Project managers (PMs) are perhaps the most underappreciated (and sometimes underutilized) piece of the software development puzzle. So, to make the pieces of your puzzle fit perfectly, I offer the following advice on selling the importance of project managers to higher-ups, some of whom may believe a PM’s primary responsibility is to bring donuts to status meetings.

Project managers wear many hats. Among them are:

  • To serve as a vaccine against decision-making disorder. A PM can help business drivers establish a clear and reasonable vision and eliminate contradictory feature requests. You can read more in “Cure decision-making disorder” by writer Shelley Doll.
  • To prevent developers and managers from spending too much time planning. A PM understands that planning documentation is organic and knows how much detail is enough. In other words, business drivers don’t have to see the pseudocode. To read more about the red flags of poor planning, check out this article.
  • To keep technical managers from giving dangerous ballpark estimates. A PM is adept at evading the ambiguous questions (“How long will this take?” “How much do you think this will cost?”) that vice president types love to spring on you from time to time.
  • To regularly report project status and potential problem areas. While you may have a good idea of where your team is in terms of milestones, routine electronic updates outlining the percentage of work completed for each task are convenient reminders of where things stand.

Don’t forget the project after the launch party. While a development team may focus on hitting the rollout date, a PM can disseminate information to business units that may impact postdeployment, such as customer support.

While your friendly project manager may not be a guru in the hottest technology, he or she can fill a great need on development teams. A good PM can keep business partners well informed by authoring meaningful reports and keeping developers on time and on task with their deliverables. PMs make good jugglers—they can keep a lot of balls in the air at once.

Just don’t ask them to bring you coffee and a pastry.

No respect

Do project managers get no respect in your organization? Tell us about it or post a comment below.