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David has enjoyed success using agile and lean techniques at several companies near Washington DC and San Francisco. He joined his first startup in 1999, and helped scale it to a 13 million dollar acquisition in 2006. He now brings entrepreneurial thinking into large organizations so that disruptive innovation can emerge. David is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 30 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

And Now You Are Just a Project Manager

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You’ve seen the job description:

Project Manager / ScrumMaster
- Must have knowledge of traditional project management
- CSM preferred
- PMP nice to have

These are becoming more and more common as of late, and typically posted by 3rd party recruiters working on behalf of large enterprise organizations.

Project Manager / ScrumMaster

What they fail to mention in the description is how once their agile adoption fails, you’ll be a full time Project Manager.

That “slash” in the job title is not an insignificant one.

It means they are asking you to perform 2 distinct roles, and more importantly it means they are riding the fence in regards to their agile initiative. I’ve seen Project Manager / ScrumMaster candidates go through an interview process where their Project Manager duties were not even discussed! Yet when the agile adoption fell apart, it did so at such an accelerated pace that it would make your head spin. You need to be prepared for this possibility (probability).

For example, I’ve witnessed project plans being forced onto teams even after they’d shown amazing progress during the agile adoption. Velocity, while certainly not perfect, is the best measure I know of for tracking an agile team’s growth. This specific team had matured from single digit velocity, to lower 30′s in the span of just a few months.

This all came to a crashing halt once management smacked them with a plan that illustrated every projected task in glorious gantt chart fashion. The Project Manager / ScrumMaster was given an ultimatum to deliver the plan to the team, or basically lose his job.

In doing so, the following events occurred within the week:

1. Daily Standups went from 100% participation to 25% participation. Why you ask, how could that happen so quickly? The team members, especially the software engineers, refused to show up citing the fact that they’d “send their updates in via email” because based on the gantt chart, you already knew what they were working on in detail.

2. Retrospectives ceased to exist. Why talk about things you can improve upon when under a tight deadline?

3. People fell back into command and control. They stopped viewing the Project Manager / ScrumMaster as a ScrumMaster because he had subjected them to a very waterfall-like document. It is hard enough to play this dual role without this additional baggage.

Months and months of work unraveled in less than a week. The Project Manager / ScrumMaster was called into a meeting, and accused of neglecting all of his Project Manager duties. “Do you know what a Project Manager is? I should have asked you in the interview”.

So how can this have been prevented?

To be honest I’m not sure that it could have, at least not solely by the Project Manager / ScrumMaster (now Project Manager). Any agile adoption needs support, and a great deal of patience. If you apply to such a position in the future, it is important that you know what you are walking into.

To some extent, I’m starting to believe the Agile Project Manager role is less of a risk than Project Manager / ScrumMaster.

Published at DZone with permission of David Bland, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Mike Lunt replied on Wed, 2010/11/17 - 3:31pm

Time pressures often result in stress behaviors, which often result in more time pressures.  Nice post...

Bruce Lofland replied on Wed, 2010/11/17 - 5:54pm

There is a lot of hype about "Agile" project management right now. This article points out that it is almost an oxymoron. I wonder if people just want to jump on the "Agile" bandwagon without knowing how to code? I blogged about this some more here: Does Agile Project Management Exist?
PM Technix

Keith Adeney replied on Thu, 2010/11/18 - 3:11am

In the financial downturn we have found that the performance squeeze is on. This has lead to the Agile maxim "People over Processes" to be put aside. Processes start to control the show and traditional Project Management comes back into play to squeeze performance.

David Bland replied on Fri, 2010/11/19 - 9:20am

I had a bit of online correspondence with Ron Jeffries about the title Agile Project Manager being an oxymoron earlier this year. Interestingly enough I feel as though it is still a more stable role than Project Manager / ScrumMaster.

One of the artcles in my backlog is How Agile Adoptions May Get You Fired, and it is based on my experiences over the years.

It can be very difficult to balance your passion with job security, especially in this economy.


Thanks for your comments!

Emma Watson replied on Fri, 2012/03/30 - 5:11am

I think adoption of Agile was not done correctly here. Its a common mistake focus purely on the team involved and mesure progress with velocity. Agile adoption have to focus also organization on broader scope – at least work contracts of people involved have to be updated to be “agile” too, management trained for understanding what is going on and what is expected from them.


Rich Whitten replied on Fri, 2012/04/20 - 3:17pm

I have filled the roles of Project Manager / Scrum Master at a couple of companies. In addition to the Scrum Master role, the project management role is required in many smaller companies to deal with everything outside of the Scrum team. This includes moving non IT departments to Agile practices, reporting out to management, and working with other organizations (vendors, Sales/Marketing, etc.). The term Agile Project Manger seems to be a good compromise to describe this dual role.

Benjamin Dell replied on Tue, 2013/09/03 - 5:23am

I've been faced with this issue many times in the past too. Adoption across the team, can be a complex thing to solve and if you don't achieve it - i agree, agile can fall by the wayside and traditional PM techniques quickly take over. What i've found interesting though, is that even when successful agile strategies have been achieved, it can be a real struggle to ensure that everyone (whether team members, clients, stakeholders or investors) are sufficiently kept in the loop. This is something we're trying to solve at the moment via It doesn't solve the day to day needs of a ScrumMaster, but thought i'd mention it in case it's of any interest to you.

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