How Project Managers Fit into Agile and Scrum

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

We get a lot of Project Managers in our Certified ScrumMaster and Product Owner courses, many of them grow visibly uneasy as they flip through the course book and don’t see their role listed anywhere. They wonder what becomes of the PM in an Agile project (because they’re right – there is no formal Project Manager role in Scrum), and I don’t blame them.

There is no Project Manager Role on a Scrum Team

Project Managers are often sent to Scrum training because their company wants to “become more Agile” and potentially implement Scrum concepts. The fantastic and/or terrible news, (depending on how you look at it) is that the Project Manager role, just like that of the modern Leadership team or Developer, looks dramatically different in an Agile environment.  That’s the whole point of moving away from Waterfall project management (you know, the way of working that isn’t working), no?

Where Does This Leave Project Managers Working in Agile Environments?

First and foremost, if you’re a PM, you’re going to have to get comfortable with the fact that your world will change. But don’t worry – if my father-in-law can sign up for a debit card after decades of refusal, I’m confident you can change, too. Now, let’s explore what these changes will look like, possible roles and responsibilities that may be a good fit, and other helpful resources.

The Project Manager, PMI’s Talent Triangle, and Scrum Roles

I really like this video from Jesse Fewell, CST. It uses the PMI Talent Triangle to start the conversation around what’s expected of today’s Project Manager (way too much, in my opinion) and the choices that are open to them in terms of Scrum roles. I’ll elaborate on each below.


Project Manager as ScrumMaster

ScrumMaster isn’t always a great fit for Project Managers, though.  In looking at the roles and responsibilities of the ScrumMaster, you will quickly find that they make ZERO decisions on what gets built and don’t do any of the actual work building anything.  They are quite literally a coach.  They don’t get involved in the game.  Instead, they work with the team to make them better at the overall Scrum process.

Bottom line: If you’re used to making decisions on the product and/or doing work alongside the team, you would be a much better fit for one of the other Scrum roles below.  If, however, you gravitate toward learning more about and strengthening your skills in the Leadership category of PMI’s Talent Triangle and coaching teams to greatness, the ScrumMaster role would be a natural fit.

Project Manager as Product Owner

In Scrum, the Product Owner role is responsible for the product and all its requirements (shocker).  Think of it as a Business Analyst/Customer Advocate type of role, but on steroids.  The Product Owner is an integral role on the Scrum Team, and it’s a great fit for folks who love working with diverse groups of stakeholders (and getting them to agree on competing priorities – not for the faint of heart!), storytelling and bringing people around to a compelling vision, and who gravitate toward the Strategic and Business Management side of PMI’s Talent Triangle.

I love this role, as the Product Owner often interacts directly with customers and stakeholders across the organization, provides vision and clarity to the team on the product, and determines what the team will work on next.

Project Manager as Development Team Member

If you like getting your hands dirty and doing the work, maybe taking on a role as part of the Development Team is where you’re meant to be.  It’s an extremely hands-on, collaborative, creative, and fun role. You’ll get a chance to build cool things, demo those cool things directly to your customers, and get lots of feedback.

If you most enjoy learning about and developing skills on the Technical Project Management side of the Talent Triangle, it might be worth exploring this role further (though it’s not an exact fit).

Other Scrum Roles, Including Agile at Scale and SAFe

In a very large organization, there are lots of roles related to the Scrum Team.  Companies need lots of people to help deliver products and services at the enterprise level, and I would recommend looking at other ways you can be of value.  If you love the big picture of scaling Agile concepts to the enterprise, looking at something like the Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, is worthwhile. There are some great roles at the Team, Program, and Portfolio level, including that of the Epic Owner, Lean Agile Leader, etc.

Where to Learn More about Agile and Scrum

The most important thing as you find a place in an Agile environment is that you start looking to grow, stretch, and change.  Even if your role doesn’t immediately change, understanding the basics will help you speak intelligently and be of value to your organization.  If you have not yet taken a 2-day Certified ScrumMaster training course, I highly recommend doing so.  It’s a fun way to spend a couple of days, you will walk away with some new tools and techniques, and you get a highly sought-after certification to boot!

There are tons of free and low cost resources available online to learn more.  Here are a few of my favorites:

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Originally published January 01 2018, updated December 12 2019