Explaining the role of a Delivery Manager

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I have found myself explaining the role of delivery manager a lot over the last few weeks, so I thought I would share that description here.

The term delivery manager is an agile role used in government and other organisations, mainly within (but not limited to) digital or IT departments. It describes the person on the agile team whose main concern is enabling a team of skilled people to deliver value. They create the right environment for the team. They facilitate the team and remove obstacles and blockers that might get in their way. They work closely with the product manager (sometimes known as product owner), but while the product manager is concerned with the vision the delivery manager is concerned with making it happen. The perfect visionary and doer pairing.

Delivery manager is sometimes used interchangeably with “scrum master” and “agile project manager” although, in different organisations, these terms might have slightly different definitions.

I was the head of role for delivery managers at Government Digital Service (GDS) and since becoming an Agile consultant, I have helped other government departments and organisations hire and develop delivery managers. The description on the GDS service design manual is a good place to start and over the last few years, I have refined my thinking and the way I describe the role to others.

Aspects of the delivery manager role

Broadly the delivery manager role breaks down into three main areas, these are; Agile / lean practices, team dynamics and delivery support.

Aspects of the delivery manager role: Agile / lean practices, team dynamics and delivery support
Aspects of the delivery manager role

I have summarised each area below.

Agile / lean practices (The tangible skills)

The delivery manager is the person on the team who leads on agile and lean practices. They use a variety of agile and lean tools and techniques in order to help the team deliver value and remain focused on the product vision. They will be able to draw upon a range of tools and techniques, and know which of them to use at different times, to make sure the team are getting the best out of being agile.

A good delivery manager will be learning new tools all the time, know when to use them and know about current trends

Team dynamics (the softer skills)

The delivery manager is concerned with the health and happiness of the team members. They will encourage and motivate the team and protect them from external distractions and politics so they are able to focus on what they are best at.

A good delivery manager knows that a happy team will produce the most amazing work and understands how to best support people.

Delivery support (the other stuff)

As the role of project manager is removed from a team, there are some project management activities that fall to the delivery manager. These are often outward facing tasks and may include things like financial tracking, hiring, stakeholder relationships (supporting the product owner), reporting to a wider organisation (particularly relevant if the organisation has not fully adopted agile yet) and anything else that no one else is doing, but is necessary to support the team’s delivering value. I have seen this aspect of the role supported by another person where the overhead is taking the delivery manager away from agile / lean practices and team dynamics.

The middle of the Venn diagram (the core skills)

Sitting in the middle of the Venn diagram are very important skills that span all parts of the delivery manager role like coaching (team and external people), diplomacy, leadership, communication and facilitation.

There is a lot more detail behind each of these areas, which I’m happy to discuss further. Different teams will have different needs from their delivery manager, depending on the make-up of the team and the organisation that the team is within. There may also be a need for a delivery manager to have particular technical skills or understanding of what the team is delivering. I’d be interested in hearing thoughts from anyone that works in this area in the comments below.

29 thoughts on “Explaining the role of a Delivery Manager

  1. Delivery Manager is a corporate friendly title, there might be a need for that. It might also reinforce the wrong behaviours. Short term delivery focus can lead to MVPs that forgot the V and crippling technical debt. Trying to motivate people in a traditional sense is usually unsustainable. I believe the mindset of servant leadership is at the heart of such a role. Agile teams need coaching, facilitation and enablement.

    An agile delivery type person (insert better name here) should be about building long term capability, through nurturing self organisation, increasing transparency and trust, helping navigate disfunction and conflict, and motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose. They are also going to have to be change agents, challenging the status quo where it does not enable the team.

    1. Hi Jon,

      Thanks for your comment, there are some great clarification points in here.

      I’m using the term delivery manager because that’s the one used in government and a term that I’m often working with. I’m not convinced it’s ideal, but I think it’s better than scrum master (which suggests a particular framework) and agile project manager (that is too close in language to project manager).

      As you point to, quality is an important aspect of any delivery, facilitating the team to be great should include the appropriate levels of quality for what is being built and for what purpose. I won’t get into the debate over the definition of MVP here, but if you are building something to test ideas (e.g. a prototype) your quality levels will be different from something that will go into the live environment.

      I’m glad you brought up motivation, we are not talking “work harder and you’ll get a bonus”, it’s really more than that. Autonomy, learning, getting better at what you do, personal growth, social connections and creating great products and services all contribute to motivation. I avoided the term “servant leader” here because although it’s well understood within the agile community, I wanted to say away from any agile jargon, but I completely agree that is what the role is.

