What Makes a Good IT Project Manager?
Project management is an essential part of software development. It brings clarity and transparency to the process, helps ensure that everyone stays on track, and covers multiple areas, including budget and staff allocation.
Needless to say, a project manager is an important member of the team. But what makes a really good project manager and how do you tell the difference between a good and a great one? Let’s find out.
What does the IT Project Manager do?
The most obvious answer would be managing the project but that sounds too vague. If we break down the responsibilities of a PM, we will get the following list:
Communication with stakeholders and project owners.
Management of budget and resources.
Project workflow management (including the management of time and scope).
These are three main areas that a project manager takes care of. Now let’s see each of them in more detail.
Communication with stakeholders
One of the main responsibilities of a project manager is to ensure that stakeholders and product owners are satisfied with the product. In order to ensure that, a PM collects requirements for the project and passes them to the team. As well, a PM constantly communicates with all parties involved and updates them on the project status and progress made. In this way, a PM serves as an intermediary between the development team and stakeholders.
Management of budget and resources
Another area of responsibility of a project manager is the management of budget and resources. And while the budget is clear, resource management includes:
Identification of necessary resources
A project manager has to oversee that the right people work on the right tasks and that all needed resources are available, thus ensuring a smooth workflow with no unexpected issues.
Project workflow management
Project workflow management also implies several issues to take care of:
Following the deadlines
Change and risk management
Monitoring of the workflow and status of the tasks
Holding necessary meetings and arranging reports
Setting goals and milestones.
Let’s talk a bit about change and risk management. Any software development project will always have an unexpected issue to pop up, be it a sudden change in the requirements, missed deadlines, or anything else. One cannot prevent these issues but it’s possible to mitigate them. This is what change management is all about.
Risk management is somewhat similar to change management though it’s not the same. While changes are most often unexpected and sudden, risks can be predicted and defined. Hence, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to identify the possible risks and come up with the best ways to avoid and mitigate them.
Summing up, a project manager oversees the process of software development and constantly communicates with all parties involved. Such responsibility calls for a specific background that helps one succeed in project management.
What is a good background for an IT project manager?
Even though project management allows different backgrounds, most PMs tend to have a degree in business management or in such areas as computer science or marketing.
And while you do not have to be a technical specialist to become a PM, you need to understand the technical aspects of a project and be able to explain them to stakeholders. In this way, a degree in engineering or computer science helps a lot as it helps a person better understand the ins and outs of a project.
In addition to a business management degree, an aspiring PM can (and should!) complete an online (or offline) project management course. And obviously, there are numerous certifications one can take that help to become a knowledgeable specialist. The most well-known ones are probably the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the Project Management Professional (PMP) that are offered by the Project Management Institute. These degrees are industry-recognized and are really helpful for one’s PM career. Other recognized certifications are IPMA (International Project Management Association) and Prince2.
As for the possible hobbies, project managers usually take interest in the following areas:
Communication and negotiation
Travelling and sports!
While you might be nodding when reading about marketing and negotiation, the last two points may have surprised you. However, sports teach one to be a better team player and traveling makes a person more flexible and adapting to changing environments. And that’s what project management is all about!
What are the soft skills that every Project Manager should have?
We’ve already discussed the importance of soft skills in IT previously on our blog. But in this article, we will focus primarily on the soft skills that are essential for a project manager to have.
Communication is probably the cornerstone of a project manager’s success. As mentioned above, a PM has to communicate and negotiate with the team, stakeholders and product owners. A PM has to explain the project goals, resolve any issues and conflicts, assign and explain tasks and responsibilities, and provide feedback.
And don’t forget that communication includes not only talking but listening too. A project manager should be able to efficiently listen to others and understand what they mean. Good listening skills help to correctly collect the requirements and prevent conflicts and/or misunderstandings.
At the end of the day, it’s the PM’s responsibility to make a decision about a project. Obviously, that calls for strong decision-making skills.
There are different types of decisions to be made during the project development process:
Operational: everyday decisions (routine ones).
