Being a Project Manager is not an easy task. Having that role in a company comes with the need of having many skills, both soft and technical. In this article I will show you the basic rules to follow and several useful tips and tools for an outstanding project management.
1. Who is the Project Manager?
The Project Manager is the one with the suit and the brand new sports car!
… maybe, but only in the movies!
Actually, he or she has to look like more like the multi-armed deity Shiva, and less like James Bond. The Project Manager is responsible for all aspects of the project, from the initial specification, development, QA, release planning, the actual releases and, finally, collecting the user experience and feedback. Then the PM can go to sleep… but, only if the feedback is specified for the development team as new user requirements!
2. Tips for successful Project Management
ANALYSE → DESIGN → SPEC → DEV → QA → RELEASE
Every project is different, but the Project Manager is key to the success of every release.
- First rule: You must be familiar with the business. This is the main goal of every PM. You need to be able to answer any question from a development point-of-view because the PM is the mediator between the business and the development sides of the project. Don’t forget that you are the driver of the project from start to finish.
- Second rule: Soft skills. Your communication skills—both with your team and users—is key to your success. Be gentle; be smart! You have to be in close contact with the product sponsor, the dev leads, the dev team members, and even the QAs. Also, you will need to be best friends with the product owner.
- Third rule: Be a leader, not the boss.
Most software companies are using Scrum to manage their processes. Working at a Java development company, I’ve seen that this helps teams improve themselves, so the PM can primarily focus on the business side. Even though the PM is not part of the Scrum team, it’s a good idea for him or her to be part of the Daily Scrum, but only as an observer. Think about the Fable of the Chicken and the Pig: the PM is the chicken; messing with the pigs’ job will only harm the dev process.
3. Skills needed
As a PM, it is a good idea to become ScrumMaster Certified. However, www.scrum.org does not recommend that PMs actually be a ScrumMaster. As you know, from theory to practice there is often a difference. It is vital to think globally, not locally. If you believe that other people will take care of the details by themselves, you will fail. Thinking globally will help you and your team specify all the details before start of development; to do so afterwards will be more expensive. Help people understand the feasibility of the project plan.
3.2. ASAP vs. JIT
JIT—Just-in-Time—is very suitable for KANBAN and manufacturing, but from a PM’s point-of-view, the best optimisation is ASAP. The life is dynamic; you cannot be sure that your targets for next year won’t suddenly be prioritised as targets for tomorrow… or even yesterday! Best practice is to design and specify all your requirements ASAP. In reality, you will need the agility to switch between priorities quickly and often.
3.3. Being an Author
It’s not necessary to be J.K. Rowling, and you won’t have to write a continuation of the Harry Potter stories. Instead, you will be writing SMART stories. You should use clear language, avoiding technical jargon and acronyms. People will know they are reading the words of a human being, not a robot. This is the breakdown of a SMART story:
S pecific — Being specific with your developers will help them; it will reduce unnecessary discussion and save time;
M easurable — Provide KPIs and results against which your work will be measured.
A ttainable — Can the goals of the project be achieved with the time and resources available?
R elevant — Ensure the targets are focused exclusively on the needs of the business.
T imely — Goals should be linked to a timeframe which provides results in a timely manner.
With small steps you can climb the highest mountain.
4. Useful Tools
The main tool of any PM is the issue tracker, JIRA . It’s important because in the most cases this is the only documentation of a product. If the teams are spread across the world, and the different time zones present a barrier to effective communication, the JIRA boards are the best way for everyone to stay informed of progress and if there are any issues. An up-to-date JIRA board will bring the Project Managers peace.
4.2. Mailbox Client
Leave no unread mail in your inbox. Be patient and stay focused when you are reading you mails. The devil is in the details!
4.3. Virtual Meeting Room
Especially for international teams it is very important to buy, rent, or use a free virtual meeting room. Usually, the PMs are constantly in meetings, but the available resources are often ill-suited to these purposes. The best meeting room will contain a whiteboard and the ability to record the session on a disk or in the cloud, as well as many other small amenities.
Keeping your calendar up-to-date with all your events, meetings and task will help you stay on top of events. In turn, it will help you improve and become more efficient with your time. Doing this means you will never need to say the words ‘I forgot’, I didn’t know’, or ‘ahhh, I missed it’ ever again!
Trello is a very useful tool for scheduling, prioritising and marking the upcoming tasks. You can use it as your own organiser or as an organiser for the whole team. I use it for my own tasks. You can even create different boards for your different projects.
4.6. Your brain
Keep your brain trained all the time. Read books, do puzzles, solve logical tasks, learn languages. All these activities will keep your mind in a good condition and you will stay competitive.
In addition to all the other tools you will need for organising your work, you will also need something simple and powerful for taking notes. Notes can be taken during the meetings or while researching. Also, the Notepad++ app is very useful for reading log files, big text documents, scripts and all the other stuff you will read in your work.
Hint: In Notepad++ you can create user-defined languages. I created my own languages to format my notes and logs which, as I read many log files each day, makes me more efficient. Write down all the information you obtain from personal meetings.
5. In conclusion
Being an effective Project Manager depends all on you, on developing your skills and proper management of your time. I will be glad to hear your point of view so feel free to share your experience on the topic.