What is Scrum? Scrum is a framework for developing a product in small pieces in an incremental fashion. It's a small set of rules that are adaptive in nature, creating a structure that allows cross-functional teams to focus their innovation on solving a complex problem in a simple way. The basic idea behind Scrum is to empower the team to leverage its innate talent to do more and achieve more. Teams are self-organized to work together to produce outstanding results.
Roles in Scrum
The ScrumMaster removes impediments so the team can progress efficiently toward its goal. Although the ScrumMaster has no authority over team members, he or she does have authority over the process. Since the ScrumMaster has limited authority and acts as a "servant leader," the role can be more challenging than that of a typical project manager.
The product owner points the team to the right target, whereas the ScrumMaster helps the team get to that target as efficiently as possible. The product owner has the authority to set a goal and shape the vision of the team. For example, the product owner is responsible for defining and prioritizing the product backlog that expresses the goal.
The development team builds what is necessary in a sprint and then demonstrates it to the product owner, based on which the product owner decides what should be taken up in the next sprint.
Project managers in Scrum
The irony is that Scrum projects eliminate the untenable role of a project manager. Because the concept has now changed to self-organizing teams, there is no official role of project manager in Scrum. Does eliminating the role also imply that we can do away with the talents and responsibilities of a project manager? What about managing cost, quality, risk, procurement, and stakeholders?
In the real world, we cannot completely turn our backs on the role a traditional project manager undertakes, which is the primary reason project managers are still hired in organizations following Scrum. However, the way traditional managers used to work has changed a great deal since the introduction of Agile. Project managers must now overcome old habits of directing the team, making decisions for it, and sweating the details. Instead, the role now demands agility, making the leap from "master" to servant leader, from being an impediment to being the best catalyst, from placing an order to actually serving to the team. Project managers' contributions can help organizations excel and take their products to a higher level.
Project managers can:
Find strategic partners. PMs, with their experience in the industry, can help organizations expand their portfolios and generate greater revenues by finding strategic partners and new customers. They can collaborate with the presales team to leverage their valuable technical knowledge of the product in attracting new customers.
Coach the ScrumMasters. PMs can coach ScrumMasters in understanding the team dynamics and can teach them the science and art of getting work done from people. They can provide insight into resolving conflicts and encouraging and motivating the team to perform at higher levels of productivity.
Engage in strategic release planning. Releases are the new versions of an evolving product. Strategic release planning is concerned with selecting and assigning requirements or features to be addressed in a sequence of releases. It is always considered difficult to form a strategic release plan, due to varying constraints and uncertainties. A PM can help with what-if scenarios in support of replanning, including constraints related to risk, individual resources necessary to implement the proposed features, money, or technological dependencies, such that a high-quality and realistic plan is achieved.
Recruit. Since PMs are subject-matter experts in people management, they can help align the personal goals of a person to the organizational goals and ensure there is the right fit for the project.
Be the chief product owner. PMs can use their multitasking and communication skills by acting as chief product owner and synchronizing multiple product backlogs. This will benefit in two important ways: First, it will ensure that various products in the portfolio are aligned to achieve the organization's strategic goals. Second, it will help the Scrum teams visualize the holistic picture of the project, thus ensuring that the team is on the right track toward providing a win to the client.
Act as resource broker. As PMs operate from the top rather than the bottom, they can help form highly productive cross-functional Scrum teams. They can use their management skills in filling any resource gaps among various Scrum teams.
Remove blocks that Scrum teams are not able to resolve themselves. PMs can act as a bridge between top management and the Scrum team in resolving blocking issues. They can act as a voice of the Scrum team to the top management and clients to help remove impediments. This saves lot time for the development team, product owner, and ScrumMaster.
Provide performance evaluations and feedback. The ScrumMaster's role is primarily to remove impediments and make sure the team is following the correct process to achieve the right target. Since performance evaluation is a deviation, it can lead the ScrumMaster down the wrong path and undermine his or her ability to manage the Scrum teams well. Performance evaluation should be the responsibility of PMs, who are practiced in dealing with them. Also, since that would mean they are done by a person outside of the Scrum team, team members will feel they are being treated fairly.
Stay tuned in to industry news and developments. PMs can explore the various widely used tools available in the market, and they can keep an eye on upcoming tools and techniques to gain a competitive advantage. This helps the organization anticipate the training needs of the team.
Plan and manage budgets or financials. Budgets and cost estimation have always been pointed to as a nail in the coffin of Agile methods. Irrespective of gathering document binders full of requirements and getting the sponsors or stakeholders to sign them in blood, there is always the chance of going over budget, with product owners or users shouting, "No, that's not what we want!" PMs, who have experience with various estimation tools and techniques, are a good fit for such activities.
Help plan career moves for team members. To handle the ever-changing needs of the industry, employees must constantly upgrade their skills. Gaining knowledge that will not lead to anywhere is not a good idea for anyone. To make sure that the path followed is the right one and will produce the desired outcome, a mentor is advisable. PMs bring with them industry experience and they can be well suited to this role. They can help in providing the right direction and also in monitoring the outcomes. Once the goal is achieved, they can help make sure that the knowledge gained by the employee is leveraged for the benefit of the organization.
Be servant leaders. Last but not least, PMs can act as servant leaders, providing a vision to the team and at the same time empowering the team to find possible solutions and implement the one best for the project. Agile methods like Scrum represent the shift from traditional leadership, which generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by someone at the "top of the pyramid," to servant-leadership, where the leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leaders believe in drawing on the intelligence of the team members for making decisions rather than dictating decisions to them.
Scrum is an adaptive method that provides a set of rules for managing projects and simultaneously empowers team members to modify rules according to need, without diluting the content of the method. It can be considered a sponge to absorb everything that's best for your project and reject anything or everything that's not relevant to it.
In this article, I have presented the ways in which a project manager could become your best supporter in the Scrum framework. PMs bring with them great industry experience, and they have learned the art and science of management in ways that cannot be completely neglected. Instead, when used in conjunction with Scrum, their knowledge can help solve many organization-wide problems. Why look for solutions in an external frame of reference when we can have them by transforming the traditional ways?
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