In 2012, a sobering McKinsey report came out, putting into numbers what many business leaders already suspected: big software projects are risky. After conducting research and crunching the numbers on more than 5,400 big-ticket IT projects, it came out that when the project involved software, cost overruns and schedule overruns far outstripped those of non-software IT projects.

Some companies in the study experienced such horrendous cost and schedule overruns that they risked going out of business. In business jargon, we call that a “black swan”.

So how can you be sure your software development project won’t turn into a black swan for you? One way is to include project managers as part of your team.

The Role of the Project Manager

If there was one phrase to describe, in general, what a Project Manager does for a dev team, it might be ensures continued forward progress. PM’s are there to make sure budding problems are identified and solved before they become full-blown issues that cost more money and take lots more time to solve.

How do they do this? One of the biggest roles they play is Communicator. Complex development projects usually involve a lot of people:

  • There are various developers responsible for coding frontend and backend portions of an application.
  • There are the business stakeholders, otherwise known as the client.
  • There are Quality Assurance people involved.
  • There’s also a User Experience/User Interface expert, too.
  • And of course PM’s answer to a boss at their company, too.

Who’s the one person who’s involved with each and every one of these team members? Who makes sure everyone is on the same page? Who’s the one person who sees the “Big Picture”?

You guessed it: the Project Manager.

The PM is not just a communicator, though. They play a larger role, which is to keep projects humming along, managing scope, and managing or preventing problems so those cost and scheduling overruns don’t get out of hand.

In short, the role of the PM is to keep your project from becoming a black swan for your company. But it doesn’t stop there. The PM aims higher than just avoiding disaster. The PM is there to ensure a well-run and successful project.

Responsibilities of a Project Manager

That all sounds good, but what does it all entail, exactly? Let’s drill down to the nitty gritty a bit so you can really understand the value a Project Manager brings to the table.

The responsibilities of the Project Manager look a little like this:

  • Assembling the development team with the most appropriate talent for the job
  • Making sure the project is defined clearly and that everyone understands the project specs and scope, inside and out.
  • Keeping a project on time and on budget, all the while keeping quality as a top priority
  • Searching out possible risks and problems before they blossom and grow into expensive mistakes
  • Deciding whether each risk is acceptable or not, and how to deal with each risk
  • Keeping track of every aspect of the project’s progress and giving regular, helpful reports to everyone who needs them (stakeholders, team members, boss)
  • Managing third-party contractors and vendors
  • Managing client expectations, deliver business value, act as single point of contact for client
  • Providing team leadership and offering support of any kind to the team

The Main Skills a PM Needs to Have

Obviously, a Project Manager needs to have incredible ‘soft skills’ like communication, collaboration, and listening. They also need the ability to move from leader to facilitator as the team begins to fully understand the project and slip into their roles. As facilitator, the PM looks for ways to remove obstacles so the team can do their stuff without being hindered or confused.

The PM also needs to be good at evaluating risk, so analytic skills are necessary. Specifically, we’re talking about the ability to foresee whether a project is coming along on time and within budget. These skills are absolutely essential.

The PM should also be able to use common tools of the trade. These might include various software tools like PM software. And they should be able to create a project charter. And the ability to lead a productive meeting? … priceless in this business!

When should the Project Manager get involved with the project?

If you’ve read everything so far, hopefully you’ve understood that communication is key in everything a dev team does. The PM, as “keeper of the process”, is responsible for the flow of communication throughout the entire lifespan of the project. So how’s it going to work if the PM enters the project half-way in the development process? In my experience, PMs should be there from the beginning, spearheading the project then facilitating progress, keeping everyone on track. They’re there during the first stages, right on through to MVP and each iteration until the final product is delivered.

Plus, this way the Project Manager comes to know the unique skill set of each team member that joins the team. That comes in mighty handy during the initial stages of the project, when the team is being assembled. The PM is also familiar with typical working speeds of their team members, how fast they can respond to challenges, and how they are best motivated to do their best work.

Enough said? For the work we do here at Making Sense, PMs are essential to our success and yours. We wouldn’t have it any other way, for your sake and for ours!

Still have questions about why a Project Manager is going to make your project a success? You can call us anytime, read about one of our Project Managers, or read more about the value of PM’s here.