Putting multiple project managers on a project is often seen as a solution on development projects that have run astray. However, padding the management of a development project can bring in even more problems because the newly burgeoning management structure can block out the progress of the project.

Adding managers to a project is often a necessary step. The key is to add managers using a strategy designed to help and not hinder your project. These tips can help make your management strategy, and your project, a success.

Tip 1: Review the value of adding extra project managers to a project
When considering adding more project managers to a project, it’s important to ask the following questions:

  • What role are the additional project managers supposed to play on the project?
  • Are the additional project managers going to be assigned to strictly project management tasks, or will they be “working” project managers assigned to fulfill technical tasks where the existing project team is struggling?
  • Who is going to manage the developers and other staff?
  • Which manager is going to manage the additional project managers assigned to the project?
  • How are the managers going to communicate?

While the addition of more management is meant to bring structure to a project, the opposite may result unless the integration of additional management is done methodically.

Tip 2: Use senior project managers as mentors
Project managers, much like other technical team members, need support from their peers, and this is where senior project managers may be called in to help less experienced managers. However, sometimes the mentoring of a project manager doesn’t have to take place in the context of a project team setting. Project managers of troubled projects can meet with their mentors outside project team meetings. While this strategy may put the project manager under the hot lamp, it’s a move that can preserve some harmony on the project team, as already stressed developers don’t have to be frazzled by more managers at their cubicle door.

Tip 3: Manage developers through a single project manager
When developers and other staff are delegated to a task, the progress of work efforts can be compromised when the communications between project managers is not efficient. Contradictory directives from multiple project managers can be yet another source of frustration for the development team.

More cynical project team members may even ask multiple managers the same questions, just to see if they receive the same answer to their questions.

When multiple project managers bark orders, team members often fall into one of the following traps:

  • They try to please all the project managers all the time and fall behind on their project tasks.
  • They listen to the project manager who says what they want to hear.
  • They listen to the project manager who they feel the most allegiance to as an employee, whether the PM is a friend, a trusted coworker, the person who hired them, or, in the case of many contractors, the person who signs their time sheet.

The key to preventing these potential pitfalls is to have a single project manager responsible for managing the development effort.

Tip 4: Avoid “broken record” project managers
Another impact of poor project manager communication is “broken record” project management, where developers and other staff are inflicted with the same request multiple times. This mode of communications can result in:

  • Distrust of project managers because it may seem that the additional project managers are just delivering orders and requests—nothing that can help the team member better perform the job.
  • Irritation and poor morale as developers feel as if they are being treated as children.
  • Harping on the role of management vs. the role of the team members who are doing the development work.

Broken record project managers breed distrust or worry in the team by reinforcing a lack of communications within the project’s management structure.

Tip 5: Avoid “shazam” project management
Adding project managers to a project can take on truly disastrous proportions when the number of project managers equals or exceeds the number of developers, analysts, technical writers, and other team members assigned to the project. Requests from multiple project managers may contradict existing timelines to accomplish tasks. When multiple managers don’t respect already-communicated timelines, progress may be impeded. Issues may also result in more independently driven environments where the developers and other staff are expected to work individually to accomplish their deliverables, and there are multiple interruptions to deliver documentation, code, and other ad hoc deliverables on short notice.

While flexibility is key in many organizations, the changing management structure of a project needs to be reflected realistically in project timelines.

Tip 6: Avoid bureaucracy
Project management and development processes are there to ensure a quality product and enable the developers to succeed. When the management of a software development project morphs into a subteam of its own to other staff, the project management should not lose sight of the staff on the operational level—programmers, developers, analysts, technical writers, quality assurance, and other staff. It’s the effort of the entire team that will bring the project across the finish line, and not just the addition of more project management.

One manager, one project team
Whether or not you throw multiple project managers at a project, the result needs to be a cohesive management strategy that does not distract already stressed developers and other staff from delivering on their tasks, thus hobbling the very projects that the additional project managers were sent to help.