Do We Still Need Project Managers in a Lean and Agile/Scrum World?

Project Management

I’ve been helping companies introduce and adopt Lean and Agile/Scrum approaches in both IT and business departments for the last decade – and the question that continues comes up is: “now that we’re implementing a Scrum-based development approach, do we still need all these PMs and a separate PMO organization?”

The answer is easy: the ScrumAlliance says no and PMI says yes.  I’ve found (not too surprisingly) that the answer a person chooses usually depends on their personal experiences, history, current role and responsibilities.  My answer is that both PMI and ScrumAlliance are right – up to a point.  Before I discuss these points of view, let’s start with definitions:

A Project

A project is a complex set of objectives, work, and deliverables that lead to the accomplishment of a pre-stated goal.  This involves a well-defined start and end, utilizing various resources including multiple people who are both directly and indirectly involved in achieving the project objectives.  Objectives are achieved through the execution of a series of tasks or activities.

A Project Manager

There are many definitions for what a project manager is, but most would agree that they have responsibility for:

  • Assuring the overall success of “a project” from start to finish – from initial planning (sometime as early as the business case and budgeting) through to completion of the project (which may or may not include “end-user adoption”).
  • Project Plan development and monitoring/maintenance
  • Monitoring staff and the tasks they are responsible for.
  • Budget management.
  • Monitoring and managing risks and issues.
  • Assuring smooth communications and collaboration – within the Team and across the organization.

ScrumAlliance: No. Project Managers are not needed

Based on my personal experiences, I think most Agile/Scrum practitioners do not believe there really is a need for a role of “project manager”.  And officially, the ScrumAlliance does not have a role for a “project manager”.  There are two roles, ScrumMaster and Product Owner, whose responsibilities overlap with some of Project Managers.



Product Owner

Assuring Project Success Partial – assures a Team is functional and productive, but not “overall success” Yes –responsible for defining the work, it’s priority, and when a complete set of work is ready for release to the end customer
Project Planning and Status Monitoring Partial – “manage” the product backlog and burn-down charts.  They facilitate Sprint backlog planning and review meetings. Partial – product backlog prioritization, story identification
Monitoring Staff No – the Team decides what and how to work on tasks/stories and how to organize itself No
Budget Management No – the concept of a budget in the traditional sense does not exist No
Managing Risks Partial – removing “blockers” to the Team completing stories – but does not extend outside the Team No
Assuring Communications Partial –  facilitates the daily standup/scrum meetings Partial – facilitates scrum planning meeting


PMI: Yes. Project Managers are needed



Actually, though PMI believes that PMs are important, it is very difficult to get a clear read from PMI on exactly what they view the specific role of a “Project Manager” is on Agile/Scrum-based projects.  PMI’s main focus is educating people in Agile techniques – as they state “Project managers who are using Agile practices in their projects can broaden their influence and impact in their respective organizations and enhance their careers with the Agile certification, especially those professionals already holding the PMP®”.

The Role of PMs in a Lean and Agile Environment

Let me start off by saying that much of my career has been in the classic project management/command-and-control world.  But my transformation into a believer and strong proponent of Lean/Agile/Scrum/Kanban happened pretty rapidly because it was amazingly obvious that Agile improves the effectiveness of most projects more effectively than any other single approach I have ever experienced (anyone remember Method/1, Upper and Lower CASE tools, etc.)

My view is that in many smaller, development-oriented organizations (or stand-alone teams), there is not a need for the Project Management role.  I’ve also found this to be true in more mature Agile-oriented organizations where Agile has become the defacto approach for running projects – including non-developmental activities like operations, support, and planning.

As shown in the chart below, I believe that most of the traditional PM role can (over time) be handled by someone like a Development Manager combined with a Product and ScrumMaster.



Product Owner

Development Manager

Assuring Project Success Assures Team success Assures Product success Assures that resources are available
Project Planning and Status Monitoring Facilitates Sprint backlog planning, story grooming, and burn down tracking Overall product backlog, definition of themes and Epics
Monitoring Staff N/A N/A Staff HR
Budget Management N/A Coordinates with the Development Manager Prepares and manages the development budget
Managing Risks Helps remove Sprint blockers
Assuring Communications Daily standups, Sprint Planning Meetings, and Sprint Reviews Sprint Planning Meetings, and Sprint Reviews


There are two major challenges with this view: (1) Large Projects and (2) Hybrid Projects.

Large Projects. As organizations and projects get bigger – or as projects become programs and span multiple Geos, cross organizational boundaries, or have distributed development teams, there is a need for a role that can handle cross-team task coordination, budgets, overall program status, risk management, communications, process change, and roll-out planning.

This is a role that FitforProjects often plays on projects and I don’t have a problem with calling this person a Project Manager even though overall accountability for success may reside in another role.  What’s interesting about this approach to project management is that the role is more “Project Enabler” than “Manager” – and in many ways requires better communication, organizational development, and facilitator/coaching skills than Project Mangers typically have.

Hybrid Projects.  Many organizations, especially those starting the transition to Agile, end up with an unplanned, “hybrid” structure where some programs are run Agile and others are not.  In other cases, parts of a project might use Agile and other parts don’t.  This typically creates a very challenging project environment where traditional Project Managers have accountability for budgets as well as the overall success of a project or program – while at the same time Agile Teams and their Product Owners feel that have are responsible for what gets done when.

Conculsion: Avoid inadvertently creating a dysfunctional project ecosystem

Implementing an Agile development approach takes more effort than just sending staff to Scrum, ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and PMI training.  You must also explicitly address how to handle project “management” and accountability.  If you’re ambiguous about roles and responsibilities, don’t be surprised if Agile doesn’t quite work out the way you expected.

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