As a project manager, a scrum master, a team lead, or even as an agile coach I’ve wondered from time to time about the true value that I bring to a team. You see, to me it is entirely plausible that a team could work just fine without any of the aforementioned roles being present. In fact, I know that there are many teams that are quite successful without a project manager on the team. That goes for scrum masters too. It has always been a difficult question to face with any intellectual honesty.
Recently I picked up Mary and Tom Poppendieck’s latest book, Leading Lean Software Development. She uses frames to illustrate some of the successful and unsuccessful approaches to software development over the last 40 years. She deals rather harshly with what she calls the Project Management Frame. Basically, if you accept their take on modern project management it is wrong-headed on a number of different levels and is the source of a great deal of waste and very little value in the overall business value stream. Speaking as someone who basically operates in this role, it’s a pretty harsh toke. Having spoken with her about it, I get the impression that when she talks about project management, she doesn’t make any distinction between scrum masters, XP coaches, or traditional project managers. They are all separated from the work and using “management” to manipulate or measure the teams with metrics that at best serve no useful purpose and at worst cause a great deal of harm. Now I know there are those who might argue these points vociferously, but Mary and Tom are pretty darn smart, so I think there is some merit in considering their viewpoint seriously.
What value do project managers provide to the business value stream? Please note that I’m using the term project manager very loosely. It includes Scrum Masters and other leaders of that ilk. Well, perhaps the best way to answer that question would be to build your own personal value stream map. Take a recent project and see if you can list all of the activities that you engaged in as part of delivering that project. Line ’em up in chronological order, identify the wait steps and the queues and see what your personal efficiency, from the perspective of the team value stream is. It might look something like this:
Tracking (taskboard, etc.)
So…if I look at that list, what activities are value adding from the customer’s perspective? Oooh, that might be a pretty short list:
All the other stuff is just “process” overhead without any intrinsic value. That leaves a pretty darn short list. Facilitating reviews/demos is certainly not much of a unique skill. You can do that without a PM. Easy. How about resolving impediments? Well, that sort of depends on how many you resolve…and even then, resolving impediments is not the exclusive domain of the PM/Scrum Master. Finally, there is only release coordination. Some people do that, others don’t – it depends on the organization. And does release coordination represent value to the customer? Would they pay for it? Maybe…
Perhaps that’s a brutal assessment of the value of a team leader. I tend to be that way. Others may be more forgiving. What it tells me is that, at least in my case, if I’m not eliminating a LOT of impediments, I’m probably not contributing much direct value to the team. They really don’t need me for those other activities. It’s the impediment removing that represents the real value. And you don’t need a PMI certification to remove impediments…or a CSM certification…or a title…