During the team introductions for one of the first projects I managed, I was told that as the project manager, I was the guy who would bring in donuts for the morning meetings and order pizzas when people worked late. The person who said that was a developer on the team. He was inexperienced, and he honestly believed that those were the main responsibilities of a PM. I was disappointed at the time. Did developers really believe the only value of project managers was in supplying food?
I have learned a little since then. As a project manager, I’ve discovered that the best way to be perceived as adding value to a project team is to do just that—add value. What follows are some of the key ways that project managers can add value. I have also included some tips to help you maximize the value your project manager gives you.
Project managers add value by facilitating communications. It’s their job to know what is going on with the project and to communicate the status across the team and to all the stakeholders.
The project manager also shelters you from unnecessary calls from the users or client. It is the project manager’s job to sell new ideas or approaches to the client. And it’s the project manager, not you, who has to break bad news to the client. In addition, the project manager can be a valuable source of information about the client, the client’s objectives and requirements, and the political environment.
Tips: Use project managers as communication tools. They can keep you abreast of any changes in priorities and supply other information about the client and project. Ask them for the details behind the work requests. Return the favor by keeping them in the information loop as much as possible and giving them an early warning of any new developments. Share all the important facts without holding back. If, for example, a module will be late, keeping that fact from your project manager will not keep the client from finding out. The sooner your PM knows, the more time he or she will have to adjust the schedule, find additional resources, or break the bad news to the client.
Keeping the wheels turning
Good project managers recognize the importance of keeping developers productive. Many types of issues, problems, and roadblocks (often created by clients and users) can compromise productivity. Problems can take away the focus from the work that should be done, slowing or stopping progress on the deliverables.
Project managers are responsible for tracking, worrying about, and resolving the problems. This may mean that they’ll sometimes be in your face to iron out various issues, but it also means you can count on them to deal with the client, users, or other team members when problems are beyond your expertise or control. This frees you to be more productive and to concentrate on the things you like to do.
Tips: Make the project manager aware of problems as they arise. Use your project manager so that you don’t have to track the problems or make sure that others are doing their job to resolve them. The project manager will be most effective when you clearly identify the problem, the owner, and one or two potential solutions. Then, let the project manager take it from there.
Managing project scope
Project managers add value by managing the scope of the project. In my experience, this is something that developers would rather not deal with. It requires attention to the detail of the scope in the contract or requirements and managing any changes to that scope. It’s the project manager’s job to push back when the users or clients ask for additional features and to provide impact assessments for scope changes. This saves you time and the anxiety and keeps you focused on your role.
Tips: To get the most value from your project manager, make sure that he or she knows when scope changes are being proposed. If you don’t know the scope, discuss it with your project manager so that you have a clear understanding. If a client or user comes to you with an out of scope request, pass it along to the project manager. Let the project manager be the “bad guy” if necessary. It is what PMs are paid to do.
Managing the project schedule
The project manger is responsible for maintaining an up-to-date project schedule, complete with your work assignments. Without a schedule, it is difficult to forecast when work will be completed, making it impossible to know when to plan for peaks and valleys of work. More important, you need to know when the entire project will be completed so you can head off for a week of skiing somewhere or find another project.
Tips: To be valuable, a project schedule must be accurate. You can contribute to the accuracy by participating in the planning process. Give the best estimates you can for your work assignments. Report the status of your work accurately and make the project manager aware of any potential schedule impacts. When you are planning to take time off, give the project manager as much advance notice as possible.
As simple as it sounds, your current work will be on your future resume. And what is on your resume influences your earnings potential. So what you are doing today affects what you will be able to earn down the road. Therefore, it is important to choose your work assignments carefully.
The project manager can help you get the work assignments that are best for you. It is his or her responsibility to assign the project work to the best resource to deliver it. During the process of assigning work, the project manager has an opportunity to consider your individual development needs and goals.
Buying the donuts and the pizza
Do I think the project manager adds value by bringing in the food? More than ever. Sometimes the donuts or pizza is what is needed most at the moment.
But clearly, project managers contribute to project success in a variety of other ways. From communications to scheduling to keeping scope under control, they can make your life a whole lot easier—if you take advantage of everything they have to offer.
Are you using your project manager?
A project manager can be vital to the success of a team. What positive experiences have you had involving you and a project manager? What additional tips do you have for working with PMs? Send us an e-mail with your experiences and suggestions or post a comment below.