      Agile isn’t just a way of developing software, it is organisational change, all members of an agile team should always be questioning if they are doing the most important thing and if they are doing it in the best way. A delivery manager should be encouraging that questioning as well as coaching others outside the team so everyone can work together. In larger organisations, this part of the role can be substantial and may call for additional organisational coaches.

  2. Its interesting to see how agile is evolving as more and more companies of different sizes are changing the way they deliver. I believe that there really isn’t a one size fits all model for implementing the changes, as each company has to find what works well for them.

    Terminology that is used in one place may be frowned upon in others, e.g Delivery Manager is acceptable in governmental place but maybe seen as too bureaucratic in start ups. As long as value is being delivered to the business and the process is working, then that is what is important.

    People are Key, relationships are key and a willingness to make it better is vital.

    Good Article and a very interesting topic.

    1. Thanks Steve, indeed, language is important. Whatever you call it, I think the role is the same. But most importantly it’s about being agile with it. The team and environment may have different needs.

  3. Interesting read, thanks Emily. I’m reading this with an eye to the challenges we face when hiring.

    The problem with the title “Scrum Master”:
    A good Scrum Master has a very rich portfolio of skills and activities. Incorporating facilitating, coaching, training, encouraging & enabling communication etc – all those things Jon says above about the ability to build and support really strong teams.
    However, when hiring, it seems that out in the recruitment space “Scrum Master” has come to equate “junior facilitator” and so finding highly experienced Scrum Masters is actually very hard.
    It also strongly hints that it’s about Scrum, rather than any broader Agile or Lean principles which may not involve Scrum at all.

    The problem with “Agile Project Manager”:
    Here we often get Project Managers who just stick the word “Agile” on the front and think that’s all they need to do. So we end up wading through a ton of CVs and interviewing loads of people in order to check out their agile credentials and mindset.
    It also means really good Scrum Masters may not apply for that role.

    So, “Delivery Manager” seems to be something we could consider, with its emphasis on helping the team towards their goal of delivering, as well as team building and all that lovely scrum-mastering-coaching goodness. Better still perhaps, “Delivery Lead”, because I have an issue with the word “manager”…

    1. Hi Victoria,
      I agree the title is a difficult one, I tend not to use scrum master as it has a framework in the title (it’s like adverts for a PRINCE2 project manager), it also almost says “you must spend £1k + on a certification before you can apply, even if you’ve been doing it for years”.

      Changing language is an important part of culture change, which is why I think “Delivery manager” was first used, but as you say “manager” is a difficult word so I’m not sure it’s right.

      As someone who has done a lot of hiring, I don’t think you’ll ever get away from people without the level of experience you are looking for applying for a role. The best you can do is be explicit about what kind of experience you would expect. e.g. most new scrum masters won’t have experience of initiating a project, building a team, going through discovery and getting a service live.

      You might look to Toyota and think about “Team Lead”, but as there is not just one leader in the team, I’m not sure it’s right in this context.
      “Delivery Lead” is worth trying out (be lean about it, test the hypothesis!). Having the word “Delivery” will get you applicants from a logistics background, but I’m not sure you can get away from that. Maybe “Agile Delivery Lead” may be slightly better.

      1. I blame LinkedIn …seriously.
        10/15 years ago we didn’t really have this plethora of job titles, so peacocking was done in the good old fashioned way of what watch you were sporting and what you had sitting in the car park.
        Nowadays its done via people thinking of the most ‘trending’ job titles on LinkedIn. ‘Agile Program Delivery Manager’ is my current favourite. Especially when 6 months ago they were a BA who once attended a Stand Up.
        Recruiting in the last 24months has been a nightmare. As Victoria correctly pointed out, I fall into the same trap when writing job adverts. I know what I want in my head, a really good Scrum Master. But I feel the term Scrum Master has been diluted greatly over the recent years.
        I have now started insisting for CSP level certifications for all my Scrum Master hires just to cut down the time wasted on fabricated job profiles that get caught out at interview. But I do this knowing that I’m alienating some of my peers who haven’t gone down the certification route.
        …and don’t get me started on the ‘Agile Coach’ moniker. Turns out we have 500+ ‘Agile Coaches’ in Yorkshire according to LinkedIn! Good news for the Northern Tech Hub 🙂

        1. Like them or not, Job titles do help people search for jobs. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here, I’m not convinced that delivery manager is right, but I understand how it came about. This was never meant to be a post about job titles, it was more about describing a role that I have hired for, to help me (and others) when describing the role.

