Occasionally, one might come across a project management article that proclaims – “Why We Decided To Get Rid Of Project Managers”. In response, knowledgeable people usually point out that it is not an original idea. It has been done in tech before. Some time in 2001, Larry Page – the founder of Google – decided to get rid of all the project managers he employed.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out well. Turns out firing people responsible for making sure that projects are feasible, is not a sound long term strategy. Let me mention some of the other key activities that project managers are tasked with. To give you an idea of why it might be your doom to get rid of them.
Project managers set clear goals for projects, communicate them to all the stakeholders and motivate people along the way. As well as keep everybody accountable. All the while ensuring that projects run smoothly, on time and on budget. As one industry insider eloquently put it – “PMs are basically cat herders, mother hens, and liaisons to upper management”. Simply put, they are responsible ones.
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else
One cannot predict the outcome of a project without careful, pragmatic planning. Project management helps with meeting deadlines and making sure that the firm has enough resources to pull off the project. But what makes Project Management even more valuable for the IT industry, in particular, is the nature of software development. Software development is, in essence, an effort in learning. It strongly implies a trial and error process to figure out what works. The industry usually creates interactive tools. Which means people clicking different buttons. That leads to almost infinite possibilities for things to go wrong during the development process. Every new project is at least slightly different than the previous one and requires a level of customization. Otherwise, it would have been automated a long time ago. Instead, it makes planning for an IT project akin to a nightmare.
IT project managers, therefore, came up with a methodology to combat this, instead of a more common cascading Waterfall one, that is mre suited for industries where outcomes are more repeatable and predictable. However, we are not going into detail right now on this, as we have a comprehensive guide on this subject in A Complete Guide To Agile Development. The guide also elaborates on the merits of planning and executing with the help of Scrum and Kanban methodologies alike. Armed with those tools and negotiation skills, IT project managers come up with a reasonable schedule, which leads to a smoother experience for everybody involved. Without project management, the result is usually unreasonable expectations, unrealistic timetables, overambitious budgets and a general sense of disarray.
What’s measured improves
Quality control is essential for the success of any enterprise. Perhaps even more so for the IT industry, because it is hyper-competitive and volatile in nature. It could be that while you take your product through all the development stages it becomes irrelevant because competitors came up with something much better. Of course, that inevitably leads to products being rushed and as a consequence missing the mark on quality. But with a dedicated project manager in place who can help you navigate those treacherous software development waters, you can weather the storm. The project manager must ensure that quality standards for deliverables are defined and that everybody involved is on the same page about what to strive for.
Another area that can’t be left without the project manager’s attention and oversight. One might have a comprehensive, meticulous plan in place, but if there’s no person to ensure follow-through, everything falls apart. Bad things happen to good people if development teams are siloed. If there are no clear goals or continuous briefs to inform developers of what the clients expect, eventually there will be lots of confusion. People wouldn’t know what they are supposed to do or why. It’s the project manager’s job to break the project into smaller, more manageable tasks and assign them to different teams, as well as keeping them accountable. But it is a balancing act. Micromanaging, back seat-driving your developer colleagues is the opposite of productive. So, a good project manager demonstrates restraint and patience.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail
Risk management is big in tech. In more conventional industries one can look at a blueprint of something tangible, like a skyscraper, or a plane and not only understand how to build it from start to finish but also put contingencies in place for any force majeure situations. But with the aforementioned trial and error, the nonlinear nature of software development, the IT industry doesn’t have the luxury of predictability.
It is difficult to anticipate a multitude of ways that things can go wrong. It could be something simple as you realising in the testing/debugging stage of development that your colleagues “forgot” to add something vital in the requirements stage. An “Oopsie” like that could cost an arm and a leg. Or cybersecurity issues like getting “hacked” that could stall work for months. Whatever it might be, there should be a person whose job it is to anticipate these risks and mitigate or avoid them completely. As you might have guessed this responsibility lies squarely on the Project management shoulders. He or she should not only have a plan for those calamities but also systemize them in a prioritised order so that appropriate resources could be dispensed and the overarching plan amended.
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest
At this point, you might be wondering, whether IT project managers are some mythical creatures from a faraway land. In reality, project managers are technically inclined people with well-developed organizational and people skills. The technical part includes basic knowledge of web development, software integration, hardware, database storage, as well as network management. There are multiple reasons to have all that knowledge, but chief among them, project managers should be able to tell when developers are not being forthcoming with them.
People skills come in handy in communicating with different kinds of people that come from different backgrounds like a business, technical and end-users. While organizational skills help with planning, executing and risk management, not to mention everything should be documented. For instance, it is a good idea to have documented accounts of how each business wants their project to work and then let every technical resource review it and confirm if it is doable. Diligent documentation prevents miscommunication. In other words, you want folks who keep everybody honest around.
If you want your software development projects to run smoothly. Don’t be stingy when it comes to hiring project managers.