To get familiar with the general idea of project management, let’s compare it with a car rally. The sports car here is the team, with every part working as a separate member. The manager is the pilot who grips the steering wheel. Together, they must complete several laps on the track that is considered a project. A race against time, where you either finish and present a decent result to the client, or drop out of the contest.
A project manager in IT is responsible for:
- dealing with clients
- briefing and overseeing the team
- assigning tasks to team members
- delivering the result on the agreed terms of a contract.
Here at Shakuro, we specialize in dealing with various kinds of projects. To learn more about this position, we interviewed one of our colleagues, Dmitriy. He has 4 years of experience in project management, with a total of 7 years of experience in IT.
We discussed the task pool, responsibilities, risk & change management, Agile methodology, and much more. All the essential things you need to know about project development in a digital agency can be found in this article.
— What tasks and responsibilities do you have?
Usually, the job of a project manager is pretty engrossing.
- It starts with getting on with the client: I have to figure out their desires, budget, business goals, and expectations for the project.
- Then I switch to the planning phase. Here I predict any risks, check on the team members’ availability, and form first sprints and assignment pools.
- When the development begins, I control the task fulfillment, solve any obstacles in the team’s way, and provide change management if the clients want a new feature. Spoiler: it happens very often. By change management, I mean adding required modifications to the project with minimum risks and helping the team adapt to these changes.
- After the project launches, my job is not done. I prepare backlogs for developers, fix what’s left, and continue supporting the project.
Operations keep the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train engine that moves the organization forward.
— Joy Gumz
All of these stages include hundreds of small assignments, so my task scope is extensive.
— What aspects of managing a project do you consider to be the most engrossing?
For me, it’s decision-making. In this position, the specialist influences the project course and reshapes it to the client’s demands, like cookie batter. A concept, UI design, or a feature with a bottleneck in app development — it’s the manager’s call.
Another thing I find exciting is maneuvering between the client’s demands and my team’s abilities. It’s very hard to find the golden middle.
And here is why a software project manager needs to be an all-around man. Apart from hard skills like technical expertise, it’s better to have a pack of soft skills too. Leadership, confidence, charisma, and the ability to get on with people — all of this will help the manager during negotiations.
— How do you deal with clients? Do they ask you any flummoxing questions?
Clients always ask lots of questions. However, they ask questions to find out if we are on the same page. This is a great way to exchange information and feedback.
The client should be informed about the project to understand the limits, risks, and budget planning. Sometimes, when there are limits, there are sacrifices. If the client wants to implement a bold idea, and it’s beyond the team’s or budget capabilities, the project manager will resolve the matter. We can substitute the exciting idea with something else of equal value.
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
— Peter Drucker
At Shakuro, we use a client-centered approach during project development. It consists of two key things.
First, we treat a client as a user of the product we’re working on. Otherwise, there will be misunderstandings, and chances are a client will waste the budget on unwanted features.
Second, there are different ways of working with startups and with traditional companies. If a client is experienced and knows the target audience, it’s better to heed his words and work on prioritizing tasks in the team. When the project is a startup launching, the manager has to study potential users, their needs, UX experience, etc.
— What questions should the manager ask to make the development run smoothly?
It’s vital to get on with the client. The key to their hearts is solid communication. The project manager decides how and when meetings will be held. Should the whole team be present? Will the meetings be daily or weekly? What medium to use – email, messengers, calls? Each person will require a unique approach. The best choice is video calls, though. Talking eye-to-eye allows the manager to gain more trust from the client.
Sometimes there are projects where a client is a group of stakeholders. Their areas of expertise can be absolutely different. With such projects in management, a good start is setting up communication channels with all key stakeholders. They need to see the value of the weekly meetings. Even rarely, these calls allow both teams to exchange ideas.
It’s not only my experience: video calls increase team’s efficiency and productivity by 94%. The decisions become more impactful as well. According to the statistics, the expertise improves by 88%.
— Are there any differences in workflow between a ready-made project and a project from scratch?
Surprisingly, improving an existing project is much harder than making a fresh one.
The reason here lies in legacy code and outdated libraries. The app developers have to spend quite some time exploring the code and adapting it to the current company standards. In the future, the risks for such projects are higher.
When working on a project from scratch, the developer team can use familiar code and rules right from the start. It’s much more stable and reliable.
— How do you organize the working process? Do you use Agile for project management?
The Shakuro team always works with Agile and its hybrids. It’s a standard that has proved itself many times.
During development, I use Scrum. We focus on the sprint itself, concentrating on time and limits.
After the project is launched, I switch to the Kanban system. With this methodology, my team aims at task completion, not the sprint. This approach allows me to keep up to project speed, find out any problems beforehand, and solve them on the go.
— What to do if the team can’t deliver a project on time? How to prop up the team morale?
As a project manager, one can control the project, but not people or their emotions. One can only influence the result of their work.
To keep morale high, the specialist needs to talk to team members and check their moods. Someone needs support, someone – praise, others – just everyday talk to run away from stress. It’s crucial to involve people in an app or website development and spark their interest and creativity.
One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.
— Arnold Glasow
When a team can’t deliver a project on time, it’s not the end of the world. A manager can use the emergency channels to warn the client, provide change management, and confirm new release dates or feature replacements.
— Is there a project that you consider to be a challenge? How did you cope with it?
It was the WYSPR project. When mobile app development was on the finishing line, a problem with the AppStore appeared. It took quite a bit of time to solve the issue. I even had to contact Apple support. In the end, WYSPR was released and now owns a place of honor on the Shakuro successful projects list.
Working with third-party services is usually like walking on thin ice. Whenever an app project incorporates any payment services, mobile stores, or platforms, it’s better to consider all the tight spots at the starting line. A good habit is to follow the newsletters and stay up to date with any policy changes for AppStore, GooglePlay, and other popular service providers.
— Do you have an all-time favorite project?
Yeah, I do. It’s a social network aimed at a specific region. It’s my first project that’s integrated with social services and interactions. This type of product requires a non-standard development approach.
For instance, I have to research server implementations: maximum load, synchronization, and capabilities. All of these influence the mobile app architecture as well.
— Do you have any pieces of advice for beginners in project management?
Tip 1. I’d advise them to avoid working with startup launches until they gain enough experience. It’s better to start a career in a traditional company with solid standards for web and app development. Skillful colleagues can come to the rescue when things go south.
Project management for startups is more chaotic, where rules, as well as problems, emerge on the go. It’s exciting and cool, but here one relies only on his own experience.
Tip 2. Treat all people like you want them to treat you in return. Put yourself in their shoes – no matter if it’s a team member or your client.
When one race ends, another begins. To be a good software project manager, one should have enough endurance and passion to stay on track. If you are a business owner, finding an experienced specialist to run and estimate a project may be difficult.
Whether you are a startup team or a traditional company, our agency is ready to help you with project development. Contact us if you have an idea that needs implementation.
Written by Dmitry Smirnov and Mary Moore.