          I don’t only look at people with scrum master qualification when hiring and it saddens me that others might, as I mentioned in my reply to Victoria, I think this only helps create an industry around scrum master certifications rather than help hire the right people. The last thing I would want to do is insist that someone forks out ~£1000 before they can even apply for a job. And what about lapsed certifications, the scrum alliance say you have to pay £50 a year to keep it, something I stopped paying for years ago. I’d rather look at experience.

          The popularity of agile on CVs only goes to show the adoption of agile, people are trying to cover their bases when they look for work. I don’t think CVs always give an honest picture, so some carefully worded questions to those applying should help you filter out those that aren’t being entirely honest on CVs. This is true of any role.

          1. Yeah I was just looking at CSD or CSP but while I’d like to do the course I’m not really interested in following the renewal scheme.

          2. It all depends on what you want to get out of it and what other routes you have to learn as to whether it’s worth doing or not.

          3. Your right – buying into one of the corporate certification bodies shouldn’t be the way to go. For example one of the recruiters I use has just passed her CSM so she is now a certified ‘Scrum Master’ having never worked in IT or with agile ever. Does that mean she knows more than someone without the certification – of course it doesn’t.
            CSM is pointless but the CSP and higher are hard to achieve and take 12months+ of effort. I know that Barclays (Knutsford) view CSP as an entry gate for some of their senior Agile roles, right or wrongly.
            When I first started contracting I was up against people with 20+ years of experience so the certification route allowed me to backup my experience with the reassurance that I did really know my stuff when it came to delivering with agile. So I appreciate both sides of the discussion.
            I’ve detoured slightly away from your original topic, apologies. Just ordered your book – looking forward to giving it a read and feeding back. Great effort in such a short space of time.

          4. It’s a valid conversation and I think we are all in the same boat when it comes to hiring. Although I am also interested in how those that employ these roles also help build experience in the market for the benefit of everyone (one of the reasons I run Agile meetups and am such a fan of communities of practice). That’s a topic for another blog post – or rant in the pub.
            Hope you enjoy the book!

      2. Hi Emily,
        It makes me really sad that we need to read still nowadays post/comments that are confrontational or support rejection against Scrum based on pure ignorance.

        The previous comment regarding Scrum Masters being “junior facilitators” was simply wrong. Instead of making that clear, your answer regarding the Scrum Master role making reference only to a framework makes too evident your level of knowledge about Scrum is also limited as you don’t seem to know that Scrum represents the isolation of the Lean core.

        Your mention about the £1K one needs to spend before becoming a Scrum Master tells me you don’t know about Scrum.org and that you took or looked into a first level Scrum Alliance course at a certain point in the past; this is also inline with the fact that you seem to believe that only experience counts for a “Delivery manager”, that new “agile” term that the government has put in vogue but doesn’t really mean anything in any agile movement out there.

        I bet you never reached the PSM II or the equivalent CSP level in Scrum, and I’m 100% sure you’re not a PSM III as that’s the only Scrum Expert level worldwide and based on your knowledge of it I can tell you’re just not ready.

        Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka isolated Lean’s core in January 1986 (read The New New Product Development Game research paper for more info on this). Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber took that work and improved it, since its presentation in 1995 that’s Scrum as we know it nowadays.

        Scrum has its roots in Lean. Scrum is part of Lean. I hope this idea sinks in your brain and helps you to stop supporting prejudices and rejection that other people do based on their limited knowledge, you should have point them into the right direction instead. Hate is not that direction IMHO.

        In fact, almost all agile practices (except RUP, LeSS, SAFe and DaD) comes from Lean directly or indirectly; We’re taking about a lot here: XP, Crystal, Scrum, Lean Kanban, Lean Six-Sigma, Nexus…

        IMHO It’s unbelievable you write a blog comment like this taking the position of defending one exclusive point of view by attacking/diminishing other agile practices.

        Let me tell you your approach on this is not very agile either, the agile movement do not promote confrontation among approaches in any way.

        What was the need to diminish Scrum Masters? Does that really help making a better look on “Delivery Managers”?

