By Cynthia Snyder Dionisio
March 29, 2023
You can have an awesome schedule and a great risk management plan, but those won’t get the project done. Instead, it is the people who get projects done. With hybrid projects, (projects that use both predictive and adaptive approaches), it can be challenging to figure out the right mix of people. Determining your team members may be easier than figuring out whether you need a project sponsor, a product owner, or both. You may also need to figure out how to balance project management needs and scrum master needs. In this article we will discuss some of the common functions that each role provides so you can choose those that work best for your hybrid project.
The sponsor is the person who provides project resources, oversight, and support to the project manager. Their key functions are to:
- Champion the project at the executive level. Most organizations have more projects than they have resources to deliver them. The sponsor negotiates for resources at the corporate level, such as team members and budget. They also continue to champion the project and the benefits it will provide throughout the project.
- Provide the initial high-level information about the project. Much of the high-level information will go into creating the project charter. However, there is usually additional information, such as the high-level requirements, assumptions, variance thresholds, and the prioritization of project constraints (scope, schedule, cost, stakeholder satisfaction, etc.).
- Approve baselines. The project sponsor approves the project schedule and budget baselines, ensuring the schedule and budget baselines reflect the risks involved, resource availability, and other variables. If there is a significant change request to scope or the schedule and budget baselines, they make the decision on whether to accept or reject those change requests.
- Monitor project progress. The baselines are used to measure progress throughout the project. The sponsor will review the schedule status, budget status, projected work for the next reporting period, and any new significant risks and issues. If a project variance is outside the established threshold, the sponsor will review the situation and likely work with the project manager to determine appropriate actions to bring performance back in line with the baseline.
- Support the project manager. Whether it is working with difficult stakeholders, navigating political situations, or understanding organizational strategy, the sponsor can provide mentoring or coaching. A sponsor can also help resolve conflicts with stakeholders that have more position power or authority than the project manager.
- Resolve conflicts outside the project manager’s authority. As project managers, we may find ourselves in situations where we have people on our team with more position power than we have. If there are issues with those team members, or if a conflict involves someone outside the immediate project team, the sponsor generally has the position power or political clout to remove roadblocks and address issues more effectively than the project manager.
The Product Owner
The Product Owner is the person accountable for the performance of a product. Product owners typically work in product development, especially with digital and software projects. From a project perspective, they are usually involved with Agile projects; however, many organizations are switching to a product line organizational structure. Therefore, you may find yourself doing a project for a product owner or having a product owner on your team.
Key functions for product owners include:
- Establishing and maintaining the vision for the product. At the start of a project, they will develop a vision statement for the project and/or product. Throughout the project they ensure the team stays aligned with the vision.
- Managing and prioritizing the backlog. A backlog is a repository of project work, features and/or requirements. The product owner makes sure that the team understands the information on the backlog and prioritizes the backlog, so the team is always focused on the most valuable work. They can also update the backlog by adding or removing work or reprioritizing existing work.
- Accepting or rejecting deliverables. At the end of an iteration, the team demonstrates the work they have done. The product owner either accepts the work, requests changes, or does not accept the work, explaining why it is not acceptable.
- Attending planning meetings, demonstrations, and retrospectives. The product owner is usually in close proximity to the team. They often have daily interaction with the people working on the project. Part of their interaction includes attending planning meetings, demonstrations, and retrospectives.
- Working with external stakeholders. Part of the product owner’s role is to be the voice of the customer and work as a liaison with external stakeholders. They communicate stakeholder needs and wants to the team and manage stakeholder expectations. This allows the team to focus on development work.
The Project Manager
As project managers, we are accountable for leading the team to deliver the expected value. We do this by balancing leadership behaviors and good management practices for achieving outcomes. Leadership behaviors include:
- Establishing a supportive environment for team members. People are more likely to give their best efforts if they feel supported and valued. One of the most important jobs for the project manager is to create and maintain an environment that provides psychological safety. This enables team members to do their best work and thrive.
- Managing stakeholder expectations. Anyone who has worked with large and/or diverse groups of stakeholders knows that while you can’t manage stakeholders, you can engage with them and manage their expectations.
- Employing people skills. People skills are one of the most important keys to project success. We are constantly drawing on these skills – for example, communicating effectively, facilitating meetings, solving problems, influencing without authority, and negotiating.
