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Hannah Taylor

What is the Difference Between a Delivery Manager & a Project Manager?

If you work in Agile, you've probably come across these titles before. But what really is the difference between and delivery manager and project manager?

A delivery manager, project manager, and Scrum master walk into a bar. And we can’t even write a punchline for that joke because we’re already confused.

Whether you work in IT or marketing, there’s a high chance you’ve heard of these job titles before. But do you know what they actually encompass?

Today, we’re exploring the difference between the project manager and delivery manager roles and how they fit into the Agile project management puzzle.

First, what is a project manager?

In simple terms, a project manager makes sure projects get from A to Z on time and within budget. The project manager role has existed for many decades and is considered one of the ‘traditional’ project management functions. 

They’re a staple in many organizations, from marketing agencies to construction companies, and often form part of a business’s Project Management Office, product team, or operations team.

Project managers lead project teams to success, developing detailed plans that define the tasks to be completed, the timelines, and the budgets. They are also responsible for keeping the project on schedule and the team on task, which can involve managing resources, applying motivational techniques, and solving problems that arise during the project’s lifespan. 

A key element of the project manager’s role is keeping in contact with members of the project team, key project stakeholders, and third parties. In fact, project managers spend between 75% and 90% of their time communicating.

What is a delivery manager?

A delivery manager is also responsible for making sure projects are delivered successfully but with a focus on optimizing processes, helping teams work well together, and leading Agile practices. They are responsible for the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.

Delivery managers also act as a bridge between companies’ internal delivery teams and external stakeholders, ensuring these teams collaborate effectively and the project meets stakeholder or end-user expectations.

Is the delivery manager role new in project management?

Whereas the project manager role is more traditional, the delivery manager role emerged more recently to address the challenges of teams working with Agile methodologies. This new role has helped create a distinction between those responsible for the delivery process and other similar — yet clearly defined — roles:

  • Project managers: accountable for project progress
  • Scrum masters: responsible for ensuring teams follow Scrum processes
  • Product owners: responsible for directing product vision

There may be some overlap in responsibilities in some places as the delivery manager role has evolved to supplement, not replace, these more traditional project management roles. Every business, team, and project has different needs; these roles work together to ensure all these needs are met.

TL;DR: Project managers are primarily responsible for the ‘what,’ and delivery managers are responsible for the ‘how.’ 

Delivery manager vs project manager: qualifications, skills, and responsibilities

Now that we have a top-line understanding of what project and delivery managers do, let’s break down what qualifications and skills are required for each role and what their day-to-day responsibilities include.

Project manager qualifications, skills, and responsibilities

Project manager qualifications

Traditionally, project managers require a Bachelor’s Degree in business, management, IT, or similar.

There are also dozens of certifications available for project managers, including those looking to specialize in specific methodologies. These include:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)®, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), covers multiple industries and methodologies.
  • Projects in a Controlled Environment verifies a person’s understanding of the PRINCE2 methodology.
  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) is an entry-level credential designed for those working in Scrum or other Agile methodologies.

Whether a business requires recruits to hold specific project management certifications depends on the industry, the project, and their hiring practices. However, many businesses today favor talent with relevant on-the-job experience and proven competency over those with formal qualifications. 

Project manager skills

Project management is all about strategy, which means project managers need to be keen problem solvers and strategic thinkers. Top-tier project managers will be great at:

  • Leadership: Project managers are responsible for keeping teams on task and feeling positive about the project, which involves motivating workers and creating a supportive work environment.
  • Communication: Good communication is key to keeping stakeholders, team members, clients, and third parties aligned on a project’s goal and status.
  • Critical thinking: Project managers often need to put out fires, requiring the ability to think critically when analyzing problems and proactively selecting the best solutions.
  • Negotiation: Whether they’re resolving conflicts or trying to get the best costs from suppliers, project managers need to be great negotiators.
  • Organization: Managing countless moving parts and people requires great organizational skills.

Project manager responsibilities

Project managers are in demand across dozens of industries, so there is a lot of variance in how these employees work, including their responsibilities. Let’s look at the responsibilities all project managers should expect to take on:

  • Defining the project's objectives, scope, and stakeholders
  • Creating project schedules, including setting deadlines, defining tasks, and estimating budgets
  • Updating schedules as the project progresses
  • Client communication and expectation management
  • Risk assessment and solution generation
  • Team resourcing and assigning project tasks
  • Motivating team members

Delivery manager qualifications, skills, and responsibilities

Delivery manager qualifications

Some companies may expect prospective delivery managers to hold Bachelor's degrees, but this depends on the level of specialism required for the role. For example, those working on software development projects may need a degree in a computer-related subject.

