How Agile Changes the Role of Project Managers, Business Analysts, and Testers


problems.)  Conversely, towards the end of the iteration, automating the functional tests usually becomes a greater focus. It would not be uncommon for the QA person to call on the BA for help with this. The more flexibility the team members have in adapting to this kind of shifting demand, the more efficient the team will be.

On the best agile teams, the role of BA and QA merge to the extent that a single mechanism or document is used to express both requirements and tests. This means that customer team members (including the PM) need to be skilled both at requirements elicitation and testing. BAs must get better at learning how to think of tests for requirements, and QA testers must learn how to work with business owners who may not clearly understand exactly what they want. People in both roles need to develop strong interpersonal skills and enough technical understanding to be proficient with testing tools. Such a cross-functional individual, experienced in all facets of the development process, becomes the most valuable person on the agile team.

Project Visibility Enables PM Focus on Business Partnership
The role of the project manager also changes as a member of the customer team. A good agile project has mechanisms in place to provide instant visibility to all stakeholders. Walls are typically filled with project information including the backlog of features or stories, the status of current work, measures of work progress/velocity, and technical design artifacts. All of these artifacts are updated daily so that business owners, executives, and developer can each immediately assess the state of the project.

With the task of communicating and process management greatly simplified, the PM can shift her focus to business partnership and clearing roadblocks - higher value activities. While the PM retains many of the same job functions, the amount of time spent on different tasks changes greatly (see Figure 1). A PM on a well-functioning agile team can devote most of her time to fostering an environment that supports collaborating with the business and clearing roadblocks.


     Figure 1: Changing Project Manager Role         source: Digital Focus

Being the business partner also requires the PM to become adept at truly understanding business objectives and translating them to technical requirements. The PM's value is based upon her creativity in being able to solve such challenges. The continuous planning practices of agile development reinforce this focus on the business. As iterations are defined and developed, the team spends less time on scope management, resource management, and team management. Instead, the customer team, and in particular the PM, constantly evaluates current progress against the business's goals and objectives. Those tasks that add business value are pursued and those that do not are dropped by the team. For the PM, the key success criterion is the team's effectiveness at building a trusting partnership with the business owner.

For agile to truly succeed, everyone on the customer team needs to be able to perform all aspects of each role. The critical success factors for each person change to be their ability to work in a teaming environment.  Specifically, individuals need to:

  • Become cross functional experts,
  • Build their interpersonal skills, and
  • Focus on team goals versus individual recognition.

These changes in the responsibilities of PM, QA, and BA are significant and are often not understood by organizations attempting to transition to agile development. Both skills and incentives need to change. The ability to work in a team environment, collaborate with others, and perform multiple kinds of tasks become the most important aspects of individual performance. Agile development also necessitates a

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