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May 30, 2017
Agile + PM, or PM + Agile?
By: Kevin Korterud

As project delivery methods have evolved, so has project leadership. Hybrid approaches have emerged, where traditional Waterfall project and program managers are now faced with the prospect of having a portion of their work use iterative Agile approaches. On the other side, Agile Scrum Masters and product managers executing rapid iterations of new products have to now contend with budgets, financial forecasts, release schedules and business case benefits, as well as with aligning implementation of products with other projects across the enterprise.

Do organizations need #Agile leads with project management knowledge, or project managers with Agile knowledge?


With this as a backdrop, a frequent question that comes up from my colleagues is whether an industry needs a project manager who knows Agile, or Agile leads who are competent in more traditional project management practices. In today’s complex world of delivery, we urgently need both.

  1. Project managers need to understand Agile.
    It’s inevitable that a project manager will at some point oversee an Agile delivery process. So it is important that project managers start their journey to competency as soon as possible. This journey can begin with training in Agile methods, as well as shadowing an Agile lead to see how the iterative process works.

    As the journey continues, project managers will start to immerse themselves in advanced areas such as Agile metrics, alignment of Agile to testing and release processes, as well as the people factor. A project manager will soon see what sort of projects can best be delivered through Agile vs. Waterfall methods, as well as the linkages to enterprise functions required regardless of delivery approach.

  2. Agile leads need to understand project management.
    Agile leads typically have experience with iterative methods and they have a strong business analysis background that comes into play when defining user stories. In the past, these skills alone were sufficient for Agile delivery efforts.

    With the complexities of contemporary delivery, however, many Agile leads now encounter similar expectations when it to comes to schedule, budget, product quality and business case realization as their Waterfall counterparts.

    This compels Agile leads to gain skills in traditional project management areas such as estimation, forecasting, resource management, technical requirements as well as testing and implementation practices. Acquiring these skills will enable Agile leads to deliver higher-quality products in a more timely and efficient manner.

  3. Everyone needs enterprise function support.
    As hybrid delivery approaches become more common, the considerations for maximizing value can include (but are not limited to) the speed of product iterations, business and technology complexities, and the increasing consumer expectations.

    All of this amplifies the importance of enterprise functions such as portfolio management, release management and resource management. These and other traditional enterprise delivery disciplines have been identified by the Scaled Agile Framework (“SAFe”) as being key to success.

    It’s not so much that the SAFe framework has had a “eureka moment” around enterprise functions as new innovations. Rather, it has identified the critical need to have these functions in place and engaged for all types of delivery. Both project managers, as well as Agile leads, can be more successful when tightly integrated with enterprise functions. Without having robust enterprise functions in place, organizations will struggle with more frequent schedule, resource, dependency, testing and implementation conflicts. And those conflicts dilute the business value of projects regardless of delivery style.

What do you think? Do organizations need Agile leads with project management knowledge, or project managers with Agile knowledge? I welcome thoughts regarding delivery successes and failures relative to either or both roles.

This blog post was first published in the PMI Voices forum here.

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