Delivery Manager – A new role for an Agile world

Rich Lewis is the best I’ve worked with. When I met him he was a Business Analyst who, on the sly, was Scrum Master of a small team. He was good at this but capable of much more. I invited him to be the Delivery Manager on the programme I was running at the time.

You don’t often hear people talking about the role of Delivery Manager. Certainly it is not part of the Agile stable, where Scrum terminology dominates. Product Owner; Scrum Master; Everybody else under the label “Developer”. That is your lot.

Some people, however, do use Delivery Manager as a role title. The Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK use it, as do an increasing number of companies in the USA.

Why have a role called Delivery Manager

Marty Cagan has noticed a trend in the US from Project Manager to Delivery Manager. Marty likes this trend, and the new role, for three of reasons:

  • “the project management ‘brand’ is so damaged that a re-branding may be in order”
  • “there’s little question about the purpose – getting stuff delivered. The role is not about discovery, and it’s not about coaching on process; it’s all about getting stuff pushed live.”
  • the Delivery Manager is also responsible triaging run-time issues with the product, thus freeing up the Product Owner

The Scrum folk obviously agree with the project manager role is so tarnished that it needs rebranding. That is where the Scrum Master role came from according to Mike Cohn, one of the Scrum luminaries. However I think the Scrum Master is itself now tarnished. Which is why I don’t hire Scrum Masters.

I did not, however, call Rich a Delivery Manager because I didn’t like the the title Project Manager. I see no conflict between Project Manager and Agile in general or Agile roles. I see no particular need for rebranding Project Managers. I just wanted to make it clear to everybody that his role was different.

What a Delivery Manager does

If you google “Delivery Manager” you won’t get many results. Near the top of the list is the material from the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK. There is some good stuff in there. Mark Stanley, for example, has outlined A day in the life of a delivery manager at GDS. He says:

A delivery manager guards the team’s time, to ensure continuous delivery is possible. Team time is precious time.

GDS also have a Delivery Manager role description. The main responsibilities of this role are:

  • Deliver projects and products using the appropriate agile project management methodology, learning & iterating frequently
  • Work with the Product Manager to define the roadmap for any given product and translate this into user stories
  • Lead the collaborative, dynamic planning process – prioritising the work that needs to be done against the capacity and capability of the team
  • Matrix-managing a multidisciplinary team
  • Ensure all products are built to an appropriate level of quality for the stage (alpha/beta/production)
  • Actively participating in the Delivery Manager community, sharing and re-applying skills and knowledge and bringing in best practice.

The GDS role is fine and, for me, a much more useful role than the Scrum Master role.

The Delivery Manager has a clear purpose: “getting stuff delivered”, as Marty said.

Programme Manager and Delivery Manager

I had a specific need when Rich took on the Delivery Manager role. Here is the context:

  • I had three software development teams working in a single, big room – about 35 people in total
  • I wanted one process and one Kanban board for the entire team
  • I was only there four days a week, with at least one day remote

Basically Rich ran the Kanban board and associated process. He established solid relationships with the Product Owners at the tactical level, ensured the cards were created and synchronised with the electronic ticketing system. He collected the metrics, drew the Cumulative Flow Diagram, and organised the retrospective, Additionally he was there everyday so keep momentum when I was absent.

Rich and my relationship was similar to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organisation and the Chief Operating Officer (COO). Like a CEO I was the external face of the team. When I was remote, I was talking to remote senior stakeholders about strategy, making sure the benefits were still in reach, sanity checking the priorities. Like a COO Rich looked inward towards the team. He kept the car running. I made sure we were going the right direction. Together we made sure the Product Owners were happy.

References

Cagan, M. (2014, 13 July). The Delivery Manager Role. Silicon Valley Product Group.

GOV.UK (n.d.). Delivery Manager – Enabling teams to deliver high-quality services. Author.

Stanley M. (2012, 12 December)
A day in the life of a delivery manager. GOV.UK blogs

10 thoughts on “Delivery Manager – A new role for an Agile world

  1. Great article – My last role encompassed many of these responsibilities, and now I know the term for it, which will be very helpful going forward.

  2. Thanks so much ! It was encouraging to read this article given the fact that I feel so frustrated sometimes. This is because Delivery Manager role in my orgn is more to do with managing Operations thus leaving hardly much room for managing project delivery !!

  3. Brilliant. I had been arguing the validity of this role for months and was delighted to have come across your article and for you to have explained this so clearly.

  4. It was a great read and thanks for putting up to this together. I have been a delivery manager for years now and when i am in the market searching for opportunities i could hardly fine one as against PM openings. Somehow people mistake the value of DM as agasinst a short lived project. No offense to a PM role but its time that we thing sustained operations and delivery is instrumental too to keep the lights on

  5. It was a great read and thanks for putting up to this together. I have been a delivery manager for years now and when i am in the market searching for opportunities i could hardly fine one as against PM openings. Somehow people mistake the value of DM as against a short lived project. No offense to a PM role but its time that we thing sustained operations and delivery is instrumental too to keep the lights on

  6. Steve, Thanks for this article. It perfectly describes a person who is responsible for delivery of projects in Agile world. Quite often, in many organisations, there exists a hybrid role i.e. Scrum Master / Project Manager. Your article has cleared my doubts about the validity of such role. Business values delivery of projects and it’s the Delivery Manager who delivers the stuff. It’s nice to see that GDS too supports this practical view.

  7. Excellent article Steven.
    You are spot on about the folks at the GDS in the UK being on the leading edge of much thought leadership in action.
    Isn’t GDS the same organization that brought us the ITIL framework ? Combining project leadership with agile / continuous delivery / service management is the convergence coming at us. If we don’t learn to do it right, with quantum computing power doubling every year, we may find ourselves outclassed by delivery AI’s in a few years.

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