Apr 20

The last project manager

There is a sad thing going on in our business. While most of us are working in agile environments, doing scrum, kanban or any other agile project solution . A large quantity of people is not and slowly they are getting outnumbered. Amongst others we are witnessing the final struggles of the project manager.

I have seen this before. In the nineties  I worked in photography and advertising. We didn’t have digital cameras and everything was film and print process. When you needed a large blow-up, for a billboard or such, you had to work with large film formats like 6×6” or 4×5”. After development of your film you went to a lithographer. They translated your negatives or slides to a larger format before it was send to the print studio. But technology stepped up and it became possible to send your images digitally to the printer so they could print it right away. The litho was not needed anymore. Unfortunately for a long time the lithographers where sticking to their thing. They thought that it was impossible to deliver good quality prints without their work and expertise and it was their opinion that the digital era was way far away into the future. Instead of moving on and improve upon the business, they kept doing what they did. And slowly they became obsolete.  I have known highly skilled lithographers who became unemployed and who had to go and find another job. Sad but that’s how it sometimes works.

The same thing is going on in our sector. Where in the past huge companies depended on project managers, consultants and analyst who worked on huge long running multimillion-budget projects, there is now a change. Large companies are starting to see that thinking big upfront is good but to get to a working end result you have to take small steps. Highly efficient and skilled project teams are formed to get the things done. No more boardrooms full of consultants and advisers who are planning for the future trying to predict things that eventually won’t work. And in between them the project managers trying to make sense of it all with their charts, budget estimates and project plans. Pushing people to work harder and late to get it all done because the planning and thinking took a very long time and deadlines are getting closer. With the coming of the Agile ways, the project manager is losing grip. I have seen them up-close. Running in and out of boardrooms. Drawing their plans and waging budgets like busy little bees, but when you looked up closely al they where doing was just that, running around and looking busy. Making sure that they where seen. Every project where I start to implement scrum I can see the final struggles of project managers before becoming extinct.

A lot of managers make the transgression to Agile Project Manager. But what is that. Is it someone in charge of the project but not managing? Or is it a sort of Scrum Master role but with the feeling of being in control. Is the Agile Project Manager a Product Owner with a whip, like someone who tries to get things from teams by letting them loose but with a hidden agenda? To me it feels strange. Why is it so hard to just let go and stop being a project manager and move on. The Agile project manager is just a title, I know, but it also stands for something rigid. It stands for something in between. Not doing the old things anymore, but also reluctant to move on.

I’m not so keen on job titles. So why am I ranting on about it. I have noticed that with people new to Agile everything they do is new and different. It is very hard to let go of old habits. Suddenly teams have to think and act upon themselves. There is a scrum master who helps them but just by facilitating. There is a project owner who encourages them to build quality and meaningful stuff. And there are no more unrealistic deadlines and budgets. Everything is different. It’s scary but also new and fun, with other ways of communicating and getting things done. And then there is the project manager who now, al of a sudden, is agile. What’s up with that? Can you see my point here? If you want to change and move on, you have to let go of the old ways. I know it is hard and a bit sad but the project manager is a thing of the past. So stop trying to revive or turn it into a in-between role. Stop trying to incorporate. Let go. And move on. Because if we do this the next thing you see is an Agile Ghantt chart on the wall. Yikes!

But there is hope for all you project managers out there. There is live beyond your management by control. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Steer yourself away from pushing people and move towards facilitating, try trusting and empowering people. You will find that it is much easier and gets the job done.

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