Do you really need a project manager for your software development project?
Couldn’t your development team just do its thing and report to someone in the executive suite?
If projects always stayed on schedule and development teams always worked in ideal circumstances, then yes. You could just execute the project and have a C-level stakeholder sign off on it when it was done.
But down here in the real world, nothing goes as planned. People don’t communicate as often or as clearly as they should. Developers misunderstand requirements. Change requests and scope creep throw schedules off track.
That’s why you need a project manager.
Take it from us. Or, at least, read on.
What Project Managers Do for Your Team
When you’re sitting in a traffic jam, all you can see is a flood of taillights. No matter how much you talk to the drivers on either side of you, none of you can see far enough to know what the problem is or how long the jam will last. That’s why you pull out your smartphone and check for traffic reports. You want to get the lowdown on the situation from a guy in a helicopter or a guy watching all the traffic cams or from your fellow motorist who has gotten through the mess that you’re currently in, because that person can see the big picture.
That’s what a project manager can do for your team. He or she provides a big-picture view of your project: what other members of the team are doing, how all the different pieces are progressing, and how individual hang-ups or changes might affect the schedule and budget overall.
According to Forbes, project managers can make or break the success of a startup. That’s true for any development project—after all, any new software project is really a new product, even if it isn’t officially a new business.
A 2017 study by the Project Management Institute showed the same thing. Theorganizations that consistently deliver IT projects on time and on budget do so in large part because they benefit from the leadershp of project professionals who use proven project management processes.
Let’s look at two big picture benefits a project manager will bring to your team:
Project managers make development teams more efficient by eliminating time waste and identifying scope creep before it can derail a project. They also make everyone more effective by keeping the communication lines open and facilitating collaboration. Together, efficiency and effectiveness keep your project team on time, under budget, and in scope.
Even the best-planned projects carry significant risk. Scheduling overreaches, hidden requirements, productivity lags, communication failures are all reasons projects fail. It’s the project manager’s job to anticipate and deal with these risks before they escalate out of control. An experienced project manager has seen it all before, and can help you work around a traffic jam before you’re stymied by it.
When you have a single person dedicated to orchestrating the project, your team members are free to focus on working within their specific expertise, not putting out fires. As the various pieces of the project come together, the project manager can make course corrections and tweaks to keep everyone on track, and test with a big-picture view that makes sure that the project is a real solution, not just working software.
8 Ways a Project Manager Keeps Your Project From Imploding
Adding value and managing risk is all well and good—but just how does the project manager accomplish those objectives? Here are eight things a project manager can do to make your project a success:
1. Facilitate Communication
If the back-end developers never talk to the business-level stakeholders and the UX designer doesn’t get feedback from the QA team, the project will derail. The project manager’s job is to make sure all the various team members and stakeholders talk to each other so that everyone stays on the same page. A good project manager can translate developer-speak into business logic and vice versa, facilitating conversations about functionality and ROI.
2. Allocate Resources
Project resources include people (developers, coders, writers, graphic designers, testers), technology, time, and money. Someone has to decide where to invest those resources strategically so that nothing gets wasted. They need to know when to escalate and when to realign people to different milestones. Money is usually a driving factor for most projects, but no one wants to waste the time of a developer who is getting paid to move the project forward either. The project manager coordinates and allocates those resources by providing direction and keeping tabs on progress.
3. Manage Scope
Keeping the project in scope is critical to its success. When requirements or deliverables change, other parts of the project have to be adjusted as well. Controlling scope doesn’t mean nothing can ever change, but it does mean that those changes should be carefully considered, relevant to the project, and tightly managed.
4. Assess Requirements
When you develop your requirements list and your software architecture, someone needs to make sure everyone understands exactly how each requirement relates to functionality deliverables. When developers misunderstand the business-level requirements, mistakes happen. And that will throw off budget and timeline just as badly as scope creep will. The project manager gathers and documents all requirements at the outset to make sure everyone understands the project roadmap.
5. Develop the Schedule
It’s not enough to set a launch date. The project manager determines the schedule for milestones and deliverables throughout the project. He or she will also help the team stay focused to maintain velocity over time and to make sure each milestone delivery aligns with the schedule as a whole. When problems arise or delays happen, it’s the project manager’s job to make adjustments to keep the project on schedule.
6. Monitor the Budget
Small changes can snowball into big budgetary snafus—unless someone prevents it. It’s even possible for budget overreaches to sink a project completely. The project manager is there to make sure that doesn’t happen.
7. Motivate the Team
Personality conflicts, delays, change requests, misaligned (or misunderstood) requirements, and a thousand other problems can sabotage a team’s morale—especially when a project is going off the rails. The project manager steps into those situations, offers solutions, keeps stakeholders talking to one another, and provides a bird’s-eye view of the situation. Conflict happens, but a good project manager gets everyone back on the same page.
8. Make Course Corrections
Every project experiences scope creep and requirement drift along the way. Maybe a feature takes longer during the development process than planned, or maybe the client doesn’t respond to communications as quickly as they should. An experienced project manager will anticipate those issues and keep them from derailing the whole shebang. Mid-course corrections are necessary, even with waterfall projects.
What to Look for In a Project Manager
It takes more than a PMP certification to manage a software project well. An effective project manager brings a certain set of skills to the table. Like any manager, it’s the soft skills—the ability to work with people—that separate successful project managers from the ineffective ones. Here are a few things to look for:
Communication Skills—Can he communicate things in a way that is assertive but non-threatening? Does he respond to communications quickly and completely? Does he know how to draw out a person’s true opinions? Does he say no in a way that is constructive, not derogatory?
Leadership Skills—Does she know how to motivate people? Does she delegate effectively? Can she come up with creative solutions? Does she accept and use feedback or ideas from others? How does she respond when a stakeholder changes his mind? Can she inspire others to work as a team?
Decision-Making Skills—Will he work well under pressure? Can he pivot quickly when necessary? Does he make solid decisions even when the stakes are high and a deadline is looming?
Vision—Can she see both the goal and a clear path to get there? Does she have a vision for what “done” looks like? Does she know how to communicate that vision to others?
The bottom line is this: the buck stops with the project manager. Without one, there is no single person accountable for getting the project completed and no single point of contact the team can reach out to with questions or problems. It’s every team member for himself or herself).
But when you have the right person in the helicopter overseeing the project from start to finish, you’ll not only be able to see the cause of the traffic jam, but—ideally—you’ll be able to prevent the jam from occurring in the first place.
That way, you can get to your final destination right on time…
And maybe even enjoy the ride.