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“Why is project management important?”, this is an interesting question that clients sometimes ...

“Why is project management important?”, this is an interesting question that clients sometimes raise. They’ll ask: “Can’t we just give instructions to the team and manage it ourselves? It’ll be cheaper.”

Project management is often thought to be an unnecessary addition to the budget, and yes it might be perceived as expensive. However, running projects without good project management is a false economy.

But can you afford to not have a project manager?

In my point of view, it is very simplistic to say that project managers are the guardians of the triple constraints (Scope, time and cost). It’s well known that software companies are highly likely to implement agile methodologies to manage their projects, one of the most popularly used frameworks is Scrum. According to Ken Schwaber, commonly known as “The father of Scrum” you must start your project by following the process rules to successfully deliver value. 

Scrum = 3 Roles + 4 Artifacts + 5 meetings. 

Roles

There are three main roles: Development Team, Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Development Team refers to a small group of people that do the work. The Product Owner refers to the individual responsible for obtaining funding, defining initial requirements, managing priorities and project goals. According to the PMI Organisation, the Scrum Master has the closest proximity to a Project Manager. This individual is responsible for the Scrum process and serves as a facilitator for the team, making sure meetings take place on a daily basis, ensuring documentation is up to date and being there for the team at all times. If you’d like your project to go into the right direction you must ensure you’ve gotten these three roles covered up.

Artifacts

Artifacts are documents that facilitate information management. According to Scrum agilist there are 4 documents that should be used on a daily basis to successfully drive the team and deliver value. These are: Product Backlog (Prioritisation of the work), Product Vision (Project goals), Scrum board (Organisation of the work) and Burndown chart (Work Velocity).

Forbes magazine highlights the importance of having the project documentation readily available and organised in one place. Everyone should have a clear understanding of where to go and how to find information. Based on my personal experience from working on Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, good project management requires investing time and effort on documenting (Regardless of the project background, goals and the methodology of choice). 

Communication

About 75-90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent formally or informally communicating, according to PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (aka, PMBOK). No surprise then, how much communication is linked to project success. Scrum methodology uses at least 5 structured meetings and encourages casual touch points on a daily and weekly basis. Bear in mind that a project manager ensures the scrum process takes place, and needs to be there for the team at all times. The development team is focused on doing the work; without a PM, what’s holding the team and your vision together?

Does my remote team need a remote Project Manager?

“While clear communication is always necessary when managing a team, it is especially the case when working remotely”, states the Chief Strategy Officer for Cicayda in his Forbes article. On the other hand,  Mark Robinson, Co-Founder of Krimble Applications states “In order to successfully manage a remote team is specifically critical to give access to up-to-date and relevant information and encourage them to use their judgment to make appropriate decisions”. John Carter, Founder TCGen Inc. states on TechBeacon: “Team members must not only have a single version of the truth, but also know that it is the most current version. Make one individual responsible for the document and allow only that person to edit it. He also adds  “The most important aspect of staying agile in virtual teams is to keep the roles of the Scrum Master (SM) and Product Owner (PO)”. 

Great project management means much more than keeping the triple constraints in check, delivering on time, budget and scope. It unites you and your team, creates a vision for a successful project and gets everyone on the same page. When projects are managed properly, there is a positive impact that reverberates beyond results. According to experts, the need for a project manager only accentuates when working with a remote team. I would add to the previous statement that it is especially important now.  We are not just managing the regular WFH challenges, but we are dealing with a world health crisis. This has definitely an effect on individuals and it is now especially important to be there for the team. It’s key to sense the team spirit and identify any ups and downs that may undermine their performance and somehow impact the project’s goals. 

5 Reasons why your remote team needs a PM

  1. A great project manager is a team facilitator. It’s key to sense the team spirit and identify any ups and downs that may undermine performance and impact the project goals.
  2. Great project management means much more than delivering on time, budget, and scope. It unites clients and teams, creates a vision for a successful project and gets everyone on the same page of what’s needed to stay on track for success.
  3. According to Ken Schwaber commonly known as “The father of Scrum”,  you must start your project by following the process rules to successfully deliver value. A dedicated project manager supporting the team adhering to these process rules will increase the project success rate.
  4. According to experts, the need for a project manager only accentuates when working with a remote team. When projects are managed properly, there’s a positive impact that reverberates beyond the delivery of results.
  5. You could manage the team yourself  if you are ready to invest the time and effort required, plus have a good understanding of the methodology used. Good project management will have a crucial impact on project success.

So coming back to the question, you ask: “Can’t we just give instructions to the team and manage them ourselves? It’ll be cheaper.” Yes, you could manage the team yourself, if you are ready to invest the time and effort required. On top of that, it is a must that you have a good understanding of the methodology used. The team needs a Project Manager, whether you are ready to take the role or prefer to hire an expert, as project management will have a crucial impact on project success.

