The debate began almost as soon as Agile started spreading. Being lean requires that we abandon the outdated model of software delivery, and we embrace a new vision. In this new world, the client is not only a customer but primarily a member of the team, and this extended team is entrusted to get the job done at a sustainable pace and in a self-organised environment.

Rise like a phoenix, Scrum Master

Scrum goes further and describes how roles and responsibilities fall upon the new team. We now see a new character emerging from the ashes of the forsaken Waterfall delivery: the Scrum Master.

The description of the Scrum Master role generated much confusion and led many people to think that it be a replacement for the project manager. This belief became unexpectedly common, and someone even started to depict the PM as somebody stubbornly forcing the team into respecting the plan instead of leaving them naturally adjust to changes, or promoting maximum utilisation instead of team collaboration.

When the Scrum Master was presented as a “servant leader”, the Project Manager immediately became the “slave driver”.

However, the right question was eventually posed: if the Project Manager is doomed to extinction, who will be in charge of the other responsibilities that are not undertaken by the Scrum Master?

Is there any room for the Project Manager?

What most of the people ignore is that Scrum had the answer from the get-go. Day-to-day project decisions must be taken by the team while any responsibility for scope and schedule tradeoff goes to the product owner. It is done, dealt with; there shouldn’t be too much thinking.

Nevertheless, there is still much debating. I would argue that there is still a long list of responsibilities that are left without an owner, such as maintaining a resource plan, updating cost estimates, assessing risks, transitioning to service, just to mention a few of them. Most importantly, many organisations are very keen on assigning the product owner role to the customer.

That is the real issue. Is the client educated, trained and committed enough as to take on that role? Quite unlikely, and even if it were, I would not picture any customer circulating reports or managing project issues and risks across the two organisations.

Conclusion

If your client is another department of your organisation, or you are delivering your own product to a customer, retaining the product owner role is relatively easy. It is not as easy when your core business is providing bespoke solutions to organisations operating in diverse industries on which you are not necessarily an expert. In such scenario, an internal product owner risks becoming only a proxy, an intermediary between the team and the client.

These suppliers should seriously consider whether they want to provide highly trained product owners to their client, or they would rather rely on a more traditional oversight, and go vintage with the good old project manager.

I would be glad to read your opinion on this topic! Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with me.

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