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Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Project Manager

  • August 10, 2005
  • By Robert Bogue
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What's in their Toolbox?

Each project manager, it seems, manages projects slightly differently. They have their own specific way of making sure that it will work. However, there are many common themes that run through the project manager's toolbox. Here are a few:

  • Project Management Software - Project Management software, like Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server are important tools for the project manager who must keep tight control of timelines and budget. Project management software helps document dependencies and status so it's clear where a project is and what impact someone missing a deadline has. Most, if not all, project management software is capable of generating Gantt charts (timelines), and PERT diagrams (dependencies). These are essential tools in their own right.
  • PMI Membership - Most serious project managers are a member of the Project Management Institute. Their membership magazine and local PMI chapters have a great deal of value in their ability to demonstrate new ideas and provide connections to others when you need advice on a problem.
  • PMIBOK Guide - The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge provides foundational knowledge that is important for all project managers and can provide sometimes not so gentle reminders when you're project isn't on track as to why it's not.
  • Templates and Processes - Project management can become overwhelming with the amount of artifacts (documentation) that is created. Having tools to ensure that the process itself is as efficient as possible is in every project manager's toolbox.

Where's the position heading anyway?

The project management role has gained a lot of ground over the past five to seven years. It's become well recognized within IT circles that project management is a necessary discipline that is a necessary catalyst to keep the software development process running. With the hard work of the PMI the role is becoming more standardized and can therefore be more readily purchased by business users.

In short, the future looks bright for the project management role. As more organizations realize the need for a dedicated project manager and due to the continuing need for software development project managers are dearly needed.

Because of the dual role that the project manager has in managing the software development process and managing the expectations of the business customers there are often two project managers. One who works with the software development team in whatever geographic location they are in and another project manager who is more closely positioned with the business stakeholders. Sometimes the role of the project manager on the development team side is filled by a solution architect or development lead. However, this still means that there should always be project management positions wherever you are.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The project management role, like other roles has its high point and its low points. Here are some of the key things that this role has to offer both positive and negative.

  • Good: High Visibility - The project management role is a high visibility role. Because it has a part in so many different projects the role is often involved in reporting to executive management in an organization so it has the potential to demonstrate good work to important people.
  • Good: Key Role - The project management role is a key role to the project -- one that can have a great impact on the overall success or failure of the software development process. If you like influence this is a role for you. Additionally, the project manager is often considered the person within IT that owns and is responsible for the project.
  • Good: Sense of accomplishment - Because a project management role is one which works with a large number of people there's constantly progress being made. When a project gets shipped or even when the first beta comes out there can be a great sense of accomplishment in that the project was moved forward because of the role that you played.
  • Bad: Tight timelines - The project management role is at its most crucial when the project has gone awry or when the timelines are too tight. Unfortunately with the pace of business accelerating it seems like every project has a tight timeline and doing what is necessary to ensure that timelines are met often creates a high degree of stress.
  • Bad: Overworked - The value that project management can bring to the software development process can't be understated nor can the amount of work that it takes to create this value. The artifacts that drive consensus also require time to create. However, there's not a solid understanding of the amount of work that is required to create the value and because of this project managers often find themselves stretched too thin across too many projects.
  • Ugly: Politics and People - Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the project management role is that it is focused on fixing political turf wars, keep people working with teach other and moving forward. This means that there's a heavy dose of pop-psychology that must go on to get the project done. The drain caused by so many whining people can be overwhelming at times.
  • Ugly: The project manager is the one that may have to make the decision to have people work extra hours to meet deadlines.
  • Ugly: The project manager is the one that has to maintain a projects scope - what will or won't be included. They are often caught in the middle when decisions need to be made on what can be completed within the given time frames.

Conclusion

The project management role isn't for everyone. A strong ability to adapt to an ever changing environment and the ability to work through internal politics are critical for success in this role. However, the ability to right a project that has gotten off track is a much sought after and highly valuable skill.

About the Author

Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA:Security, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. Robert works with Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis as a strategic consultant. He was recently honored to become a Microsoft MVP for Microsoft Commerce Server and before that Microsoft Windows Servers-Networking. Robert blogs at http://www.thorprojects.com/blog You can reach Robert at Rob.Bogue@thorprojects.com.





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