Project managers take the heat from both management and from the development staff they aim to inspire. Here’s the information your team lead desperately wishes you’d understand – to benefit everyone who’s trying to get quality software out the door.
In the high-stakes world of technology project deployment, one key person in the organization often gets intense pressure from both the development team and management. They are the middlemen (or middlewomen), and if they are good at their job they thrive on that distinction. They are the glue that keeps the project together and the engine that keeps it moving forward. Common titles for that vital person in your organization are project manager, product manager, team lead, or technology manager, but whatever the lofty title, these people are the hub on the wheel – and the spokes need the hub to make progress.
Don’t believe me? Try launching a project today without a project manager, and see how quickly it deteriorates. Envision missed deadlines, miscommunication, missing requirements, and no direction or accountability. (Wait, that’s your day-to-day life? Sorry.)
Whether you give someone a job title or include project management responsibilities as part of another job, it’s in your best interest to make your project manager’s life a little easier. Your gleeful cooperation will help move your project towards its intended deadlines with a minimum of fuss.
Have you ever climbed in to your car and started driving with no idea where you were going, with no destination in mind and no timeline? There was nothing at stake. How did you know that you’d arrived? Were you there yet? There are only a few times in our life where not having a destination is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, if your goal is to deliver high-quality software, then knowing what your destination is becomes vital.
Your project manager appreciates clear visions and goals from the outset. Drawing pretty pictures on a white board and waving your hand about thusly does not a quality project plan make. Your established goals and expected end result facilitates the creation of effective technical and functional specifications for the development team. Ambiguity at the beginning of the project only causes confusion and lack of direction. Be clear in stating your expectations and goals so your project manager knows when you have arrived.
2. Change, change, change
The rate of acceleration in the technology sector is mind boggling and change is expected, within reason. A small change after the project is designed and specifications agreed upon is never small. Any change affects the project’s schedule, cost, scope, and quality.
One of the worst statements you could possibly utter within earshot of your project manager is, “We need a small change. This should be easy right? Take a few hours?” Yep, easy peasy all right… except for all the other parts of that project that are touched by that small change. Give the Project Manager a little credit and let her determine whether a change is easy (or not) and judge how that change will affect the outcome as well as the sanity of the development team.
3. Challenge Accepted
Risks and challenges are an inherent part of any technology project. Experienced project managers can anticipate most - but not all - possible stumbling blocks. Even the smoothest of projects runs into unexpected hurdles: colocation facilities lose power, key team members get ill, or third-party service providers are slow on the follow-up.
There are a number of unexpected challenges a project may run into. Great project managers are calm, cool, and collected and never let you see them sweat. If the delay is the result of third-party involvement or external force, pushing your project manager to fix it yesterday will only cause more stress and dissention. Believe him when he says he is doing all he can to remedy the situation. Yes, your project manager is aware of the potential impact to the company.
4. Kreskin we are not
Your ongoing communication with your project manager is vital to the success of the project. Project managers are great communicators and thrive on interaction. Feeling like they have to twist your arm or read developers’ minds to get an answer to a critical question makes project managers feel like your priorities are elsewhere. That makes their enthusiasm for you (and your career) wane.
Usually (or at least often), the project manager’s question is truly critical. If it is not answered in a timely manner, the lack of knowledge can halt the project in its tracks or lose key support from stakeholders (such as the CEO funding the project). The initial project meeting is a great launching point but that is not where your responsibilities end. Project managers may be self-sufficient but they are not mind readers, so please follow up as quickly as you are able – even if it’s to tell them when you can give them a more in-depth answer.
5. Tell me a story
In an ideal world, your project manager is also a subject matter expert (SME) in your particular industry and in the end-user’s business domain. In most cases, this is not true. Typically, project managers are experienced in managing technology projects from start to finish; they know about the process of getting things done, but maybe not all the details of the problem being solved. They probably won’t know how your customer or end user will interact with the system unless you tell them about the customer’s background and software expectations.
This is why user stories are vital to effective software testing. User stories are technology engagement scenarios based on your target market. Work with your project manager to develop these scenarios, as she can only hazard a guess at what your users will do when they access your project. Make sure you include issues and concerns your users may experience. Good user stories work hand-in-hand with functional specifications and ensure that both you and the development team are clear on end-user expectations. Attempting to develop technology without any idea of the intended user is counterproductive and frustrating. Tell your story so your project manager can give your “listeners” the best experience ever.
6. Apples and Oranges
We are creatures of comparison. It’s human nature to look at a similar project to our own and assume that they are the same. In our minds, mimicking anything “they” do that we think is cool is a good idea.
Making comparisons is one thing, but trying to match their timeline and features is unrealistic. One way to get on the bad side of your project manager is to approach him with a comparison to other “like” projects in terms of completion time and features. Statements like, “They are using ‘x’ technology and it seems really cool, why are we using ‘y’?” or better yet, “It only took Project XYZ two months to get to market; why aren’t we live yet?” Introducing something exciting and new that you saw on a competitor’s site is all part of staying on top of current trends. A good project manager would have noted that trend and kept it in mind for future versions. Ultimately the grass is greener where you water it, so work to improve your current project within the agreed-upon specifications, and everyone will be happier.
7. Itty Bitty Micro Management Committee
Micro-management – including from below, from team members – is the number one enemy of your project’s growth. It’s repressive and tells your project manager that you don’t trust her or that you don’t have faith in his ability to get the job done.
The devil is in the details. It can be extremely difficult to step back and let your project manager take control of all those details when so much is riding on the project’s successful completion. If you resist the urge to micromanage, it can empower your Project Manager and consequently boost the morale of the team and keep the project running smoothly.
With the acceleration of technology projects requiring faster time to market, getting to know and understand how your project manager thrives will create a positive, efficient environment. Not sure what else you can do? Ask your own project managers. They will be more than happy to share with you.
About the author:
Donna M Snow is a Silicon Valley transplant currently living in Las Vegas. With over 15 years experience working with Open Source as an integrator and designer she has firsthand experience working with both management and development teams. Technologies she’s worked with include Zope. Plone, Django, Drupal, ModX, Pimcore, WebGUI, and WordPress. When she isn’t eyeballs deep in a new project, she is fervently leveling some toon in her video game of the week.