Strategic: have a major impact on the project, need to be planned in advance.
Emergency: caused by unexpected events (changes).
Despite the type of decision to make, a project manager should always consider how this particular decision will affect the people and the project. And it’s always a good idea to hold brainstorming sessions and involve the team. Not only does it result in better decisions but also increases trust towards the manager.
Leadership is considered one of the key skills that any project manager (and basically any person in a managerial position) should have. If you manage a team, it is essential that you know how to communicate with people, motivate them, create positive team dynamics, and drive all team members to their maximal performance.
And don’t forget that effective leadership means not only to manage people but also to set an example with your own behavior. This said you should do exactly the same things that you demand from your team: adhere to deadlines and industry standards, be able to listen to and accept a different opinion, and take responsibility for your actions.
Conflicts are almost always inevitable in any team that works together on one project. And in software development, conflicts may arise not only between the members of the development team but also between the team and stakeholders or between stakeholders themselves. Thus, it is the responsibility of a project manager to settle down the arising conflicts and bring everyone to an agreement.
Resistance to stress and pressure
Even though software development is an exciting process, it can also be quite stressful. Missed deadlines, conflicts and issues, unexpected changes, and other similar factors - all of them create a stressful situation. A project manager should be able not only to handle the pressure but also to work well under it. And this calls for such soft skills as quick thinking and quick decision making, an ability to quickly pull oneself together, and, at the same time, use necessary arguments to motivate the team and encourage everyone to jump to the issue resolution.
What qualities and character traits can be a hindrance?
We’ve talked about the necessary soft skills - but what about the ones that are unwanted? There are actually certain skills that would cause more harm to a project - here are the main ones.
An ability to work independently is great. However, project management calls for strong team playing abilities. So if a person is used to solo flighting only, it might be a serious issue, especially if they do not know how to delegate tasks and negotiate with others.
A “know-it-all” approach
The secret to being a good manager lies in the ability to doubt oneself and accept other opinions and points of view. Therefore, if a person is hesitant about listening to others and accepts only their own point of view, it will bring multiple issues to the project.
Being emotional is fine as long as it doesn’t impact your patience and your ability to make rational decisions. However, if a person first acts and then thinks, it will definitely be a hindrance (and not in project management only).
Resistance to change
For some people, it’s a bit more difficult to adapt to changes and accept an alternative. But in project management where any time you can face an unexpected change, it is a must to be flexible and always ready for a change. Open-mindedness and flexibility help project managers a lot so it’s really important to have these qualities.
The difference between a good and a great project manager
If we discuss what makes a good project manager, we’ll probably mention strong soft skills (see above), the ability to effectively manage the project and the development workflow, proper allocation of budget and resources, and efficient communication with stakeholders.
Yet, it’s something that is expected from any project manager and this set of qualities does not equal a great project manager. So where does the difference lie?
Great project managers have a thing called intelligent disobedience. In simple words, they know (and even feel) when it’s right to bend the rules, stand up to the stakeholders, and try a non-traditional approach. Some call it intuition though, in my opinion, it’s both intuition and great experience combined.
I would not recommend this approach for inexperienced project managers but I do recommend expanding your horizons and not being afraid to try something new. By opening up to different possibilities, you will eventually learn when is the right time to “break the rules” and it will help you become more confident and flexible in the future.
Quick advice for aspiring IT project managers
If you decide to become a project manager, be ready to do lots of learning. And note that you will be learning not only about leadership or management but will also have to gain technological knowledge. In my opinion, a good project manager knows a bit about everything related to the project and should be an expert in their own domain.
Also, do not forget about the “golden triangle” which is Cost-Scope-Schedule. These are the cornerstones of any software project and one should always keep them in mind when planning future work.
Finally, remember: projects never go as described in the books and that’s okay! In real life, we always have unexpected things going on so you need to be flexible and quickly adapt to changes in order to drive the project to its successful completion.
Leonid TsylinView all articles by this author.
Hi there! Thanks for the great post
Great Post. Thank you for sharing it.