Imagine this scenario:
You are a project manager. You have a team of 5 developers working on an uber cool web portal and it’s D-Day. You and your team need to demo the software to your client.
You have been busy the whole week with other projects, chasing clients for payment, managing other projects and you are slightly stressed about this particular one as you walk over to the team. You ask them: “So are we all ready to go for the demo this afternoon?”
An eerie silence creeps over all 5 team members. You know what’s next; you’ve experienced this feeling before, your heart sinks, and your mind races as to what you are going to tell the client.
One lonely developer steps up and tells you what you already know: “There is a problem. Some functionality doesn’t work due to ‘x’, ’y’ and ‘z’”.
You know your next steps aren’t going to be easy; the call to the client is going to be an unpleasant one, your reputation is going to take a bruising, the company’s reputation is going to take a knock. This is not good.
You take the next steps; you phone the client, empathize with his frustration, take his slack and re-assure him when he can actually expect the demo. You put down the phone and your blood starts boiling.
- Why did this happen?
- Why did no-one communicate this to me earlier?
- Why didn’t the team test that particular piece of functionality at the beginning of the week?
- Who is to blame?
Now these are all reasonable questions to ask. But they all have one thing in common; their answer has nothing to do with you.
Unfortunately, this is the real problem. ‘You’ are the answer to these questions. It’s a harsh reality that you have to deal with, and the sooner you do, the sooner these sort of issues go away.
As a project manager, the ownership should be on you to ensure these sorts of things don’t happen. You need to ensure that at minute 59 things blow up and go pear shaped.
Now before the worlds project managers get defensive and block out the message in this article, let me explain why I think this is a project manager’s failure.
You see this scenario happens so often in the software/web development industry because of some very simple and core issues. The most fundamental of them all is communication. Communication in a team environment is key to the delivery of a successful project. Yet everyone on the team thinks that it is the next person’s responsibility to instantiate the communication. As a project manager, in my opinion, it is up to you to get the communication between the team flowing. You are seen as the project leader and therefore you need to make the environment a suitable and comfortable one to communicate in.
If you find that you never receive any feedback or communication, you need to analyze and address this immediately and not at the end of the project. You need to honestly assess whether the lack of communication is actually your fault or the developers fault. If the developer perceives you to be unapproachable then you cannot reasonably expect the developer to be open with his communication to you.
Developers need to know that their project managers are there to assist them, they need to really believe that the project managers have their best interests at heart. They need their leaders to take an interest in what they are doing as opposed to just the results of what they are doing. If they do not receive this type of support they are less inclined to take the project managers on the ‘journey’ of the project and this is where all communication begins deteriorating.
If the project manager is not willing to take the journey with the developers on the project, they will inevitably fall out of touch with what is actually going on with the project. And the scenario indicated above will happen time and time again.
So in closing, as a project manager, your role is not only the schedule and budget of the project, but the project itself. The person who dictates the timelines is usually the person that drives the project. You cannot drive a project at arm’s length; you cannot lead a project by sitting at your desk and merely tracking everyone’s’ progress. You need to get involved. You need to force communication if it is not happening. This is your role; it’s an important one and key to the success of any project.
Great leaders make greater project managers as they want both the project and everyone in the project to succeed. A project is not just a task they have to get done, it’s a journey that they want to be on, a journey that will allow them to meet new people and build new relationships through hard work and team effort. This is what drives good project managers; a personal interest in every person on the team, and having this interest will motivate and drive your team to success after success.
Project managers need to be leaders. They need compassion and a strong sense of self motivation to effectively drive a team to be successful.