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Does anyone know why we learned to recite the periodic table of elements by memory? Do you even recall...

Does anyone know why we learned to recite the periodic table of elements by memory? Do you even recall what “Sm” stands for? Yes, there are a lot of useless things we learn through our lives and that’s how I used to feel about Burndown charts until recent weeks. Now that I know the true meaning and how useful they are,  Burndown charts have become one of my most precious tools in Project Management.

So, what the heck is it?

A Burndown Chart is the graphic representation of your team’s velocity, it shows how quickly (or slowly) the team is working through the sprint’s user stories. So, it compares the total effort of the team against the amount of work for each iteration (sprint).

The Burndown chart should be shared regularly during the sprint so everyone can notice the progress and tell whether or not they will be able to complete the sprint and, of course, taking action to ensure this.

But, how should you read it?

First, you will need to recall about cartesian planes, x-axis and y-axis. For burndown charts this is what each one means:

  • X-axis (Horizontal): This is the timeline, usually the days that have passed from the beginning of your sprint.
  • Y-axis (Vertical):  This is the work that needs to be done by using the remaining time estimate (that’s why we need to estimate tasks as most accurately as possible).

Start with good estimates

The product manager has given you a feature, and now you need to estimate. Don’t guesstimate, make your best to do it as accurately as possible. How? Try this: 

  • Don’t wait until grooming to read the documentation, read it in advance
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Ask for designs, and if not, call out this may impact your estimate
  • Clarify the scope/restrictions and make sure everyone is aware 
  • If you don’t feel sure, better not accept it

How do the burned tasks get burned?

The chart uses closed tasks for decreasing the remaining effort, but, what’s a closed task? This you will need to set it up. Most of the PM tools have a scrum board with configurable columns which you can locate task statuses (To Do, In Progress and Done). Whenever you move a task to that Done column, your Burndown chart will show less value for the remaining tasks. The goal is to get to zero at the end of your sprint.

Burndown charts need two key items from your sprint: estimates and Done tickets, this combination will set up your sprint for success or not. Make sure you estimate accurately with enough information, set up your PM tool to identify a really closed task, this way you can rely on your Burndown chart to tell the feasibility of completing your sprint on time.

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My oldest son used to be very difficult when he had to try new things, or, that’s what we thought. He got angry and impatient when he didn’t know our next steps and the whole agenda of the day. So we decided to keep him informed about EVERYTHING we were planning to do and, guess what, we won and he is a very calm boy now. While trying to handle that anxiety of him, we understood anticipation, information and managing his expectations was the key. Sounds familiar? Grown-ups need that and so do our clients.

To make your client happy always inform, work together and set the right expectations off the bat. A happy client is an informed client.

  • Show your documented processes Give clear timelines

Processes show you are internally organized, however, when sharing your timeline, you will show you are in control by managing deadlines, dependencies, lead times and milestones. Most clients don’t mind waiting what you might think is a long time, but only if they understand why. Timelines allow a client to understand time-related metrics, set deadlines, synchronize tasks, identify risks, and plan mitigation for potential delays. These diagrams are useful for managers who want to get a high-level look at team tasks and milestones of the project.

  • Cover more solutions Prioritize

You could work overtime and cover 100 different features in just one sprint but if those tickets are not high-priority to your client, they won’t be happy at all. In fact, they may complain about the way you are organizing your work without consulting them. 

Make sure your effort is worthy. Review your priorities along with your client and have them decide the order in which you should be boarding those items. Of course, you don’t want to forget calling out tech dependencies if applicable.

  • Be optimistic Be realistic

Don’t underestimate tasks and don’t play the hero by taking more than you can achieve in a determined time,  set the right expectation up front. It’s better to commit to less and deliver more.  Your client will appreciate the extra effort (remember priorities). 

  • Be an open book Be honest 

Clients don’t want problems, they want solutions, that’s why they hired you in the first place. They can understand errors can happen, but they’ll want root cause and time resolution. You’ll want to explain clearly and honestly the root cause (triggers, dependencies, if it is related to bad code or not, etc) But, most important they want to know which are the next steps and the action items you are taking to ensure the error won’t happen again. And of course, they’ll ask how much time you’ll need to solve it, you will need to provide realistic ETAs.

  • Deliver solution quickly Update regularly

ETA sounds like a bad word, but is necessary. We all know you are focused on solving the problem, but the client wants needs information. Take into account they might need to update their own clients or executives. If you don’t have an ETA and cannot provide it at all, agree with your client in a way to communicate (media and frequency) and make sure you share a status on a regular basis. If the tasks are taking you longer than expected, share the update and explain the reasons.

In conclusion, present your timeline, make sure you comply with it, report delays in a timely manner making sure you provide root cause, justification, new delivery dates, and update your status on a regular basis.

 

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