The Servant Leader, Team Doctor, Technically-Comfortable Agile Project Manager

By: Jamie Grant on January 4th, 2019

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The Servant Leader, Team Doctor, Technically-Comfortable Agile Project Manager

Project Planning and Management

“Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not”-Michael Dell.

In our series, we have been looking at this digital age and how technology is changing the roles and functions of traditional project positions and causing them to evolve into the positions that they were always supposed to be.

Our second article focused on the role of the project sponsor. How they were changing to being hands-on, inspired, and connected to their teams. We likened them to the CEO of the project who ensures that they know what functionality their team needs to work on to generate the best business returns.

With all these changes occurring, what about the role of the project manager?

The Role of the Project Manager and What We See in the Marketplace

The PMBOK 6th edition says that the project manager plays a critical role in the leadership of a project team. The manual likens them to a conductor in an orchestra who, although may not know how to play each instrument, knows when an instrument is being well played. It then further goes on to define how the project manager provides the written communications, plans and schedules mostly during meetings to keep the team working towards agreed project objectives.

What we tend to see in the market place is that the success of the project gets placed squarely on the broad shoulders of the project manager. They then begin to micromanage each team member to ensure they deliver to a timeline and specification.

The project manager owns the plan and the scope, no change or timing gets approved unless the project manager says so. What starts as good intentions, quickly degenerates to the team owning nothing of the project and deferring every decision to the project manager. This leads to teams falling apart when the project manager is not there and, in the worst cases, the adage of “while the cats away the mice will play” is all too common.

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If the project manager owns the plan and the communication, it’s all too tempting for the rest of the team to wash their hands of all responsibility. Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Digital Disruption – Focuses on Collaboration

The problem with this command-and-control approach is that technology is providing team members with all the information they need to know what to do and by when. It’s becoming obvious to all that no one needs a babysitter for the team anymore.

Tools, such as Jira, can keep the teams up to date with where they are in the project process and exactly how many days they have left. IOT and human occupancy lets management know of team movement and behaviors, and it’s no longer the role of the project manager to tell management where a team member is at any given moment.

Skills You Cannot Automate

McKinsey Global Institute revealed that almost half of the jobs currently being performed by people can be automated.

What has been agreed that cannot be automated is what project managers really need to focus on. Two of them being:

1. Listening and Communicating with Team Members.

Project managers have and should have, a unique insight into their team members to be able to discern the emotional side of their teams. Understanding and dealing with the emotional state of people is something that computers do not know how to do.

Slow responses via Slack, Stride or Microsoft Teams, can show project managers where potential conflict is occurring. Daily standups, team members being off the pace from daily commitments, and not collaborating in retrospectives, frequent bugs, and poor reviews should provide the project manager with objective data that will already affirm what he or she believes is happening within the heartbeat of their teams.

Using these tools and techniques the project manager must utilize their experience to address these problems

A bot cannot invite a team member to coffee nor can it facilitate a conflict resolution meeting.

2. Knowing what changes and what remains the same.

Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and currently the richest man in the world, said, “Don’t ask yourself what could change in the next years that could affect your company. Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your effort into those things.”

The project manager has to be the servant leader that can and does look at the progress of the team and has the wisdom to see when to challenge the status quo, all the while remaining true to the principles of what is timeless. Every team member wants a leader who is working towards their success.

Predictive analysis tools that are often built in to project management software can provide project managers and teams with data as to how they can reduce scope or increase the velocity of their teams. But often it’s only the project manager who has the experience to interpret that data and make the recommendations.

On the last project that I completed, I received one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. My team member said on his previous projects he found that when the project manager was away the team had no idea what to do and would often stop working entirely. On this project, however, the team held their own standups, made sure the software was completed and tested on time. He found there was no break or disruption in the work even on the days I was not there, I smiled and told him that’s the idea.


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About the Author: Jamie is an IT & Website Administrator for Acuity Training - a UK-based company providing training on MS Project and project management.

About Jamie Grant

Jamie is an IT & Website Administrator for Acuity Training ( - a UK-based company providing training on MS Project and project management.