Leadership skills are critical to project success, but so are management skills. The most common management skills we employ are:
- A big part of managing projects planning. Whether we are managing predictive or adaptive projects, planning occurs throughout the project. For example, as more information is known, our plans get more detailed and more realistic, and if risks or changes occur, we replan to reflect the new situation.
- Keeping the project on schedule and within budget. One of the most prevalent definitions of project success is delivering on time and on budget. Therefore, much of our time is spent ensuring timely delivery within the approved budget.
- Managing issues, risks, and variances. Projects are a breeding ground for uncertainty, risks, and issues. We apply our management skills to prevent them, and if they do occur, we work with the team to determine and evaluate corrective actions to get performance back on track.
- Collecting project data and reporting progress. Managing stakeholder expectations and keeping the project on schedule and within budget depends on being able to see and interpret information. Therefore, we collect and analyze data and present it in an effective and compelling way.
A scrum master facilitates events, removes impediments, and supports the team in maintaining alignment with Agile values and principles. This role enables the team to accomplish the work of the project. A scrum master is not a manager, they are much more of a facilitator. As a facilitator they will:
- Help teams self-organize and self-govern. Many Agile teams are self-organizing and self-governing. The scrum master supports this by making sure the team has what it needs to accomplish this.
- Facilitate communication between the team and other stakeholders. Scrum masters allow the team to stay focused on the work at hand by engaging stakeholders and facilitating conversations. This serves to protect the team from outside interference and other distractions.
- Facilitate meetings. Agile methods have several types of meetings, such as daily stand-ups (AKA scrums), iteration reviews, iteration planning and retrospectives. The Scrum Master facilitates these meetings. As part of the retrospective the Scrum Master helps the team improve their processes.
- Employ servant leadership. As a servant leader the Scrum Master puts the needs of the team first. They lead by supporting the team in accomplishing work rather than directing the team.
- Remove barriers and impediments. Barriers and impediments delay progress. During the daily stand-up meetings, team members communicate any barriers or impediments to getting their work done. The Scrum Master follows up and endeavors to resolve and remove any impediments.
- Provide guidance on Agile methods. The Scrum Master ensures the team is following Agile processes and using Agile methods appropriately. This can include coaching, guidance, and education about Agile methods and the benefits they provide.
- Assist the product owner. The Scrum Master works closely with the product owner in keeping the backlog up to date. They also assist in communicating the project vision and engaging with stakeholders as appropriate.
In a hybrid project, title isn’t important, but functions are. On a Hybrid project you can mix, match, and combine roles to meet the needs of your project. Here are a few examples.
- There may be a sponsor for the overall project and a product owner for one part of the project. The sponsor would charter the project and provide information about the overarching strategic direction and expected benefits. The product owner would use that information to make decisions about a specific deliverable for the project.
- A project manager may adopt methods used in Agile projects while using a predictive framework for leading the team and managing the project. They may implement daily stand-ups, employ servant leadership, use task boards, and conduct retrospectives.
- Sometimes we hear the term ‘Agile Project Manager’ or ‘Agile Delivery Lead’. This means that a scrum master has additional project manager responsibilities.
- A project manager may be accountable for the overall project but work with a Scrum Master for a software deliverable. The project manager may keep the schedule and budget for the project, keeping place holders in the schedule for iterations and releases. Meanwhile the Scrum Master would facilitate the development team using iterations and releases.
For Hybrid projects, it’s less about the title and more about what makes sense for the project. Start by thinking about the functions you need. For example, what governance functions do you need? Do you need phase gates? Hierarchy to make and approve changes? Variance thresholds? Also think about how much guidance and direction the team needs. Can they self-organize, or would they be better served by having a structured schedule and robust plans? Thinking about these types of questions will help you tailor the roles to meet the needs of the project, rather than force fitting the project around traditional roles.
About the Author
Cynthia Snyder Dionisio is the Practice Lead for IIL’s Project, Program, and Portfolio Management (PPPM) Practice. Cyndi has over 20 years of experience leading international project teams, consulting, developing courses, and facilitating training. She has received several awards, including the PMI Fellow Award in 2018 and PMI’s Distinguished Contribution Award in 2009. Cyndi is passionate about turning chaos in order, engaging with awesome teams, solving problems, and facilitating achievement.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.