We use terms like self-organizing and self-managing when describing Agile teams. A self-organizing and self-managing team will determine, plan and manage their day-to-day activities rather than being directed by an appointed project manager. The critical word in those phrases that cause stress between Agile teams and project managers is ‘self’. The word self tends to give organizations pause, because most organizations have been developed with the expectation of using command and control management techniques rather than the Agile concept of self-directed teams to control projects. In the simplest terms, command and control management says that a leader will tell a follower what to do and when to do it. Realistically true command and control management has NEVER worked in the IT environment, however in many organizations there is still an expectation that the project manager will control the management of a project. In Agile projects, the expectations are fundamentally different.
Conceptually, project managers are charged with controlling the scope, schedule and cost (the iron triangle) of their project. In controlling one or more of the basic attributes of the iron triangle, the project manager can control the quality of what is delivered. The problem is that this view represents an illusion of control rather actual control. The project manager generally does not write and test the code, nor do they know the specific tasks to pull off that transformation. What the project manager does, in many organizations, is the facilitation of meetings, creating status reports and administration. This misses the point of what project management should really deliver – which is leadership. Project management many times has shifted from a leadership position to one of project comptroller.
In an Agile environment, the illusion of control is debunked based on the premise that you can’t manage what you can’t control and, in reality, only the team can control its own behaviors. As we have noted, the roles of the project manager have been distributed to the team, who is better able to control scope, schedule and cost. The team uses self-organization to plan and execute the activities required to deliver the functionality they have committed to deliver. The team can realign its resources based on feedback as a mechanism to meet the needs of the organization. Agile teams replace the illusion of control through a project managers with techniques of self-organization and self-management.
The seeds of stress between the PMO and project managers and Agile teams are sown in the term ‘self’: self-organizing and self-managing. Organization and control are the areas of activity that typically have fallen into the bailiwick of project management. The stress between the concepts of organizational control of team and self-management reflects a conflict of voices that will only recede as the two cultures merge and personnel are redeployed to deliver value more effectively.