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Project Management - Rewarding Yet Thankless

Vinish Garg

Project Management is a work-in-progress skill as people continue to learn and master new ways and methodologies to optimize their Project Management processes for effective results.

What does a Project Manager do?

To me, a Project Manager sits on the intersection of design, technology, and business goals. There is a very classical definition of product management by Martin Eriksson as depicted in the picture below.

Image 1

© 2011 Martin Eriksson

A Project Manager understands:

  • What needs to be developed and why (business goals)
  • How (technology)
  • Why and how it delivers the promise (design plus experience)

PMs bring people with different skills together where they work to deliver the product that is aligned with the business goals. A PM is an important reference point in cross functional team communications for product development strategy, technology buy in, and for design goals.

Three Must Haves for a PM

Awareness

A Project Manager should be aware of different aspects related to the role. For instance, the metrics that drive the engineering process, or data from A/B testing by marketers. They should invest in right processes to stay informed about the product pivot points, the team challenges, and how the product road map responds to the work-in-progress constraints.

A Project Manager should be aware of:

  • Leadership style - How they can lead a team and setup the right work culture in the team. A few PMs prefer to lead by example and set the standards for their team while a few others prefer the classical coaching style to get the best out of their teams. PMs should identify their leadership style that can work best for their teams.
  • Team - What team composition is best to complete the project successfully, what kind of skills they should have, and their strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Brand Story - The organization's brand narrative that binds all the teams together for shared understanding of the common goals, how this story helps the team for how they collaborate, and how this effort contributes to the customers' success story.

Communication

The Project Managers define the communication culture – whether the teams use Slack with anything, or JIRA with anything, or anything else with anything. It defines the basic framework for a “shared vocabulary”, and for 'how we work' effectively.

A PM's real communication skills come into play in:

  • Decisions - Teams run into an analysis paralysis mode, or in a disagreement mode on features/benefits.
  • Adaptability - Teams are reluctant to adapt, to learn, or to experiment for new ways of designing experiences or to embrace new technology.
  • Collaboration - Teams are geographically dispersed and they work in different time zones and have language barriers too.

Leadership

To me, leadership is to own your decisions and actions, and to make the team take ownership of their work, within the defined team culture, internally as well as with other cross-functional roles. Of course, there are variables for team size, the type of product, and the maturity of organization for its processes.

For example: A SaaS CRM with a big sales team will have different dynamics for a Project Manager when compared to a thirty person product team working on a small events hosting app. It is important to keep in mind what exactly success means to the business, how the project can contribute there, and how the PM owns the product to that goal.

Leadership and ownership also means:

  • Workable vs Perfect - Decide even if they do not fully agree. Sometimes, to disagree and commit is important for smart leaders. One does not always find the perfect solution or a perfect situation to make a good decision - really smart leaders know where to draw the line, how much to wait, and then they commit for whatever seems “workable”.
  • Preparedness - In some ways, Project Management is like leading a sports team. They put their best foot forward but they are ready with plan B. This makes them more proactive in finding solutions when stuck, and it encourages adaptability and a learning culture in their teams.

The Rewards

The moment when the project is delivered in time and for the promise, it is a thrilling experience for the entire team.

A sense of accomplishment and contribution to the organization's success, and to the customer's success.

Quick Tips

Here is a list of a few quick tips that have often worked for me:

The Gaps Inventory: A PM should manage an inventory of everything that tends to delay some work, or raises questions, or impacts the workflow. The inventory acts as a ready reference to see all friction in the project and helps prioritise issues to be fixed.

Checklists: A PM should always have a checklist for things to do, and not-to-do. It helps in 'zero-inbox' and in timeliness for team communication.

Reading: A PM should be open to learn from how some of the world's best brands' PMs when they share their experiences. Internet is a free university and teams at Intercom, Slack, Basecamp, Shopify, Facebook, Airbnb share a wealth of knowledge for how they work and scale so fast.

Beyond The Role: A PM should keep an eye on the activities happening beyond their role. For example, what are the latest stuff that marketers are into that could impact the project roadmap in future, or who are the guests being interviewed in the 'insights' on the company website. It widens their perspective of how the project actually fits into the business success.

Sometimes Thankless Yet Rewarding

Project Managers put in hours of hard work that is not visible to their teams. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes work happening on spreadsheets and Slack Channels. If the project succeeds, the team is appreciated, but if it fails, the PM is held accountable. To some, it may seem to be a thankless job but looking at the rewards, the effort is worth the investment.

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