When I shifted from being a technical writer to a Web development and media services manager, the technology department I worked for was in the middle of beefing up the project management team and implementing a formal project management methodology. Training for the PM methodology was in the works, but as soon as I assumed the role of manager, I had projects shooting at me faster than a high-speed train. I could have used a book like The Accidental Project Manager.



The Accidental Project Manager: Surviving the Transition from Techie to Manager

By Patricia Ensworth
John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated

Date published: July 2001
Softcover; 288 pages
ISBN: 047141011X
Price: $24.49 at fatbrain.com



The author notes that certain projects, such as “a back-end database migration or an automated data feed from one system to another,” are outside the scope of this book. She has instead targeted the new project manager “at an organization whose primary purpose is not commercial software development, where an array of homemade and customized off-the-shelf software products are installed to serve specific organizational purposes.” If that sounds like you, I think you’ll find this well-organized book to be valuable for a couple of reasons.

First, The Accidental Project Manager offers a pretty decent set of guidelines that cover each of the main phases of a project. If your organization is without a formal project methodology, or if you have standardized project management but don’t have time for training, this book can walk you through your first project, start to finish.

Four parts of a project
The book is divided into four sections that reflect the project phases:

  • Before Coding Begins (Research and Analysis)
  • During Development (Design and Construction)
  • At Rollout (Deployment)
  • After the Release (Assimilation and Maintenance)

The human element
The second and more compelling reason to reach for this book is its coverage of the most complex (and fascinating) aspect of project management: dealing with people. There’s plenty of information on what to expect from your team now that you’re the boss. For instance, Chapter 1, “Know the Management,” describes the entry into project management as a step into the political realm of management and discusses the importance of diplomacy and salesmanship. These may be new concepts to a developer formerly stuck in a cube. The book suggests that learning about the users and the senior management of the technology group will help advance the cause of your project and advises you to learn the “patterns of influence and the dynamics of change” within your organization.

As a developer, you probably know the ins and outs of the political environment at your company already, but you may have been able to stay out of management’s view and avoid the negative aspects of any political power plays. And if you’ve worked with a seasoned project manager, you might not have been able to discern the effort involved in deflecting management and user issues that impede productivity. So stepping out of Cubeville and into project management could be like jogging through a field of land mines if you’re not careful. Here, too, this book has you covered. From reporting to senior management on the progress to managing users’ expectations and combating scope creep to cheerleading the team and the product, you’ll know what to prepare for now that you’ve become a blip on the political radar screen.

A host of challenges
The book also explores other PM issues, such as how to manage various development methodologies and understanding the importance of process development. In addition, you’ll find a reasonable perspective on developing and implementing testing, including what to focus on (prioritize according to risk assessment, legal considerations, and user nightmares), and managing an adversarial relationship between testers and developers.

A practical perspective
The Accidental Project Manager gives proper attention to the right details. For example, it stresses the importance of project documentation but not so much so that it gets in the way of your main goal—to produce a viable application that meets expectation.

I particularly like the advice in the progress review section of Chapter 6 that cautions against overworking your team because of overly aggressive deadlines. It stresses that you should expect mandatory overtime for short periods only and suggests that the ideal project has reasonable deadlines—where the management knows that to be fully productive, a developer needs balance, not a Ping-Pong table in the back room that occasionally doubles as a bed.

The Accidental Project Manager will help you with many aspects of project management that aren’t often communicated, as well as those that are standard knowledge. It even offers checklists and documentation templates on a companion Web site. Overall, The Accidental Project Manager is an excellent find.

Are you an accidental PM?

Have you been moved to management and surprised by the culture shock? Send us an e-mail with your thoughts and experiences or post a comment below.