Transitioning from a project manager to an agile practitioner

A Project Manager is a focal person for every aspect of delivering a successful project. Project Managers were working with delivering valuable products to the users long before the Scrum teams and Product managers appeared.

Project Manager Role in Software Development

Most of the companies nowadays, following the rhythms of digital transformation, they are using agile ways of working and the most popular which is Scrum. As you most probably know there is no Project manager in Scrum, so how you can transform yoursfelf to an agile practitioner? Actually, it is pretty easy and I personally know a lot of Project managers that have transitioned to Scrum. The first shift of thinking is in your mentality from completing the project to adding value to the product through constant iterations

Let’s see the rest of the similarities and differences

Focus on Product

Everyone on Scrum is talking about the product. The Product Owner is looking at how to maximize the value of the product. But how about the Project manager. Project Management is according to PMI:

“a temporary endeavor was undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”

We can see that the focus is clearly on the product.

Sprints

A project is a temporary endeavor and this can be reflected in sprints. Sprints are temporary windows of time that the Scrum team has to deliver a working increment. Again you can easily do that as a Project manager if you instead of working in temporary endeavors you work on sprints. At the end of the sprint, the team is throwing the team retrospective on how they can improve. These are very similar to the post mortem meetings that project managers are having for their products.

Value focused

A product owner is responsible to prioritize the backlog items and ensure that the Scrum team is working on the most prioritized items at a time which they can give more value to final product.

The development team from the other side has to prioritize items on the sprint backlog in order to deliver a working product in the end of the sprint with maximum value. As new items emerge they can introduce them in the sprint according to to their capacity.

The Scrum master on the other side has to remove roadblocks if they exist that block the successful delivery of value to the increment. Again this is very similar to what a Project Manager does which is to create a valuable product.

Stakeholder Management

This is usually related to the duties of the Project Manager. The stakeholders are people that have a vested interest in your product. Aligning with them is of utmost importance if you want to get buy-in for your product and in the end, they accept the product.

In Scrum, the same is happening with Product owners. The Product owner is prioritizing the backlog items according to the requirements and expectations of his basic stakeholders, internal or external. Scrum is putting special attention to the stakeholders as the sprint review ceremony is crucial for the success of Scrum. In the sprint review, the Scrum team knows if what they build is right and adds value to the stakeholders.  The stakeholders give feedback also about the market trends and high vision direction for the product.

Documentation

A Project manager is used to work on detailed planning before embarking on a project, He sometimes makes plans for the entire lifecycle of the product beforehand. On the contrary, Scrum is well known which is a methodology that doesn’t put attention into detailed documentation, but this is not absolute truth. A lot of planning is required from the Product owner when he orders the Product Backlog which is a constant requirement alignment with stakeholders and strategic objectives of the company. The PO is refining only the items on that backlog that are more prioritized. This will give more value to the product and the most important, more clarity to the Dev team.

From the dev team again, there is no complex documentation, but the daily stand up and constant feedback, if they are about to achieve the Sprint goal, can suffice to replace documentation.

Monitoring

Scrum is constantly monitoring and checking the work being done. This is not about monitoring the work of the Scrum team as everyone is equal, but to monitor the work progress. We do that in sprint review where they see where they are now and what they can do better in the next sprint. The same in daily stand up, the control on where we are now and if we adhere to the sprint goal is a way to measure. So we see that it is not absent in Scrum. On project management, this is a little bit more strict as careful planning is done in the beginning and every phase of the product development.

Final thought for a successful transitioning

  • The product owner is responsible to work on the vision of the product. This is defined always on a strategic alliance with stakeholders. This is pretty much what a Project Manager is constantly doing so keep it going.
  • Don’t plan based on velocity, this is a big mistake done by a lot of Project managers who take over an agile role. More story points to develop doesn’t mean more productive spent.
  • The sprint backlog is sometimes regarded as solid stable, but this is a mistake. Don’t instill this in your Scrum team. The development team members can be self-organized and make their own rules about the sprint backlog.
  • Even if the team will fail to achieve the sprint goal, we will discuss on sprint retrospective how to be better in the next sprint. Don’t rush to follow agile by the book once you make the transition.
  • The documentation that the product owner has to write is the user stories, Scrum guide says that they should be detailed, but again this is not very detailed. user stories can be written with the development team together as they are not guidelines that you give to somebody and they have to execute. The user stories are discussion points to start collaborating with your team.

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