Is the role of Project Management misunderstood?

Duties of project managers that are actually appreciated by team members

After observing project management through various lenses — working as a junior & senior PM, working in a Program Management Office overseeing PMs, being an individual contributor dealing with PMs from different teams, seeing PMs in action who hold certifications in PMP / Agile, being an analyst on a team that thoroughly vented about JIRA tickets as the day approached 6pm — I’ve concluded that there are many ways to be a bad Project Manager, and several ways to be thanked for being part of the team. This essay is a collection of the positive things I’ve personally seen appreciated by team members.

m = more information available,
v = vlad’s (my own) personal thoughts

Good Project Manager Duties

🖊 Resolve blockers as top priority for the day: being blocked is one of the most frustrating experiences for a team member, and it’s pleasant to know that someone is out there who’s actively trying to resolve my problem within 24hours.

🖊 Facilitate whiteboard sessions: get all the people who are going to be “doing the work” in the project together into the same meeting, and whiteboard what the end result should look like so that everyone can start articulating their misunderstanding / miscommunication.

🖊 ️Build PowerPoint slides explaining what’s happening on a project: requirements translated into a language team members understand, diagrams showing systems / tools / people involved, timelines of what needs to happen by when, issues and potential solutions, assumptions being made (CYA [v.1]).

🖊 Prototype a solution: take some guesswork out of team member’s hands (ie. how solution will actually be used by end user) [v.2].

🖊 Have answer for what comes next: reduce unnecessary team member idle time by knowing what should be worked on next; team members prefer talking with a competent PM over dealing with a ticketing system.

🖊 Know the gossip: while few people enjoy meetings, there are things communicated within meetings that are often left out of email / slack conversation (often called, “political dynamics”); bringing this gossip back to the team catches them up on the important parts, and helps them understand why certain actions / behavior is happening.

🖊 Become single-source-of-truth: team members should be able to get all the information they need from the PM without going out of their way to track someone down / schedule meetings / take time away from doing their core work [m.1].

🖊 Prioritize work logically: the new world of “agile” — which for many just means that the backlog of work can / should change on a whim — is often a serious distraction [m.2]. Implementing a scoring system (ie. assessing a request’s importance) can help determine whether a new request is worthy of distraction [m.3].

Great Project Manager Duties (to do in periods of down time)

🖊 Document team wins: build artifacts for manager to share with their boss, as a way to help the team get better projects in the future (as well as better budgets to hire interesting people).

🖊 Research and present trends: educate the team on how “cool companies” are working in the modern day (ie. best practices) [v.3]. Taking a mental break away from current projects is very refreshing, and a practical educational session will be much more appreciated than another scavenger hunt.

🖊 Build proposals: discuss with manager some new ideas / projects / tools for specific team members to improve their resume; team members like knowing that you have their back on the project, as well as in their career.

Resources

more information available

m.1, Although this document is heavily dated, 15 years ago Ben Horowitz tried to articulate his own frustrations with role of product managers at a high-growth company https://a16z.com/2012/06/15/good-product-managerbad-product-manager/

m.2, This comic perfectly captures the chief complaint of companies with open floor plans https://i.redd.it/o1gnotfxi4k01.png

m.3, Intercom developed the RICE methodology for objectively scoring and comparing backlog requests (which I found works great out-of-the-box, and easy to tweak for non-software-development use cases) https://www.intercom.com/blog/rice-simple-prioritization-for-product-managers/

vlad’s (my own) personal thoughts

v.1, One interesting way I’ve noticed for a team to feel like their PM has their back is by documenting assumptions — when things go wrong, the resulting blame-game can be minimized by the PM calling out that the assumptions were presented X days ago and they have been invalided by Y.

v.2, A few ways I’ve prototyped things: predictive model (used MS Excel with small subset of data and averages to start dialog around feature engineering), web app (used Proto.io to build interactive wireframes and understand how users wanted to use interface), data model (used Draw.io to build flow charts of data sources involved, granularity, and expected analyses/reporting to understand transformations needed).

v.3, Most industry leaders have blogs where their employees share authentic stories of their experiments and lessons learned. (ex. Netflix for data engineering, AirBnB for company growth, Intercom for product management, Basecamp for culture, etc.).

I appreciate you tuning into my thoughts on launching product ideas. Feel free to let me know what’s on your mind @ vlaaaaad.com