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Topics: Consulting, Energy and Utilities, Lessons Learned
Push back on assigning PM for a project
Recently I encountered a situation where a Customer strongly suggested not assigning a PM to our project (in order to drive down costs), and instead assigning PM related tasks to the Technical Lead.

While I have a great deal of respect for the capabilities of our technical resources, I've generally observed that Technical Specialists are very good at focusing on technical specifications and tend to overlook budget and schedule variance.

In the present instance we managed to go down the path suggested by maintaining that the team composition is not solely decided by Customers and our company business controls have certain minimum requirements, one of which requires a PM to be assigned.

I am wondering if there are others in the community who have faced a similar situation? What are the arguments made in favor of not having a dedicated PM? How have you managed to avoid going down this rabbit hole?

Love to hear what others have to share...
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Just to comment I think what you stated about technical specialist could be debatable but it does not matter regarding my answer. Beyond that I can agree generally speaking and it is not to disparage technical people is just the focus each actor has inside projects. Returning to the point, I faced the situation including today in projects which are running internal to the company. Just to comment, I always get the agreement about a project manager is needed after working with the people that have a concern. If you are talking about external customer then things I lived are "simple" for me: to provide specialists about each activity to create the product only or not. Then here comes: activities, who will define the needed activities? And so on. If the customer do not want a project manager make them visible what a project manager means a what a project means and then ask the customer if they will face the accountability and responsability for that because you will not provide a project manager as per its request. All these on the basement the customer is not deciding by cost only, the customer is deciding because it is avoiding risks and its associated costs.
This is a frequent challenge in contexts where the PM costs are visible to the customer and they are looking to save some money. It is similar to the internal project challenge of justifying the value of project management. You need to know your client to know what "lever" will best influence them to do the right thing. In some cases, selling project management as "insurance" to increase the odds of positive outcomes has worked for me...

Kiron
Many organisations use Scrum successfully without a PM. Much depends on the experience and practices of your teams.
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1 reply by Kiron Bondale
Feb 26, 2020 4:01 PM
Kiron Bondale
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Scrum is a product management framework and not a project management approach. If you have a long-lived team with an established product backlog, a mature PO and product-centric funding then a PM may not be needed. However, for projects, forming a team, understanding high-level scope, defining your backlog, understanding risks and engaging stakeholders are just a few of the activities which a PM can help with.

Kiron
Feb 26, 2020 1:37 PM
Replying to David Portas
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Many organisations use Scrum successfully without a PM. Much depends on the experience and practices of your teams.
Scrum is a product management framework and not a project management approach. If you have a long-lived team with an established product backlog, a mature PO and product-centric funding then a PM may not be needed. However, for projects, forming a team, understanding high-level scope, defining your backlog, understanding risks and engaging stakeholders are just a few of the activities which a PM can help with.

Kiron
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1 reply by Scott Theus
Feb 28, 2020 12:48 PM
Scott Theus
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Kiron,

I agree with the ability of a well established Scrum team with a good PO to run a product life cycle independent of a PM.

One of the main issues I run into when setting up a new customer project is where, within the Scrum framework, does a PM fit? The Scrum Master leads and coordinates the team, the team controls the sprint backlog, and the PO maintains the product backlog. In Joy's case if he were to use Scrum to develop the customer's product then I would suggest that the Project Manager fits as part Project Coordinator (budgeting, scheduling, sourcing, etc.) and part Product Owner and liaison with the Business Partner or Customer for requirements. Meanwhile, a tech lead would serve as Scrum Master to ensure that the product backlog is sufficiently broken down into workable user stories that fit into the sprints.

That's how I would probably structure it to start and adjust as needed once the project kicks off. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

-Scott
Joy,

I have faced exactly that years ago, I was the PM being push out. The client requested that I could not manage the project since I'm not an Engineer. A few months later, I had moved to other projects and the client requested my presence for the project, I was no longer available.

Often client requests an engineer to manage projects close to construction, they don't understand that PM is not managing the design.
Vincent and others, it just seems to be a frequent uphill battle, more so in situations where the Customer has visibility of costs, as is common in Time and Material contracts.

Every member of a team is accountable for something on the project. Technical Leads are accountable for technical delivery. On a small enough project you may not need a dedicated PM, but on mid and large sized jobs the PM is accountable for the project delivery on budget, cost, quality and safety.
Assigning project delivery accountability to the Lead maybe too much expectation of such larger jobs.

