The Agile framework was created in the 1990s in response to the traditional, rigid approach favored by project management at the time. The Agile approach was codified in 2001 with the release of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
Since then, the Agile framework has gained many adherents. It offers a flexible methodology involving cross-functional, self-organizing teams that work and collaborate with the product’s customers or end-users. Agile is open to changes, adaptive, iterative, and always alert for ways to improve.
However, even a less rigid, more relaxed philosophy like Agile needs an element of management. That’s where the Agile Project Manager comes in. This article looks at the role, including what it is, what they do, and what it takes to become one.
The Agile Project Manager: An Overview
Every Agile practitioner needs guidance and management at one point or another. Although the "certified Agile project manager" position exists, it's just as likely that a Scrum Master or product owner is leading the Agile project team. In some cases, the Scrum Master, product owner, and even the individual team members divide up the responsibilities of the traditional non-Agile project manager. It’s a testament to Agile’s flexibility that there is no ultimate correct answer; every Agile project pan is different. Ideally, however, your project has an Agile Project Manager at the helm.
As with traditional project managers, Agile Project Managers are ultimately responsible for successful product delivery. However, the point of deviation comes from the Agile values that govern the Agile project management style.
The four fundamental Agile values are, according to the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Technology comes and goes, but people are what drive the project forward. Despite their technological sophistication, tools and methods can’t adapt to changing circumstances as people can.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation. Well-written software manuals are good and play a helpful role. Good documentation makes things more straightforward. Well-running software, however, is infinitely better. While it’s great to have both, if you must make a choice, always choose good software over good copy.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Involve the customers in the development process, understand their needs, get their feedback, and you have a better chance of releasing the perfect end product. It’s far better to work with customers instead of haggling with them. It’s less stressful, and it saves time.
- Responding to change over following a plan. “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Traditional project management sees change as an expensive obstacle. Agile assumes change is inevitable and allows for change at any stage of the project. Change isn’t an obstacle — it’s an opportunity.
What is the Job Description of an Agile Project Manager?
Management expects Agile Project Managers to perform several different roles effectively. We can break down these roles into three categories: team-level roles, enterprise-level roles, and hybrid Agile roles.
- Agile Project Managers can assume two distinct roles in the project process.
- Act as a consultant, allocating the right personnel, processes, and resources to bolster team effectiveness and efficiency.
- Assume the role of a coach, advising team members how to optimize their efficiency within the project team best.
- This level of roles poses more significant challenges for Agile Project Managers by virtue of their sheer scope.
- Act as a director, managing multiple Agile teams and integrating their work with activities outside their scope.
- Assume the role of leader and manager in charge of massive, enterprise-level, complex projects.
Hybrid Agile Roles.
- The Hybrid Agile process combines Agile methods with non-Agile techniques, such as the Waterfall method.
- Create a sound project management approach that fits best in planning and managing the work. Filling a Hybrid Agile role is challenging, as the APM must factor in the traditional techniques alongside the Agile methodology.
- Meet the project’s goals within the designated limitations of the project.
Exploring the Responsibilities of an Agile Project Manager
It (also called an APM) plans, leads, organizes and motivates Agile project teams. The manager has a vast range of responsibilities:
- Helping the team achieve a high level of performance and quality, holding teams accountable for their work, removing obstacles, and mentoring less experienced team members.
- Defining the project’s schedule and scope while balancing this with timely and regular value deliveries, and organizing and leading working and project status meetings.
- Delivering Agile projects that offer outstanding business value to the users.
- Supporting the product owner in managing communications with stakeholders, managing customer’s expectations for deliverables, and implementing an effective project governance system.
- Promote team empowerment through team-building techniques, ensuring each team member is making a meaningful contribution and fully engaged in the project.
The APM may also be responsible for managing several concurrent high visibility projects. APMs are accustomed to using Agile methods in a fast-paced environment that may spread across many business divisions.
APMs work strategically with management teams to best define the product’s epics. Note: an “epic” is a large piece of work that has a single shared objective. Epics can be a business requirement, customer request, or a desired feature. Epics often require more than one Sprint to finish.
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The Differences Between a Traditional Project Manager and an APM
We talked about Hybrid Agile and how it combined Agile methods with “traditional” elements. In the spirit of that concept, let’s showcase the differences in approaches between a traditional project manager and an APM.
Traditional Project Managers
Agile Project Managers
Define the target/objective
Create the vision
Aim your resources at the target
Initiate the project in a broad direction
Launch the project
Adjust and adapt to accommodate change
Hope the target doesn’t move (e.g., the project doesn’t change)
Hit the target incrementally
What Skills Does an APM Require?
Judging by the enormous expectations placed on APMs, you might think the position has some hefty skill requirements. You would be right. A good skill set is one of the most essential Agile project management tools. To that end, here’s a list of hard and soft skills that every good APM needs.
- Outstanding organizational skills, especially the ability to prioritize. APMs must focus on the project’s critical components and ignore unnecessary or distracting work.
- The ability to not only remain calm but to actually thrive under pressure.
- Excellent communication skills, essential for collaborating with teams and talking with management and other non-team individuals.
- The ability to work well with others.
- Superior critical thinking capabilities, including the ability to think on their feet.
- Showing a comfort with quickly changing priorities, plus a highly developed adaptability and flexibility.
- A strong familiarity with various Agile and Scrum elements, including Agile planning and Agile project management with Scrum.
- The ideal APM has official certification and training in project management. More on this later.
In addition to the above skills, an excellent APM knows, understands, and follows the four key values of Agile methodology described in the Agile Manifesto, mentioned earlier in the article.
Remember, in some situations, different Agile team members split the duties of an APM. But it’s better to have one person whose sole purpose is to keep the project running smoothly, acting as a motivating leadership figure for the team, and acting as a bridge between the team and the customer. Although this may entail posting, filling, and paying for a new position in your company, it saves money in the long run.
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Do You Have the Drive and Talent to Become an Agile Project Manager?
Agile and Scrum have become increasingly popular. If you’d like a position that offers security, stability, great pay, and an exciting challenge, why not look into Agile Project Management? Simplilearn provides a Post Graduate Program in Project Management certification course to get you on the fast track to Agile project management.
The course, aligned with PMI-PMP® and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma, lets you attend live online interactive classes and masterclasses from UMass Amherst. The program includes Harvard Business Publishing case studies and capstone projects, designed to teach you how to strategize and manage different aspects of program management such as project, program, risk, quality, and complexity management. You will also learn about customer-centric digital transformation, and PMO implementation, while acquiring Agile and Scrum skills.
Suppose you need additional training or upskilling in Agile. In that case, Simplilearn offers an impressive range of courses to fill in the skill gaps, such as Agile Scrum Foundation, Certified Scrum Master, and Agile Scrum Master.
Agile teams need good project managers. Why can’t that be you? Visit Simplilearn’s certification courses today and revitalize your career goals!