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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

What Can Project Manager Do For Developers?

A project manager has a lot of relations with different people around. Stakeholders, managers, subcontractors, analysts, designers, quality engineers and a heck lot of other people. Oh, and don’t forget about developers. Actually relation between PM and developers usually is pretty special.

Developers often treat PM as The Source of All Evil. And to some point they’re right. It’s a project manager who brings more work. It’s a project manager who bugs everyone asking when they’re going to be done. It’s a project manager who brings all the bad news from customer. “We’ll do that other way since, well, the guy from marketing has changed his mind. And yes, I know we’re going to throw out a month of work. We’ll need to add these new features too. You know, client pays, client expects. Oh, and one more thing – UI design which was accepted two months ago is no good anymore, so we’re going to redo the whole thing. And we’re already late so we need to push little harder guys. C’mon, you’re great… Don’t look at me that way – I’m not trying to make your life miserable it’s just how this business looks like.” I think you get the point.

That’s the part of project management job and neither PM nor developers can change it. OK, now we know what PMs do to add more work for development team. But what should they do to make developers’ work a bit easier? Basically just one thing:

Get all the crap out of developers’ way.

Let them do what they do best – code. OK, they will redo several things as a customer makes their mind, but that’s still coding – something they should love to do. After all they’re redoing their code all the way without any external incentive and they’re all hot about that; they call it refactoring or something. There is however a list of things which can be, and should be, taken out of developers’ way.

Start with all the office politics. Filter it all out. Take all the hits on your chest. Bureaucracy is next on the list. Yes, we so often need to produce darn lot of paper. Do what you can to let your programmers forget about bureaucracy, which probably means you’re about to fill the papers. Be as technical as you can. If you don’t have other choice but to go bother developers asking them for things you don’t understand at least try to learn it so you don’t have to come back each time someone asks you similar question. Find people who will help them to set up what they need e.g. testing environment. Don’t overload them with stack of status reports which tell you what they’re doing every single minute. This time less is more.

Basically, be a helping hand for developers. Yes, not the other way around. They’re builders. The best you, as a project manager, can do is helping them in building great products. If they end up helping you in project management something is wrong.

in: project management, team management

13 comments… add one

  • Jesus Carlos Contreras May 6, 2009, 1:41 pm

    In total agree with you, nothing is worst under pressure than have someone who is asking “how is it going on?” every 5 minutes. Now that I’m in the other side as manager, I avoid to do each thing I hated about my managers without loosing focus in what-and-when has to be done.
    Regards
    -JC

  • Tomek Dabrowski May 6, 2009, 1:47 pm

    Pawel,

    I agree with your point. PM should remove impediments and make sure people have everything that they need.

    Additionally, I recommend to read “The One Minute Manager” book.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 6, 2009, 2:57 pm

    Jesus,

    It’s so easy to forget how things looked like back then when you were just a simple developer. On the other hand there’s urge to keep your finger on the pulse when you’re a manager and you don’t have other tool but to keep asking people every 5 minutes.

    The trick is to trust the team and let them do their best. Frequent interruptions don’t do any good.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 6, 2009, 3:00 pm

    Tomek,

    I’m not sure if every PM would agree but that’s how I understand project management job. The best way to get things done is to remove any obstacles on the way of people who do the actual work.

    Project management is auxiliary function. Often critical but still auxiliary.

    And thanks for book recommendation.

  • Anonymous May 7, 2009, 8:43 am

    I agree with this blog post on the matter that the PM should keep all impediments and crap away from the team. Let’s not discuss what is crap and what is not :)

    But I do not completely agree with your last sentence. In my opinion, the team is also responsible for project success and is therefore automatically involved in project management. For example in managing risks. They should report risks to the PM if they discover them. They are also planning their own work, which is project management.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 7, 2009, 9:59 am

    If you took the last sentence as an advice for developers to avoid doing anything connected with project management (like risk management, task estimation etc) well, that wasn’t the point I was trying to make.

    Of course, project manager alone can’t run all tasks. Risk management with no feedback from the team brings virtually no value. Actually all project supporting tasks which are performed by the team, if done reasonably, fall far from my definition of crap.

    By the way I think a discussion what is and what is not crap which should be moved out of the way could be pretty interesting. It would be basically discussion about techniques we believe are valuable and those we consider unimportant.

  • Jay Philips May 7, 2009, 4:34 pm

    Love it. PM’s should allow the developer to be heads down and focus on what they need to. One of the things that always happens is the constant meetings and touchpoints. A 5 minute stand-up meeting should be all that’s needed between a developer and PM, which should include:

    – What are you doing?
    – Do you need anything from me?
    – Yell if you need me.

  • Anonymous May 7, 2009, 5:03 pm

    Whenever I suggest my PM do things like this he bellows “but I’m not your secretary!”

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 8, 2009, 1:17 am

    Jay,

    I’m not sure if 5-minute meeting is always enough although definitely time wasted on unnecessary gatherings should be limited as much as possible. On the other hand you won’t close discussion on architecture just because you already spent ten minutes digging the subject.

    I think it’s enough when PM remembers he may be wasting the time of the rest of team each time he trying to get people do something for him. It doesn’t have to be true automatically, but then PM makes his decisions more consciously.

  • Vukoje May 9, 2009, 5:30 pm

    Managers should be helping developers because that is their job. PM business is not to be bossy, his job is to organize, optimize and solve problems.

    Situation that bothers me the most is when PM makes mistake (e.g makes wild schedules without consultations) and expect developers to do be heroic and solve his problems.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 10, 2009, 12:18 am

    Vukoje,

    When PM makes a mistake (e.g. with schedule) it’s not his problem – it’s a problem of whole team.

    The same is when an architect screw a piece of software architecture or a developer inject some crappy code to an application. These are problems of whole team not architect or developer respectively.

    Of course there’s no point in being bossy but pain will be distributed all over the team anyway. And if you’re not willing to help your PM (and as a consequence you don’t expect that others would help you with your problems) you’re not working in a great team.

  • Vukoje May 10, 2009, 6:36 am

    Yes, I agree but I was thinking about more extreme approach where PM makes mistake, doesn’t admit it or suffer for it, and forces rest of team to suffer. In the end project survives (not thanks to PM) and on the next projects he continues with his “proven” practice.

    I hope that this example is not common, but I heard similar stories from my friends.

    If PM helps his developers they will do much more for him in return.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 10, 2009, 7:11 am

    Vukoje,

    If a PM screws something seriously and doesn’t care or expects others will straighten things up he should change the job.

    But yes, from time to time you can meet this breed. Then run if you can – doing projects with them isn’t anything close to pleasure, that’s for sure.

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