        Let’s try:
        In my experience “Delivery Managers” are people that most of the time do not have a development background, that were project managers or program managers in the past and jumped into the Agile wave as a way of having a life but with a very Waterfall frame of mind, most of them have no superior level of agile whatsoever, they like buzzwords but not to look into things deeply and they have forgotten completely the Agile principle of continuous improvement and this is evident by their conversations and advice, some of them also do mini-agile in their iterations and love to apply Wet-Agile and iterative waterfall in big companies. Some of them even do not feel any embarrasment to call themselves agile coaches when their level is just the “no level/no certification” level or the “really starting” level (and they stopped there as they could cash on that, what would have been the point to improve anyway?).

        Now tell me, what benefit provides me doing the above? Did this gave me – as a experienced Scrum Master – any extra value?

        I hope you argue it doesn’t, that it’s judgemental and that it doesn’t make justice to a lot of people that is working hard in the industry despite their role name …and that it probably doesn’t help how you see me under a good light after reading that. Well, same here. That’s why your approach helping to spread rejection instead of stopping it was wrong in my opinion.

        If you want to discuss this, I’m a PSM III, PSD I, PSPO and Project manager with a Masters in PM (Distinction) using PMP methodologies, a Degree in Computing 2:1, I’m PRINCE2 Practitioner certified and M_o_R certified, having more than 32 years of experience in the IT field doing roles from Jnr Developer to CTO, Project Manager and Scrum Master and I came to read your post because Jamie Arnold indicated you guys were interested in Delivery Managers in Manchester in another post I had read by casualty.

        Well, after seeing how hate spreads in your “agile” culture I think I’m off this time. I can’t help but think you should look a bit deeper into your approach to other agile practices. There is no reason to feel menace by other agile practitioners, independently on their approach to work, we should be all together.

        As I said, I’m sad this is not the case.

        1. Santiago,
          you clearly have some pent up aggression that you have decided to unleash on me. Firstly let me say I do not appreciate you coming to my blog and talking about hate whilst throwing accusations at me. I’m approving your long and misleading comment so that I can respond to your points as publicly as you intended them to be.

          Let’s cover the previous comments that you bring up:

          You have accused me of not defending scrum to a point that Victoria made. She said:

          “when hiring, it seems that out in the recruitment space “Scrum Master” has come to equate “junior facilitator””

          She is referring not to what she or I think a scrum master is, but her experience of dealing with the recruitment industry. I too have experienced recruiters that don’t get the role. I’m not about to tell her that her experience with recruiters is wrong.

          I’ve explained my position on using a framework in a job title, I’m not going to repeat it. I don’t think a £1k two-day course is the way to prove capability and I’ve seen job ads that require it. I look for experience and proof of good agile delivery, I wouldn’t hire someone that had only known about scrum (and nothing else) for two days to (servant) lead a team. This is a particular reference to the CSM qualification because this is what I have seen in job ads. These people would reject great candidates because they don’t have a piece of paper.

          Your accusation about my level of experience or my understanding about the origins of Agile is unfounded and shows your fondness of qualifications. To quote you “There is no reason to feel menace by other agile practitioners, independently on their approach to work, we should be all together.” – maybe you should take your own advice there. Here’s a photo of me and Jeff Sutherland in the pub enjoying a beer https://www.instagram.com/p/vP7n3bkpDP/. Does that make you feel better?

          If you think delivery managers are only project managers who have jumped on the agile bandwagon then you are very wrong. This is rude towards the many very good and very agile delivery managers that I know. Please don’t spread hatred towards everyone with a particular job title on my blog.

          And one final point of misunderstanding from you. Jamie Arnold may have written about the organisation that he works for looking for staff. I don’t work at that organisation and I know for a fact that there are women there too. They aren’t all “guys”.

          I have approved this one comment from you, but I don’t want you coming back to my blog and throwing more accusations, misinformation and hatred at me and other agile practitioners so I won’t approve anything else that isn’t constructive and polite.

          1. Hi Emily,
            I honestly apologise, when I read it yesterday I understood you were supporting the fact that Scrum Masters found lately are “junior facilitators”.

            I did not pretend this to be public curiously but it’s also my fault not to have stated it in the message. I thought it was evident when I said we could discuss it but I also understand you could decide to discuss it in public. Now that it’s public please make my apology also public if you don’t mind.

            As you recommend, believe me I will take my own advice on board as I should have re-read Victoria’s comment at least twice and give some time before writing anything to you. I recognise that feeling we were being diminished just for being Scrum Masters infuriated me and that wasn’t the best mood to sit down and write any comment. I also recognise I should not have made you responsible for anything other person said and I apologise for that as well.

