Project management is an uphill and tricky path with no red thread leading you right to the target. However, there are specialists that have gained experience and became pros easily juggling 7 projects at a time.
Want to be among them? Dig in the following guide from the PM of Belitsoft Alexander Kosarev. He has put together a series of tips that will help you get into the right mindset and avoid rookie mistakes.
- Don’t pick sides
Being a PM means interacting with both the team and the client. However, what you definitely shouldn’t do is choose favorites. Keep the substance balanced: if the job is done well, but the client is tearing the whole thing down - state clearly where they’re wrong.
In the meantime, do the job and make sure everything is to spec.
Turn yourself into the buffer zone and neutralize the pressure between the sides. However, once in a while you should bring the emotions of the sides to each other so that they know what should be done and how. Transform feelings into constructiveness.
- Ask for advice.
If you are new in the industry or don’t have enough technical knowledge for the project, ask a specialist for help. Technical back-up from outside will ensure the point of reference is nearby.
The specialist has a fresh view on the situation and will tell where the developers did well and where they were sitting around and chewing fat instead of being productive.
Your advisor may be:
- A person from another team. A developer that is “fluent” in the language, technology or approach different from yours, might help with a comprehensive idea that solves the problem faster.
- Another PM. They will open further horizons for cooperation and give a piece of advice based on their diverse experience.
- Or even a specialist from another company. In this case be careful not to spill out the private project information, code, etc. Just make sure that the business-specific idea remains safe and confidential.
- Keep a reasonable distance from the team
Stay close enough to the team but keep in mind that a strong connection shouldn’t be an obstacle on the project trail. To regulate the team’s moves, actions, and workflow your attitude should be firm and direct. If the relations between you and the team become too close, people will start walking over you and doing things they shouldn’t.
The communication must be built in the context of the current environment: when the work is up, keep the distance required to make right decisions, and spend some quality time together in your off-hours. Chain of command should be seen like the bottom of Baikal through its ice-cold waters.
- Remember who you are.
You are not the account manager, so don’t work two jobs at once. Trying to hop on two different buses may affect everyone:
- As a person with only basic knowledge of the financial field you may cause some serious discrepancy between the reality and what the company expects to get.
- Financial matters will take all your attention and the real-time decisions for the project itself will suffer for it.
Should you need assistance with financial negotiations, ask the sales managers for help - they will do it in a much more professional and profitable way than you. Your job is task-setting and being the link between the developers and a customer.
And to be completely frank, to do the PM and account-management together you’ll need to reset yourself and try some new personality on every time the question is about costs. Your emphasis should be on the communication, team goals and client’s reasonable preferences.
- Keep all hands on deck for the one and only.
If you’ve just started working in the PM domain, dedicate your time and energy to a single project. Taking on even one more will tempt you to apply the same decisions and methods to each of them. This obviously affects the results: like in a puzzle, you can’t finish it with the wrong pieces.
Moreover, several projects at a time smudge the experience and information you get from each one and make you sluggish like empty balloon. In such condition you become absolutely useless for both the team and the client. “Shake, don’t stir,” like the Agent 007 said.
This is valid for beginners only, though. Eventually, being mature and skilled in project management you’ll be able to deal with 5 or more projects at a time.
- Be ready for the information excess and work on your “shields”.
Be ready for the constant flow of new tasks and data.
As a PM, on top of the information iceberg you’ll have to deal with the ocean of emotions. Whether they come from the customer or the team, you are the link between them and the pipe that filters and delivers the message.
So, to avoid sinking on the workplace and dragging developers along to the bottom, put up the shields and protect your mental health from someone else’s “tears and sweat”. Staying firm and tight will make your decisions hit the bull’s eye.
The client may also ask for unreasonable things (“add a kitten to the front page”) that will take time to be developed, though be absolutely useless. As a PM you protect developers from the madness and emotional excess transforming it into pure tasks and information that is helpful for the project understanding.
- Learn empathy.
Being a PM drives you to learn psychology and self-regulation. Feeling the edges, corners and boulders of your interlocutor’s self helps avoid the car crash during the interaction. Here are several cases you may find this ability really helpful, for example:
- You’ve been a shield between the client and your developers for way too long, always expressing the anger from the former to the latter in a calm, constructive way. However, at some point you feel that the team has become too relaxed, without having to worry about what it costs you to protect them. Therefore, one day you step aside and let the flow of discontent meet its targets.
Behaving as an unconcerned bystander, you stop the arrogance and recover the team’s efficiency. Developers will have better understanding of the client’s wishes and preferences, and will try to do more, saving you from the customer’s resentment.
- The project was going on for months, the release happened and the client seems satisfied, though the developers are exhausted.
At this moment on one hand there is your customer that needs the same level of activity to see the better output but on the other hand there is the team filled with tired people. At some point all of them will ask for a vacation or a few days off, and you will definitely agree because you feel the edge and know that otherwise the next sprint will be a failure.
The client, though, doesn’t see the reason for the stop. He doesn’t understand the extent of what was done and is sure that the success is knocking at his door, so your people should hold their temper and do a bit more.
As a project manager your part here is to clarify the team’s condition, and the importance of their requests and feelings. If the customer is opposed to your decision, he may find a new team and stop sucking the life out of yours.
What’s important here is to set priorities and understand: your developers are a carefully selected, multi-functional set of instruments that is in high demand. Meanwhile, the client is just the one amongst them, a man from the crowd. Customer satisfaction is important, but not worth sacrificing the team.
- Do not worship the client.
Total switch to the client side may result in a misunderstanding and widen the distance between you and the team. When the situation turns to “you and the client”, instead of “you and the project (with the team and the customer in a wrap)” as a manager you face a gap, a disconnection from your developers.
Because the client’s feelings and wishes are your top priority, you become deaf to what’s happening to the team and the project overall.
In such cases your developers may not stand the pressure that comes from you and become resentful exceeding the deadlines. The project will face stagnation and your customer will move on to the greener pastures.
For the dessert see the recipe of a hot and professional PM that will undoubtedly succeed in this field:
- The base is “Reasonable application of force”. The project implementation will go beyond the deadlines if you can’t put reasonable pressure on the team. You should know where to be tough and firm to push your developers to work in the “night before the deadline.”
But remember that you are a team member after all and if everyone stays to finish the task, you stay with them.
- Add a cup of Compassion and Empathy. Your connection to the team members’ and client’s emotional center will help you to understand the edges. You’ll be always aware of the things you may carelessly break in crossing the line or the spots when the team can exert themselves a little.
- Sift shredded Responsibility. First things first and the project you do at the moment is the one that should be your top priority. Don’t collect dozens of projects in just two hands, those are not eggs and you don’t have a basket.
- Pour liquid Fortitude. Be ready to apply a certain degree of pressure on the team you’ve built friendship with or protect them from the excess of the client’s negative emotional flow.
- Mix in the the Clever division of finances and target-setting. Stay away from the financial side of the deal. Don’t climb on the table of sales managers and set the targets independently from costs.
- And bake it in the Thinking out of the technology stack for a couple of years. Ask your adviser for their opinion. Technical experience from the third party in the first instance will give you a look at the big picture and an impartial perspective.