As the delivery manager role is not an entry-level position, candidates will also need:

  • knowledge of Agile methodologies
  • technical skills
  • team leadership experience
  • extensive experience working in project management or a related field, ideally as a project manager, product owner, or Scrum master.

Delivery manager skills

Delivery management is primarily operations-focused, which means delivery managers need to have great people skills and a good understanding of project management trends and best practices. Here are some skills you may seen on a delivery manager job description:

  • Team building: Delivery managers must foster a work environment that encourages productivity and creativity. By mediating conflict and encouraging collaboration, they will help the team work together more cohesively.
  • Mentoring: Delivery managers are responsible for making sure team members stick to agreed-upon processes, which means they need great management skills.
  • Processes: Delivery management is process-focused, so delivery professionals must be confident identifying which processes will add value to their projects and which are unnecessarily complex. 
  • Agile practices: As delivery managers typically work with Agile teams, they must understand all the relevant methodologies. Working in an Agile team requires workers to be adaptable, resilient, and open to experimentation, helping them quickly flex around changing requirements or arising issues.
  • Communication: As delivery managers often act as a go-between, great communication skills will help them listen to and interpret all stakeholders’ needs, concerns, and feedback.
  • Commercial understanding: Delivery managers often need to identify when hiring a third party, such as a supplier or contractor, will benefit their project and impact its costs.
  • Reporting: Delivery managers need to be comfortable generating reports and analyzing metrics, allowing them to use insights to streamline processes and inform future projects.

Delivery manager responsibilities

A delivery manager’s responsibilities will change daily, depending on the project they’re working on. Their job duties may include:

  • Establishing project delivery teams and ensuring the team follows best practices and procedures
  • Motivating and mentoring the team, including helping them to apply project management techniques effectively
  • Resource management, including ensuring the right tasks are allocated to the right people, managing budgets, and providing access to relevant tools
  • Developing long-term client relationships and managing stakeholder communication
  • Conducting data analysis
  • Overseeing and optimizing business procedures in order to improve the team’s performance
  • Identifying risks and roadblocks and helping the team overcome them
  • Keeping the team on task and ensuring they focus on the highest-priority tasks
  • Creating a positive work environment that allows the team to do their best work

What are the key differences between a delivery manager and a project manager?

Let's quickly summarise the three of the several key differences between delivery managers and project managers.

  • Focus and approach: The more traditional PM role focuses on planning and completing projects within scope, time, and budget constraints, while the DM role is all about continuous improvement and innovation, focusing on collaboration and Agile practices.
  • Team dynamics: PMs act as the central point of authority and use a range of methodologies, while DMs facilitate their team's work and typically work with Scrum and Agile project management techniques.
  • Responsibilities: PMs manage all broader aspects of a project, from defining project deliverables to risk management, while DMs focus on the day-to-day flow of their delivery team, working to improve processes.

Is Delivery Manager an Agile role?

While the delivery manager role wasn’t originally included in the core Agile or Scrum methodologies, it can be considered an Agile role.

Emerging from real-world Agile practices, delivery managers spearhead Agile and Lean methodologies within teams, using various project management tools to ensure product-vision alignment.

Delivery managers fill the gaps left by traditional project management roles in Agile teams, handling tasks like financial reporting, stakeholder relationships, and continual process improvement.

3 tips for excelling as a delivery manager

Whether you’re looking to begin your career as a delivery manager or are hiring for this innovative role in your team, here are three best practices all delivery managers should remember.

Focus on continuous improvement

Delivering fantastic value to clients and keeping processes running smoothly both come down to continual optimization. A good delivery manager should regularly host feedback sessions and use the learnings to optimize processes.

Prioritize communication

By championing alignment between delivery teams, departments, and stakeholders, delivery managers can ensure concerns are raised quickly and addressed proactively.

Support your team

Resourcing is a critical part of any delivery manager's role. They must balance productivity with employee well-being, creating a supportive environment that encourages teams to deliver exceptional results.

Final thoughts

By using a resource management tool, both project managers and delivery managers can plan their team’s time effectively and optimize critical processes. That means keeping delivery on track without relying on morale-destroying micromanagement; win-win!

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