Leading the Charge: Key Responsibilities of a Project Manager
An overview of the project management role and personal experience notes.
- project management
There must also be someone in the management role whenever there is a team. Sometimes, a person grows into such a role based on his experience in the technological world. Other times, it may be because of managerial expertise alone.
Whatever the case, this role brings a new layer of responsibility. In this article, I will go through a few critical aspects of management and add some notes from my personal experience.
An overview of the Project Manager's responsibilities
A project manager (PM), in the context of software development, is responsible for leading a team of software engineers and overseeing the development of software products. A typical day for a PM may involve the following:
- Team management: Checking in with team members to provide guidance, address any concerns, and track project progress.
- Project planning and monitoring: Review project schedules and milestones, ensuring that project goals are on track and making any necessary adjustments.
- Risk management: Identifying and assessing potential risks to projects and implementing strategies to mitigate those risks.
- Resource allocation: Assigning tasks to team members and ensuring that resources are used effectively.
- Quality control: Overseeing the quality of code produced by the team and ensuring that it meets industry standards and client requirements.
- Stakeholder management: Communicating with stakeholders, including clients, upper management, and other departments, to provide updates on project progress and address any concerns or issues.
- Technical leadership: Providing technical leadership and guidance to the team, helping to ensure that projects are completed on time and to a high standard.
- Hiring and training: Recruiting new team members and providing training and development opportunities to existing team members.
- Continuous improvement: Staying current with industry trends and best practices and continuously improving processes and tools to improve the efficiency and quality of software development.
A software engineering manager's day-to-day operations need to ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to a high standard.
Project Manager vs. Product Owner
When working with clients, the product owner role often comes directly from their side. In that regard, it is essential to distinguish what responsibility each side should hold.
In general, one can encapsulate both terms as follows:
The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of the project, including developing project plans, managing resources, overseeing the development team's work, and ensuring that the project stays on schedule and within budget. The project manager is also responsible for managing risk and ensuring that the project meets its objectives.
The product owner, on the other hand, is responsible for the project's overall success. Their work consists of defining the goals, determining the scope, and providing the input needed to complete the project. The product owner is also responsible for making critical decisions regarding the project, such as what tasks to prioritize in a concrete timeframe to align with marketing, what to cancel, or what can be omitted in the interest of resource-saving.
Two Lessons from personal experience
"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," as Mike Tyson says, is a great way to think about project management as a whole. There may be guides or frameworks to systematize the general approach, or one can draw ideas from the experience of others, but in the end, every manager finds their unique style through the role itself.
On the one hand, this style may work with certain kinds of team members but not with others, so finding the right fit for the team is one of the most critical skills a manager should have.
On the other hand, each client that the PM may end up working with has unique aspects. Maybe they are very cautious, have stricter goals that need to be aligned with engineering challenges, need extra help to organize their requirements, or want to build the "perfect" product down to the last pixel. In all situations, an experienced manager must communicate effectively and set the proper boundaries.
Next, I will list the two lessons I find most helpful in my work.
1. Set the proper expectations for the client
Working in software development, especially with a technical background, it is easy to make wrong assumptions about how the client assesses our work. This comes from the fact that a lot of the work happens without the client'sclient's awareness, even though it ensures a higher standard of the software solution.
In the end, what is seen is what is judged. Managers must take the client'sclient's point of view and fully communicate the processes and time needed for implementation. This way, everyone is on the same page.
I have prepared a list of points that may differ depending on each project's needs and specifications but reinforces the argument:
Requirements gathering and analysis
Clients may need more time to fully understand the scope of the project and the amount of time necessary to gather and analyze requirements. It could take multiple meetings and back-and-forth iterations and involve many parties from both sides.
User experience and design
Creating a user-friendly and accessible interface takes effort, but clients may not fully appreciate the importance of this aspect of the project. From my experience, there has never been an occurrence where some design components needed to be updated during the development phase, so front-end elements had to be reworked on the go. With that in mind, I often encourage the clients to do as many variations and discussions as they would like beforehand and for the team to use this time to set up as much back-end work as possible. Then the front-end implementation can start with a good level of maturity for the interface.
Integrating with existing systems
Integrating a new software solution with existing systems can be a complex and time-consuming process, mainly if the systems are outdated, lack documentation, or have limited functionality.
Software developers need to consider not only the integration itself but put it in the context of their specifications.
Testing and documentation
Testing and quality assurance are crucial steps in software development but can often be underestimated. It is vital to communicate the need for proper testing as clients will point out the bugs as a lack of professionalism in the delivery phase.
Technical documentation is also essential to a successful software product, but clients often undervalue its importance.
In the past, I have personally been involved in a project where feature development was the team's most significant focus. The result was stable due to our extra efforts in manual testing, but the lack of automation and documentation caught on. At a future moment, the product owner decided to sell the code but could only obtain a limited price because of that. A software implementation with a test infrastructure to back it up has a different value.
Not to mention that during the work process, a lot more resources were spent on manual testing and onboarding members in person, which bumped the cost additionally.
Debugging and fixing issues
Debugging and fixing issues that arise during the development process can take longer than anticipated, particularly if the problems are interrelated in a more extensive system.
That said, being proactive and asking for the client's input to point out as many use cases as possible is vital. It will help by surfacing many bugs preemptively.
Performance optimization is an integral part of software development that is usually not on every client's mind but, indeed, is expected by default. It is worth it to spend extra time identifying potential performance bottlenecks and discussing scalability and computing complexity with all parties involved.
Ensuring a software solution is secure and protected against potential threats requires additional efforts. Security is an aspect that is poorly patched ad-hoc and should instead be dealt with at the beginning of the project. Still, clients may only fully understand the importance of this aspect of the project after the first issues come.
Deployment and post-deployment support
Deploying a software solution and providing post-deployment support takes time and resources. Setting up the proper infrastructure is critical. However, clients may need to fully understand the ongoing effort required to maintain the solution after deployment.
2. Unclear tasks lead to inefficiency
We frequently put it off when trying to figure out how to complete a task.
One of the most critical stages of project management is planning. It is the crucial step before the execution can begin. Checklists contain what must be done, when, and how, but a lack of clarity in these requirements will most likely result in serious issues or miscommunications.
With my background of being a software developer, I've always questioned why I require additional drive for specific tasks. The issue is relatively simple: there are no precise requirements. Unconsciously, we steer clear of tasks we need to learn how to finish. We continually reschedule it, but we may miss important deadlines, which leads to unnecessary extra stress.
Furthermore, there are two ways a task may be unclear to a software developer - either it needs to be better described from the business logic side, or the programmer needs help figuring out where to start with the implementation. In both cases, the PM should be focused on providing as much clarity as possible by being proactive and connecting all the dots inside and outside the team.
So a manager must find a way to handle requirements and client requests by explicitly communicating the last detail before setting his team on the tasks at hand. And for every individual project, this step may be executed differently.
Being in the shoes of a project manager is undoubtedly one of the field's most dynamic and challenging roles. It lends itself to a lot of creativity and, when done right, also provides one of the most rewarding experiences. When a team just " clicks," and the consistency of the workload is appropriately managed, everything falls into place, and clients get exactly what they need.