Projects represent the confluence of three completing voices each trying to control and shape what gets delivered and when. In his seminal book, Out of the Crisis, W. Edward Deming (and amplified later by John Scherkenbach), used the voice metaphor to describe the information generated about the process by the process and information about the process generated by the customer. He described the information flows needed for a process to deliver value, how mismatches can affect the effectiveness of any process and how this information flow can be used as a correction vehicle. The three voices are: the voice of the customer, which provides business direction; the voice of the process/team, which creates and delivers value; and the voice of the organization, which provides goals, strategy and control. Each of these voices provide guidance and direction for projects from the point of view to satisfy their own needs, goals and constituencies.
Each of these constituencies uses language differently to describe how they work and to describe their view of the project world. For example, the term ‘requirement’ can suggest something that this is notional to be evolved (Agile team and perhaps the product owner) or something that is captured, carved in stone and placed under change management (the PMO or standard project management world). Both of these definitions can be useful, and describe the continuum of requirements. However, each constituency tends to see the definition of a requirement as unitary. Understanding the definitions each group uses will help develop an understanding of the various voices.
The project manager acts as the voice of the organization providing strategic perspective (many times through a PMO). In an Agile organization, this voice and role is external to project team. The project manager deals with external issues, risks and informational needs that are external to the team so the skids are greased and obstacles are kept out of the away of the team. Note: This does not deny or negate the need for standard personnel management.
In Agile projects, the role that a project manager played in the project team is subsumed by the core team (product owner, Scrum Master and development team), negating the need for one person to play the classic project manager role. In an Agile environment, the voice of the project is generally played by the Scrum Master or Coach. This voice speaks for the team and the processes the team uses. From the perspective of the team this role is inside the team’s boundary. The product owner represents the voice of the business or customer. As the voice of the business the product owner brings information to the team and helps them interpret the data (note the flow of information can be in both directions to and from the business but the primary goal is to bring information to the team. The voice of the business straddles the boundary between the team and the business. The voice of the organization represents a management and control view. The voice of the organization is by definition is external to the team.
The three voices all have roles in an Agile project, however they are not the same roles that we have been used to in the past, nor do they necessarily serve the same constituencies. The project manager used to play the role of the voice of the process and the voice of the organization. Because the project manager served multiple constituencies it was difficult to clearly represent the needs and goals of both at the same time. Agile projects push role of the voice of the organization outside of the project team. The person playing the role of the Voice of the Organization (generally a project manager or project administrator) still analyzes and reports overall project data to management. In programs (large projects with multiple teams) they may facilitate BIG picture coordination and clear blockers out of the way that are outside of the team’s span of control. The person playing the Voice of the Organization role stays out the way of the team ability to deliver by not adding overhead to the team’s activities. The inside of the project role that the project manager once played is now handled by the Scrum Master (Voice of the Process) and the product owner (Voice of the Business).