#Agile and Music – Have we been selecting Project Managers incorrectly all along? #PMOT

I’m always fascinated by stories where other industries seem to have arrived at the same practices that have become common place in Agile.

In the final chapter of “Beautiful Teams”, there is a chapter focused on how Tony Visconti manages his projects to produce music. He has worked with David Bowie, The Moody Blues, Thin Lizzy, among others. You can check out his story on his Wikipedia page that can be found here.

Musical Planning

I was fascinated to read how Tony manages a process that is even more dynamic and creative than the Software Development process. But he did make one observation first that I believe translates to Software Development. He states that the reason artists place their faith in him is because he was/is a musician as well. For artists to place their faith in him they have to feel that he understands them and their perspective. He has to have the context to tell them they are being unreasonable at some points.

I also feel that great Project Managers should have been developers in the past for the developers to trust them during the project. A Project Manager who has limited knowledge of technology and the process of Software Development is at a great disadvantage when trying to assist Software Development teams. How can he or she understand why something is truly an issue? How can they spot a small issue that can balloon into a major risk if they don’t understand the process. They also need to have the context to tell the team or the business that they are being unreasonable.

Equally fascinating was the discussion about the two visual boards that Tony uses. He uses a derivative of a Kan Ban board so that the musicians can understand at one glance what the status of the project is. He also employs a separate board that lists the number of days left until the next milestone. (whether than be an intermediate one or the end of the project. Tony also talks about how the entire team comes up with the content of the plans. Tony seems to manage his projects in a very collaborative and Agile manner.

Here is a snapshot of his Kan Ban board derivative.



















Tony also makes many other great observations that translate  into Software Development. His discussion about how important personalities and team chemistry is fantastic. Highly recommended read.

The one Idea

But the one idea I took away from his story is that I believe we have been assigning Project Managers incorrectly all these years. Instead of having Project Managers being one of the first people assigned and then building a team around them, I feel that the team should be assembled first and the entire team should then decide on the Project Manager. Like the artists who elect to have Tony work with them, the project team is being asked to place their faith in the Project Manager. The project team needs to have 100% faith in the Project Manager – after all they are trusting him with their project.

Rather than viewing the Project Manager as managing the project and the team, the Project Manager is really just producing something for the team. I wonder how much more successful Software Development projects would be if the teams were able to select their Project Managers. The team would start out with enhanced trust of the Project Manager as they choose him or her.

Great book and excellent chapter. You can find the book on Amazon at the following link.

Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

2 thoughts on “#Agile and Music – Have we been selecting Project Managers incorrectly all along? #PMOT”

  1. Interesting point of view about Project Manager assigned after the team. I agree and disagree at the same time because the Project Manager should be able to identify the best people that can get the work done (the team).
    Also, I have a different view on the statement that a Project Manager should have been a developer to be able to manage a software project. I believe there is much more into “managing” than the technical aspects as well as the availability of SMEs (subject matter experts) to help on the identification of issues. It will be the responsibility of the Project Manager to manage the removal of those barriers/issues. I really liked the musical planning analogy. I also wrote about something similar using the example of a symphonic orchestra conductor.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree that I have worked with some excellent not-technical PMs, but given the choice I’d like the background in what they are managing… That also includes the business domain if possible…

      But I agree there are no absolutes…



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