Are you dead? A comfortable Agile Project Manager isn’t doing their job

If no one is pissed off with you then you are dead but just haven’t figured it out yet!

Tom Peters (2004)

Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software characterises good Scrum Masters as a Bulldozer, a Shield and a Sheepdog:

  • Bulldozer to clear obstacles from the team’s path
  • Shield to protect the team from harm
  • Sheepdog to bark at interlopers

The thing about these responsibilities is that, in fulfilling them, you’re going to piss someone off. That might be uncomfortable but it is inevitable if you’re doing your job right. Whether the threat is an obstacle, attacker or interloper the other person is going to resent not getting what they want.

Personally, for Agile Project Managers, I use the analogy to a shepherd (see Agile Roles and Responsibilities. Project managers have the responsibilities mentioned by Mike for a Scrum Master but I’d add the responsibility to point the way, a responsibility that Scrum gives to the Product Owner. So as an Agile Project Manager you have fend of interlopers etc, and thus risk upsetting people outside the project, but you also risk upsetting people within the team. For example. when you tell a team member their pet task isn’t helping the team achieve the collective goals and needs to be shelved.

Different management consults have different ways of expressing this. From the rather mild offerings of Dan Rockwell and Peter Drucker to the more extreme statement from Tom Peters above.

It’s almost impossible to move forward without offending someone. #leadership

Dan Rockwell, Twitter (28 Jan 2013)

As a manager you are paid to be uncomfortable. If you are comfortable, it is a sure sign you are doing something wrong!

Peter Drucker (2004)

So my question to agile project managers out there … are you dead?


The Tom Peters and Peter Drucker quotes come from Mail and Guardian (2004, 22 – 28 October, p. 3) cited in Frank Julie: The Art of Leadership & Management on the ground – Introduction.