            You have misunderstood a part of my comment though, when I say “let’s try” and described the role in a “pay back” way; that was an attempt for you to see how wrong was spreading judgmental comments about other practitioners as it gives no benefit to anyone.

            Fortunately for me, it’s easy to demonstrate I do not think that of Delivery Managers, if I would what would be the point to indicate that I expected you to argue that doing so doesn’t give any benefit to me, that it was judgmental and unfair, etc? I did it only for you to recognise attacking others is not the right way to go but again, with a post so long and the way I wrote the rest I understand the misunderstanding.

            I’m not 100% certain what you really mean by sharing a photo with Jeff Sutherland but I assume you’re trying to make the point you appreciate Scrum or that Jeff was your monitor. It’s fine, this is irrelevant really, I think this is the same that when I added some of my certifications as a way to invite you to discuss if you wanted it – somehow to demonstrate I had reasons to support what I was saying – but you felt at your side that I did it because I’m fond of them. This is what the written media has.

            Again, I honestly apologise. It was totally my fault as I misinterpreted what I read but that doesn’t excuse the fact that even with that I did not do my best to make sure that I write a non-attacking comment, even more when I was criticising what I believed to be an attack to Scrum Masters in general.

          1. Thanks to you Emily for accepting my apologies.

            One thing I did not mention was that I found your article to be very good and that was the reason for deciding to read the comments below it, …then the misunderstanding happened in my side, I f* up and never said anything about the quality of your work.

            I cannot go back in time and do it better but I still can recognise your good work.

  4. This a very helpful post and discussion.

    Agree with the focus on Agile but the ‘delivery support’ aspect in a non-agile organisation can be all-consuming.

    In response to Jon’s comments on ‘short term delivery focus’, I agree, but huge pressure is heaped on delivery managers to name and meet dates, accompanied by even huger pressure if they don’t meet them.

    I’m all for meeting dates, and naming dates is an important part of organisational collaboration and planning. However, it’s very tricky to manage an agile team properly, in the way Jon suggests, while being subject to ‘date first’ pressures. Inevitably you end up pushing and demanding and some Agile people resent that. They think it means you are risking just not doing things properly, and in many cases they are right.

    Non-agile governance – which most of us have – still wants a single person to grill and interrogate: the old PM role. ‘Delivery Managers are not Project Managers’ should be a very clear message to all, backed with some education on why not and some ideas as to how boards and committees could be more helpful in treating DMs in ways more likely to engender the right behaviours with their teams.

    1. Hi Kate,
      the delivery support part of the role does depend on the organisation. I’ve been in places where this means working with clients, places where it means reporting outwards and places where it means making sure contracts are in place and people have passes to get into the building. If it becomes overwhelming and takes the focus away from the other parts of the role and the team is suffering, that’s when other options could be considered.

      As you mention, in a large organisation education is important, change is hard and it’s particularly hard for people outside an agile team to understand the change in ways of working if no one helps them see what it means, how it affects them and how they can benefit from it. This is part of the external coaching role that a delivery manager could take.

  5. ‘huge pressure is heaped on delivery managers to name and meet dates, accompanied by even huger pressure if they don’t meet them.’

    There are too many problems created by that approach to go into here. But my worry is ‘Delivery Manager’ plays well to people that think traditional, project/fixed scope/date based thinking is a sensible way to approach software delivery.

    Delivery managers are placed under pressure to meet dates – because that’s there job, right? I’d favour a name which set a different expectation to people who have not yet made the mindset shift needed to succeed with Agile.

      1. Personally, I prefer the Spotify approach of team Agile Coach, which i think aligns better with principles/values and sets a better expectation. We can have overlapping roles of Team Coach and Enterprise Coach, which makes the different emphasis of the roles clear, but doesn’t stop people at the team level also coaching in the wider organisation and visa versa.

        There tends to be a problem team level coaches/ Scrum Masters fall into when they lack the influence needed for coaching senior management and can’t effect the change needed to gain it. An enterprise coach can become an enabler for that. The enterprise coach can also provide coaches at the team level with the coaching / support / servant leadership that they need.

        An ex colleague of mine also suggested ‘team enabler’ in this blog post, he is much more articulate than me, worth a read 😉

        https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/scrum-master-dad-team-leadtime-new-name-unites-us-purpose-ray-edgar?trk=prof-post

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