Not a Middleman: Why You Need a Project Manager or How to Stay On Budget
September 8, 2020
8 min read
A software project is a team effort. While developers are crucial for the technical side of things, and designers work on usability and recognition, it's a project manager whose role is so often undeservedly overlooked. It might seem like a PM doesn't bring anything valuable to the table. If that's what you believe too, let me show you how much trouble your project can get in without an experienced project manager. I'll go over what you can expect from a PM and the numerous benefits you get to reap.
All you need is PM: who is a project manager and why should you care?
When it comes to implementing a new software solution you need some people to manage the operational aspects of the project, gather requirements, report, do administrative tasks, and so on. It's becoming more and more evident that IT project management is essential for any software development project to not only be completed but also to go well.
Sometimes you can see some sarcastic comments as "I know my job and I don't need another middleman". Such the image of a PM sitting back in the office and buried in papers and administrative stuff is a misconception. PM is firstly about facing challenges and finding the best solutions.
Project management is firstly about putting management processes in the operational side of the business (gathering requirements, reporting, structuring your resources properly) in place to help the team to collaboratively work together for delivering a high-quality product. PM manages a cross-functional team consisting of developers, QA testers, UI/UX, to work together throughout the whole development lifecycle.
The project manager is kinda a conductor of an orchestra, who prepares clear arrangements for every musician, listens if someone playing notes slightly out of tune, and, finally, regulates the process. Every musician could be an individual virtuoso but to play a harmoniously big orchestra needs the virtuoso conductor.
Imagine your project team consists of 8-12 people and all of them perform a task that constitutes the final product. Each person acts on their own, no one regulates communication, there is no common planning and setting deadlines, no understanding of mutual dependencies, and, finally, no one knows who should make these decisions. Would you be able to work effectively and deliver the product as per the agreed time frames? Needless to say, you need a trained person to set this management board.
Let's look at the sad IT industry figures from the Wellingtone survey:
Only 42% of the projects are completed within the budget
Only 37% of the projects are completed on schedule
Only 35% of projects are implemented in full
These numbers don't differ much from McKinsey's older research that claims the key reasons for large-scale IT project failures (with a budget of over $15 million) are missing focus and execution issues. If we take a closer look at these, we'll discover unclear objectives, unrealistic schedules, and even a lack of business focus at their core. As you'll see in a minute, all of these fall under the project manager's purview. There's no surprise that almost two-thirds (63%) of the IT vendors rely on formal project management to stay within budget.
According to PMI, one in every ten dollars you spend on a project is wasted because of unsatisfactory management and resulting poor performance. When compared to the overall project expenses, it makes sense to get a PM on your side, as it'll prevent these losses and generate additional value.
Let's unpack what you should expect from a PM working on your project.
What does a project manager do? Core responsibilities
The full list of PM's duties and their descriptions takes a couple of hundred pages (at least that's how long the sixth edition of PMBOK Guide is). Besides, as a startup founder or product owner, you can alter the list to best suit your needs. This is just my humble attempt at giving your ideas and inspiration for how useful project management can be.
Once you hire a PM to work on your project, you enjoy:
Keep calm and rely on PM for stable and efficient development workflow
A major part of the project manager's job is nearly invisible, but it's essential for a seamless development process. Experienced PMs rely on a project management plan, templates, documentation, and software tools to keep all stakeholders on the same page, on schedule, and on budget. While the full breakdown of the PM processes and approaches would take a stack of books, we can sneak a peek at some of the tricks up their sleeve.
Imagine your project is well underway when you come up with a revolutionary feature you're sure will land you thousands of new customers. <medium>Without a PM on the team, you would describe the new requirements to the team and then bemoan the missed deadlines and overspending.<medium> With a PM, your new needs would go through a couple of discussion rounds and careful estimation of how much more time and money would be necessary. <medium>The project manager can suggest letting go of other features or optimizing the functionality to develop a solution<medium> that implements the new requirements without going too much over budget. Once you agree on the new development parameters, they can be put into action with no unpleasant surprises down the road.
Imagine waiting with bated breath for the development team to deliver a new feature, never knowing when it can happen. Without a PM, you have to get in touch with the team and waste time getting erratic status updates. You can also expect surprising calls and messages at any time of day or night. Getting a PM on your team resolves all these and other communication issues. You can set up regular calls and reports in a form most comfortable for you. <medium>The time you save on useless meetings and calls can be put towards your project's growth and success.<medium>
Imagine having to deal with a dozen platforms, services, and tools to stay on top of the development process. <medium>Without a project manager, you get bombarded with information from developers, designers, and QA specialists that doesn't form a full picture.<medium> By adding a PM into the mix, you can set up a comfortable system that will allow you to assess the progress at a glance via the project management software or platform of your choosing.
As you see, project managers are a crucial part of the software development process, but there's another aspect of their job that makes them worth their weight in gold. And that's risk assessment and management.
Risk assessment or Freshcode experience: why you need PM
The communication between client and PM is the basis of any project to eliminate any misunderstanding. When a client asks for a 1000th change request it is a bad idea to hand off the negotiation process to the developer team. Repetitive clarification and changing of tasks may cause developers to lose focus on completing tasks, and as a result, poorer quality work being produced.
Lack of project management or its causes excessive delays, cash flow problems, and ends up costing the IT company more in the long term.
Experienced PMs on board keeps things streamlined and the end result you'll get is:
<medium>Let us tell you the case of the application development project - with no PM - of our experience. We led this project almost from scratch and went through thick and thin on every stage.<medium>
The business idea and technology stack choice were on point. There was a good team that consisted of two developers, a team lead, a business analyst, and a quality assurance engineer. <medium>The only thing is, the client didn't deem it necessary to get a PM on the team and decided to manage the project by himself.<medium> Apparently, he didn't have the whole picture of PM responsibilities and routine. And as a result, the management process was unordered and was becoming more chaotic eventually.
Initially, there was not even a basic PM software in a place like Trello. The requirements and tasks were defined during calls and slack conversation without properly documenting the outcome of the discussions. <medium>It seems like the client and the team were not on the same page and they were drifting apart with every new discussion and task.<medium>
The application release date was announced on 30 March 2019. At the beginning of March, it became clear that it is not possible to get it right on time because of the new change requests. So, March <medium>the release date was missed and therefore was rescheduled<medium> to July. In July the release date was changed again to September because of new requirements and the need for additional testing. <medium>So the client was well over budget, developers were despairing, PM place was still left empty...<medium> There were no remaining doubts, that the initial conjectural estimate with no PM engagement was a shot in the dark.
"That's it. That's it. Just a bit more and that's all", everybody was thinking. But new requirements and tasks were becoming just kind of snowballed.
<medium>Missing a project manager is never a good idea. Never a good idea.<medium>
What are the benefits of a PM in software development: takeaways
It's impossible to overestimate the importance of project management in software development. If all other arguments fail to persuade you, there are three benefits to PM's work that should convince you to add one to the IT team.
With a project manager on your side, you:
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