Skramjet – Working with Project Managers

Female Project ManagerAfter a finishing up my current contract, holidays and a bit of Bloggers Block, a chat with John Wenger about humanity and process a while ago has inspired me to do this post that I’ve had brewing for a while… Your first response may be a glib / tongue-in-cheek response “What, humanity and PMs, that’s an Oxymoron”. And therein lies the problem – I feel I almost need to point out that PMs are people too :-) Most of them are trying to do a good job in a probably difficult situation. They have families, lovers, pets: and they’re just at work like you – doing their best…

To tease this apart more, the first thing we need to do is separate the person from the role. With that, we can acknowledge that people are generally the same, so there should be no core difference between a PM and others in an org. Then we have the role – this is unfortunately where distortions can come in. Not only from the role, but the organisation and it’s view of that role which often puts them forward as “Managers”. I mostly see them as “Administrators”, though and I’m not saying this in a mean way – as an Architect (or any other core-IT role) I see them there to help me to build things for an organisation. Sure, they have their plans, but any good PM knows how to work the plan with the people and not the other way around.

In most of my engagements in large organisations, as a facilitator I’ve gotten along well with the PMs personally and professionally and they’ve always helped the project (well, there’s always the exception, but one can say that about almost anything). Strangely though, this seems to be the opposite of most of the “agile crowd” who seem to constantly complain about and want to get rid of PMs. What’s up? Have I just been lucky the last 15-20 years? I think not…

Humanity

How would you feel if I came in to your work and told you I was a BoingBoing Master and that part of the BoingBoing Approach (tm :) I’d be replacing you, or if you were lucky would turn you in to a BoingBoing Apprentice where you’d have to start from the bottom again and work your way up?

Well that’s the attitude most agile people do! And then they wonder why PMs are so “difficult”…

Role

As I touched on above, I acknowledge that while PM is not an essential role in agile, it can be accommodated. Part of this probably comes from my earlier work with (Iterative) RUP where PM is an acknowledged role. When I progressed to Scrum, it was using RUP Iterations, so again, the PMs were there – helping with Iteration and Project planning, while we ran the Scrums and handed most problems over to them to sort out.

Working

This brings me to my current approach: As I mentioned, I view PMs as “skilled administrators” and “organisational facilitators” who are necessary in in large company. On that basis I help them understand how I can work with them as I’ll help the team focus on their work and maximising it, while they can help communicate this to the wider organisation and help remove obstacles that the team will be surfacing with them. This way, we both benefit, generally doing what we all enjoy.

Perfect? No, but it’s sure better than going in to a situation where you have exist with a powerful and combative “opponent” every day…

The Kicker

This approach also allows for what I’d call a “classic” Scrum/Kanban/… Facilitator, where this is not a full time job (which I can remember in the early days of agile and scrum). The rest of the time, I get to perform a team role (usually Architect, but it could really be any – e.g. (Business) Analyst, Developer, Tester, Infrastructure) which enables me to be deeply involved in the project and therefore not need “explanation sessions” where the team explains what they’re doing to someone who doesn’t really understand.

Future - Human Evolution - Cities in the SkyThe Future

So is that it? Am I advocating we just sit back and not cause “too much trouble” for the entrenched system? NO! It’s quite the opposite as I’m suggest a campaign for Hearts and Minds conducted with Love and Compassion rather than the “Shock and Awe” campaigns that are often conducted by the Agile Extremists…

Edited with BlogPad Pro

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