Project managers are critical to the success of a software development project. They help a team establish goals, align on a path forward and change course as unanticipated obstacles come up during the project. But mastering project management, specifically when leading developers, takes expertise and nuance. Having managed several website redesign projects and with experience building and developing several platforms for startup and mature companies, The Pony Group has learned several lessons for running successful website and development projects with programming teams. Managing programmers incorrectly can ruin what could otherwise be a successful project.
As you work to improve your project management style, consider these six tips to better manage programmers.
1. Find a Toolset That’s Best for the Team
Project management and development tools only work if your team uses them. This often means opting for an instant messaging tool like Slack over email, which developers are less likely to use throughout the day. It also means carefully and intentionally selecting the project management tool that’s right for your team, be it Asana, Trello, Jira or another option. Try not to let your personal preference get in the way. Finally, if you notice your team isn’t using a tool the right way, consider switching to something they’re more naturally inclined to use.
2. Don’t Scope in a Silo
It’s critical that developers be involved in scoping and planning work. While project managers should have some sense of the amount of time it will take to accomplish a task, they shouldn’t make assumptions. Not pulling in developers during scoping and planning can create distrust and resentment on a team. Instead, always consult your team when assigning timelines or levels of difficulty to project tasks. When managing programmers, it is important to include their expertise as you plan the scope of work.
3. Be Flexible With Project Changes
The odds of your project going according to your original plan are slim. Unanticipated obstacles will come up, timelines and budgets will change or new features will be added. Rather than rigidly sticking to the original plan, be flexible in the face of change. This will give your developers confidence in your ability to lead them through the project no matter what unforeseen changes occur.
4. Know How to Read the Room
Software projects can seem like emotional roller coasters at times. After a big win, the team will be enthusiastic and motivated, but when faced with a new challenge or change in scope, team morale can drop. A great project manager can sense these changes in motivation, and knows when to add positive energy back into the project. When managing programmers, or any team, it is important to identify swings in the mood of your team, or you could risk derailing a project. However, that should also be balanced with allowing team members to candidly vent their frustrations; if you force-feed enthusiasm, you’ll be met with a team that won’t share their true feelings with you.
5. Trust Your Intuition When Managing Programmers
Even when you can feel something in a project going wrong, your development team may not be proactive about bringing challenges and frustrations to you. Often, team members feel the need to solve problems on their own rather than being vulnerable and admitting something isn’t working. Try to hone your ability to sense when things aren’t going well. If you feel in your gut that someone on your team is struggling, take the first step and approach them about your concerns.
6. Document Decisions
Development projects move quickly, and it can be too easy for teams to become misaligned when key decisions and scope changes take place. Proactively overcome this challenge by documenting all decisions and storing them in a sharable place. That place should be your team’s agreed-upon source of truth; it may be a project plan, Google Doc or the Jira tickets themselves, but decision documentation should never live exclusively in communications channels like email or Slack.
If you’re working to optimize your project management discipline on your team, consider implementing these six tips. You can also seek out a startup consultant who can work with you to refine your project management approach and ensure your entire team runs like a well-oiled machine.