What Happens to Project Managers When You Implement SAFe?

Em Campbell-Pretty
Sep 29, 2013

What happens to Project Managers when you implement SAFe? I see this question come up time and again, and while I am sure there is more than one answer, in my experience, the role of the Project Manager changes, and there are fewer of them. In the specific case of the EDW Agile Release Train, pre-SAFe, there were 18 Project Managers supporting up to 5 projects each. Today, there are 4 Project Portfolio Managers, each overseeing around 20 epics. Portfolio Managers are generally aligned to a specific line of business or program of work. They own the relationship with this stakeholder group on behalf of the Agile Release Train.

Our Portfolio Managers act as servant leaders to our development teams; they help protect the teams from bureaucracy and support the teams by removing blockers beyond the team's control. When new projects arrive, they work to smooth the transition of the work into the development teams. They do this by understanding the end-to-end initiative and the role EDW needs to play, establishing the priority of the work and securing funding.  They confirm the stakeholders and induct them into our delivery approach, and where possible, help break the epics down into pieces more easily consumed by the development teams.

Most of our epics start with an analysis spike, which we call discovery. This is where our feature teams establish the high-level design, estimate the effort involved in delivering the epic and work out an indicative release plan based on their current backlog. The Portfolio Managers support the teams by overlaying the financial profile and packaging up the findings for inclusion in the various enterprise gating processes.

daily feature wall stand up
Daily Sync for the Portfolio Management team

During the delivery of the epic, the Portfolio Managers participate in the daily ART Sync with the development teams, escalate and resolve blockers, manage the project finances and coordinate epic stakeholder attendance at the System Demo. Where necessary, Portfolio Managers will also negotiate changes in release windows and commercial coverage for additional features. Post-deployment, the Portfolio Manager arranges for the formal project closure, facilitates a retrospective on the epic's delivery and obtains a Net Promoter Score from the epic owner.

So what happens to project managers when you implement SAFe? In our case, some grow, taking on huge responsibilities across a portfolio of epics, and some move on to less challenging, more traditional project management roles. I have huge respect for our Portfolio Managers; it's a very challenging role, which requires very advanced juggling skills to keep all the balls in the air.

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