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Put down the code. From code monkey to zoo keeper -- becoming a project manager and all the things we were never taught

From a colleague of mine…

“As a project manager, when do you typically like to get initially involved in the project? Is it better for the PM to be rolled on during the project kick-off, the first week, or is it better to roll-on the second week when things settle down?”

My textbook answer is “the Project Manager is responsible for the successful completion and delivery of the expected outcome of the project through the following major tasks;”

1.    Identifying requirements
2.    Establishing clear and achievable objectives
3.    Balancing the competing demands for quality, scope, time, and cost
4.    Adapting the specifications, plans, and approach to the different concerns and expectations of the various stakeholders


My colleague is often a lead technical consultant coming into a project alone to help a client solve a complex problem. As Magenic consultants, we all possess many of the “project managing” skills I talked about above and tend to be responsible for item #1 and #2 as well as the actual architecture/design tasks early in a project.

When the real development begins and there is no PM involved, the project will quickly get harder to execute unless items #3 & #4 are assigned to a Project Manager. In software development, the concept of context switching between coding and other administrative activities is the hardest skill perfect. In my experience, I have rarely been introduced to someone who has mastered this skill. This is the limbo I was in when I was asked to become a PM -- while still developing. “Put down the code” was not only a profound statement, but looking back – a necessary one. Unless you are lucky to have found that one developer who is a superman, asking your developers (internal corporate or consultant) to perform #3 and #4 tasks, will surely take more time, allow opportunity for more scope, and eventually cost more.

Project Managers are crucial to the overall success of a project, and I prefer them to start by taking ownership of delivery on day one.

Posted on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 7:54 AM | Back to top

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