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Although I know PMs who are exceptions to this, traditional project management has boiled down to two, main functions:
- Track and report if a project is on schedule / budget
- Get at the bottom of why a project is not on schedule / budget and get it back on track
An agile environment tends to resolve both of these issues without the need of a project manager. The schedule is determined by actual production metrics, budgets are done on an incremental time and materials basis, and teams tend to be self-managing in the sense that they identify their own issues and have the tools they need to continuously improve. All the information that is part of this process gets radiated out to the public in the form of Kanban boards, standup meetings, etc.
As a company becomes more lean and agile, project managers may tend to feel threatened, especially because, in my experience, upper management tends to notice fairly quickly that they no longer need a project manager to report progress and govern schedules. Becoming agile has, basically, made the traditional project manager obsolete. Some PMs even become hostile to adopting a leaner way of doing projects for this very reason.
While some might argue that agile teams do not need a project manager, I would argue that they do, but the project manager role needs to evolve and take on different responsibilities.
In my pretend world populated with unicorns, gumdrop houses, and agile project managers, I see PMs taking on the following functions:
- Facilitating communication between disparate teams / groups of people who are involved in the same project
- Coordinating resource needs cross-team and cross-project
- Removing obstacles that happen at a meta-project or meta-team level
In other words, they become actual managers as opposed to a Crystal Report with legs.
There is a real need in agile environments that are large for someone to… well… manage… projects. There is a need for someone who can deal with the issue that the developers on Project A need the DBAs to make a table change, but all the DBAs are fully resourced on Project B. There is a need for someone who can see that the next iteration of the website will be ready for deployment in the next couple of weeks, so the various teams involved in migrating a release will need to be notified. There is a need for someone to analyze the difficulties teams have working on the same project and across different projects and coming up with ways to improve.
To me, an agile environment makes a PM way more important than a traditional PM, and it gives them a very empowering and non-antagonistic way of relating to both the management above them and the project workers with whom they work.