in “projects” – itself a zero-sum game, at best (see what PG Rule had to say on this subject).

And it also tells us that they see value in having some ONE “manage” other people (the project team) and “manage” the relationships between the team and the wider organisation (sponsors, users, etc).

Note: I’m writing here about the job of “Project Manager”, not so much the role or task of project management. As long as there are projects, some “managing” of them will be necessary. I propose to leave until another day any discussion of just how this task might be divvied-up. And indeed, whether it’s time to say “goodbye” to the whole concept of projects.

What Might We Reasonably Infer About Mindset?

Most often, the very notion of “Project Manager” suggests a prevailing “Analytic” mindset, where the assumptions underpinning the way folks see the world of work include:

  • Command and Control (managers tell, workers do)
  • Failures result from individual’s flaws
  • Personal accountability and the “single wringable neck”
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Functional (vertical) silos
  • Breaking things down into parts, and managing each part in isolation
  • Primary focus on costs
  • etc.

Agile principles point the way to a transition to a collective “Synergistic” mindset, where the underlying assumptions about the nature of the world of work differ markedly from those listed above, e.g.:

  • Self-organising teams
  • Failures result from systemic issues (collective responsibility)
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • End-to-end (horizontal) value streams
  • Looking at how the organisation works as a whole (as in Systems Thinking)
  • Primary focus on flow (of value)
  • etc.

What do these diametrically-opposed sets of assumptions say to us about the future of the “Project Manager” job in the Agile organisation?

– Bob

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