Customers require on schedule delivery, within budget, meeting quality expectations and without any safety infringements. It is really the PM who ensures success along all these technical and non-technical expectations.
Let's not confuse the role with the position or person filling that position. First establish that there is a project management role, then determine if its a full-time role. If yes, than create and fill the position with a full-time person. If not full-time, determine if the best solution allows for sharing a PM with another project or have an existing team member (SME) take on the role (one person, two hats). Either way the role has to be clearly defined and the assigned person must be able to serve each project or role independently. I have been exposed to all three scenarios - full-time, project share and role share - with success. It depends on the project and personalities. I have actually seen people literally use two hats, white for PM role and blue for SME role. It works.
Feb 26, 2020 4:01 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
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Scrum is a product management framework and not a project management approach. If you have a long-lived team with an established product backlog, a mature PO and product-centric funding then a PM may not be needed. However, for projects, forming a team, understanding high-level scope, defining your backlog, understanding risks and engaging stakeholders are just a few of the activities which a PM can help with.

Kiron
Kiron,

I agree with the ability of a well established Scrum team with a good PO to run a product life cycle independent of a PM.

One of the main issues I run into when setting up a new customer project is where, within the Scrum framework, does a PM fit? The Scrum Master leads and coordinates the team, the team controls the sprint backlog, and the PO maintains the product backlog. In Joy's case if he were to use Scrum to develop the customer's product then I would suggest that the Project Manager fits as part Project Coordinator (budgeting, scheduling, sourcing, etc.) and part Product Owner and liaison with the Business Partner or Customer for requirements. Meanwhile, a tech lead would serve as Scrum Master to ensure that the product backlog is sufficiently broken down into workable user stories that fit into the sprints.

That's how I would probably structure it to start and adjust as needed once the project kicks off. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

-Scott
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1 reply by Deepesh Rammoorthy
Mar 01, 2020 8:03 PM
Deepesh Rammoorthy
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" The Scrum Master leads and coordinates the team, the team controls the sprint backlog, and the PO maintains the product backlog. "

Correct so far .....


"In Joy's case if he were to use Scrum to develop the customer's product then I would suggest that the Project Manager fits as part Project Coordinator (budgeting, scheduling, sourcing, etc.) and part Product Owner and liaison with the Business Partner or Customer for requirements.
"
Agreed if the PM has experience with agile then they can be PM/PO . On many projects , the PM does not have a luxury of having a Project Coordinator to help with deliverable and I am sorry that Scheduling , budgeting and Sourcing require a far more advanced skill set than a Project coordinator brings to the tables. It does require PM skills , again if a Product Owner has those skills , then they can be the PM/PO


" Meanwhile, a tech lead would serve as Scrum Master to ensure that the product backlog is sufficiently broken down into workable user stories that fit into the sprints"

No No No ....this is the Product Owner function . Scrum Master is a facilitator , Servant leader , guides the team on ceremonies , removes impediments , keeps the flow going. If you are running an Agile project , you need a separate Scrum Master to the Product Owner. A Tech Lead cannot be a Scrum Master
I have received that pushback many a time. I let them know that our consultancy will not perform any project without a project manager and make the case for the value a project manager can bring. In my experience, they can save the client money by paving the way for the technical teams, coordination and always being one step ahead in terms of planning and preparations. Especially in situations where budget or schedule is key, which when is it not?
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1 reply by Peter Rapin
Feb 28, 2020 3:08 PM
Peter Rapin
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Melissa, you hit the nail on the head. Its a matter of risk (and benefit) management. Also keep in mind that in your case there are two parties, the client and yourselves and the PM mitigates risks and enhances benefits for both. Should the client not see the benefit of a PM and wishes to save associated costs then the client has to assume the risk.
Feb 28, 2020 1:33 PM
Replying to Melissa Stockbridge
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I have received that pushback many a time. I let them know that our consultancy will not perform any project without a project manager and make the case for the value a project manager can bring. In my experience, they can save the client money by paving the way for the technical teams, coordination and always being one step ahead in terms of planning and preparations. Especially in situations where budget or schedule is key, which when is it not?
Melissa, you hit the nail on the head. Its a matter of risk (and benefit) management. Also keep in mind that in your case there are two parties, the client and yourselves and the PM mitigates risks and enhances benefits for both. Should the client not see the benefit of a PM and wishes to save associated costs then the client has to assume the risk.
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