What is the role of a Project Manager in Scrum Team?

What is the role of a Project Manager in Scrum Team?

Satisha Venkataramaiah
15th Feb, 2019


What is the role of a Project Manager in a Scrum Team?

First of all, what is a Project? As per PMI PMBOK, it is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. Most of the projects in today’s VUCA(Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, don’t fit that definition. 

You can consider a Sprint when you are working on a complex product using Scrum as a Project, although I would prefer to call it an experiment. Sprints are short-lived like Projects; however, they are continuous unlike projects, which are temporary.

What is Project Management? 

It’s the set of activities involved in managing to deliver projects on-time, on budget, learning, and integrating those into the organizational way of working. It is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Who is a Project Manager?

Project Managers are the owners of the project, responsible for seeing it through to completion. They are the ones who inspire the project teams with a sense of shared purpose and connect them with all the stakeholders to achieve the ultimate goal of the project. 

With experience, they manage multiple projects(program managers) and go on to own the responsibility of selecting, and prioritizing projects or programs that align with organizational strategy (portfolio managers).

Abuse of title Project manager

Some people call themselves Project Managers but merely act as coordinators between project teams passing on information between these teams. They are Project Coordinators, not project managers. 

Some people call themselves Project Managers but do people management. Just having a title doesn’t make one a Project Manager. 

A project manager is someone who manages at least three things, project scope, project budget, and project schedules (or popularly known as triple constraints).

What happens to Project Managers when organizations adopt Scrum?

Well, organizations use Scrum to solve complex problems using collective wisdom iteratively. So, the concept of projects may not work in such complex contexts where the requirements are unclear let alone the solution. As I said earlier, the closest to a concept project in such scenarios is a Sprint or an iteration. How do we map the project management responsibilities to what Scrum teams do? Let’s give it a shot by looking at each of the Project Management knowledge areas:

Integration: Both the development team and Product owners are responsible for this.

Scope: The Product Owner is primarily responsible for uncovering the user needs, prioritizing them keeping in mind all stakeholders(users, buyers, sponsors), and work the development team to evolve the understanding of user needs.

Time and Cost: The Product Owner is primarily responsible for maximizing the value of the work done by the Scrum team. So they act as product facilitators to define experiments, and Sprint goals and decide when to release products to the market. They are also responsible for prioritization of product backlog items and deciding what to spend money on and what not.

Quality: The quality of the product is impacted by the clarity of user needs, policies in the organization, and technical decisions as well. So Quality is a shared responsibility of the whole Scrum team.

Procurement: The whole Scrum team decides what resources are required to build the product and make decisions to buy. A choice of whom to buy from is made outside the Scrum team.

Human resources: The Scrum team has no hierarchy within the group. They all are peers and report to someone outside the Scrum team. HR includes forming and building the Scrum team, which is a shared responsibility of the Scrum Team. However initial hiring and performance management may be done by the people /line/reporting managers.

Communications: Communication within and outside the Scrum team is a shared responsibility of the Scrum Team.

Risk management: The risks are nothing but assumptions that are not validated. The Sprints are meant to reduce the risk of building unused products and reduce Cost of Delay. The assumptions could be business or functional, technical or systemic. So risk management is a shared responsibility of the Scrum Team.

Stakeholder management: The stakeholders could be users, buyers, sponsors or others outside the Scrum Team. While engaging most of them is the responsibility of the PO, it’s still a shared responsibility.

If you take a closer look, the project management responsibilities are distributed but heavily leaning towards Product Owner. A natural progression for a project manager is the Product Owner role. 

However, the project managers have only 50% of the skills required for a PO. Take a look at the responsibilities of a Product Owner below. Project Managers mostly dwell on the bottom part(internal), whereas Product Owners are responsible for everything.

If Project managers can acquire skills to perform product strategy(something that portfolio managers are generally good at) and user research(something that business analysts are good at), they would be good Product Owners.

How do Project Managers compare to the role of a Product Owner?

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the return on investment (ROI) of the product by creatively solving the user’s problem while strategically helping the business succeed. 

They are responsible for uncovering user needs through experiments and deciding the priorities of features to be built every Sprint.

Satisha Venkataramaiah explains how the Project Manager role maps to that of a Product Owner.

Can a Project Manager become a Scrum Master?

Project Managers belong to the Product Management profession whereas Scrum Masters belong to the Coaching/facilitation profession. Can they switch their profession? 

Absolutely yes, by acquiring the required skills to be an effective Scrum Master such as Systems Thinking, Organizational design, Facilitation, Coaching, etc. However, that would be a change in their profession.

How much salary does a Product Owner get in India?

Apeksha Patel explains how much salary a Product Owner gets.

Join our Certified Scrum Product Owner workshop to know more about the Product Owner role and the Certified Scrum Master workshop to know more about the Scrum Master role.

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