What Makes an Effective PM?

Having an effective project manager is key to the success of your custom software project. Here Andrew goes over some skills every project manager should have, what pitfalls and mistakes to avoid, and his own benchmarks for each every client that Bixly has.

Full Transcript Below:

Andrew:

They’ll say it needs to do X and there’s many different ways to do X.

Cris:

What are some useful skills to have as a project manager?

Andrew:

You need to know what really needs to be done, what the objectives are. Here is the success criteria that I’m going for.

Cris:

How does it differ? Maybe just one note from like a product owner, for instance.

Cris:

So here at Bixly project management is very key to making sure that everything is successful. So starting off with basically a definition, what really is the role of a project manager in a general development sense? And then kind of what is the role of project manager even look like here at Bixly?

Andrew:

Sure. The role of the project manager is to really work with the client, to help, one, just gather the requirements, really kind of understand what it is the client is trying to accomplish. Just a deep understanding of these are my goals and objectives as the client, here’s the return on my investment I’m looking to make, here is the success criteria that I’m going for. And then also to take those and work with the developers and ultimately convey those things over, sort of act as a proxy, so that those actually get translated into technical type things.

Andrew:

So it’s not the in-depth technical planning, it’s more just playing that middle person or that proxy, again, to help make sure everything translates across the line from success criteria over to real world actual code that gets implemented and deployed.

Cris:

Cool. It seems reasonable. We don’t need to go deep, we can actually check out the back catalog of other episodes, but how does that differ? Maybe just one note from like a product owner for instance, or are they the same?

Andrew:

I mean, they are different things. So the product owner is someone on the client side. The product owner is someone who really understands the business requirements, understands ultimately what their clients need in order to be successful and can help articulate and define those requirements over to the product manager. Which is in many cases, myself, or someone at Bixly to actually take those requirements and translate them into something technical. So the product owner is a nontechnical position typically, you don’t need to know the know-how, you need to know what really needs to be done and what the objectives are.

Cris:

Got it. So for the project manager, the PM as we referred to it, what are some useful skills to have as a project manager, if you’re going to take that role within your company? Because we provide it here at Bixly, if you don’t have that, but projects will come to us with a project manager. So if you’re looking to get into that role, what are some good skills they should have as a project manager?

Andrew:

Definitely. So communication is probably the most important one, being able to clearly articulate your ideas. Being able to ask questions, to be curious, not to just take what the client says at face value, but to be curious and understand, okay, why do they want to do that? Why is that a requirement? What is the objective there? Because in many cases they’ll say it needs to do X and there’s many different ways to do X and the very specific way that they said it needs to happen, may not be the best way. There may be an even better or cheaper and faster, or just more complete way to address what their concern is. So being really curious and asking good questions is really important.

Andrew:

Having some technical background is useful because that way, when you’re relating with the developers, you can kind of steer them in the right direction and know if what they’re proposing even makes sense. So having someone who’s an ex-engineer or is currently an engineer can be useful too. I wouldn’t say that’s a requirement, it’s just something that’s really helpful.

Cris:

Well, it helps bridge that gap. I know that I originally did project management for years in other companies, here at Bixly at one point. And being able to be that bridge between sometimes a more non-technical client or even possibly not technical product owner and a very technical development team, being able to bridge that gap is extremely useful.

Cris:

What are some pitfalls that you’ve experienced, maybe personally over the years or you’ve seen, for project managers and what are some of those common project management pitfalls that could hopefully be avoided?

Andrew:

Sure. Well, it really comes back to that skillset. I mean, not asking the right questions can certainly bite you, not pushing back on the clients when they suggest something that doesn’t make sense. Of course, we want the project to move forward, we want the client to be happy, but sometimes the path to them being happy is not just accepting what they say at face value. So again, that curiosity thing and asking the right questions.

Cris:

Or the inverse, if I can interject again, because there’s lots of roads that will lead to the destination at the end. So don’t just take the client at face value, but also as a project manager don’t be so focused on, well we have to take this road to get to…

Andrew:

That’s a good point. That’s a great point.

Cris:

I may have sidetracked you there, but that was a good thought.

Cris:

What else would — any other pitfalls you think for a project manager?

Andrew:

Not communicating with the client enough would be one. So there needs to be a constant feedback loop and that can be done with weekly check-in calls, it can be done with, something I like to do is send them videos and things like that so they can see things in action, they can give their feedback on that and they can easily share that with other people. Whereas if we just do a call, you may not be able to share that very easily. So just having that communication or not having that communication is a big pitfall. Not keeping enough visibility on the developers and what they’re doing, potentially letting them go too far down a path that doesn’t make sense and then having to pivot back.

Andrew:

So there’s a lot of different pitfalls that all kind of have to do with poor communication or poor oversight that can get you into trouble.

Cris:

Gotcha. So getting a little personally into your role here at Bixly, do you have a general kind of baseline of how you connect with the projects or manage them as a project manager? Do you have basically a baseline for how projects are run and should be run here at Bixly?

Andrew:

Yeah, definitely. So it depends whether it’s a project or a staff augmentation type thing. If it’s a staff augmentation where we’re literally just providing developers to them and the client is assigning the task, the client’s really in the driver’s seat. And we do much less project management, it’s more them kind of driving things and us making sure that things are done in the way that they want. Then I typically do weekly check-ins with clients, weekly phone calls, to just make sure, again, that we’ve got that regular feedback going. And then do daily calls with the developers to see what they did the previous day, see what they’re working on now, see if they’re stuck on anything, that kind of thing. Those are also referred to as, like, standup calls or scrum calls.

Andrew:

If it’s a project where we’ve defined out the scope of the entire thing, then we break those into milestones and those are typically two week milestones, two to three weeks, and then I will deliver those to a client as each milestone happens. And so that gives them a chance to get feedback on that, to do any interim calls that are needed. And then we also tie our billing to these deliverables that we’re making too. So you’re giving her feedback as you go when you’re paying for it in these small chunks as things are delivered.

Cris:

Cool. So it seems like the baseline is it happens and it needs to happen because when it doesn’t projects suffer.

Andrew:

Exactly.

Cris:

That seems reasonable. Any other thoughts on project management as we wrap things up?

Andrew:

Really, I mean, I keep harping on this but I think communication is the most valuable thing. When communication breaks down, that’s really when expectations get out of line and when expectations get out of line that’s when clients are disappointed. So we really try to communicate so that we’re all on the same page, we have the same expectations. And we even let the clients know if they haven’t fully thought out what their expectations are or gotten to a clear success criteria because knowing what winning looks like is the only way we’re going to hit it. We’re not going to hit it by sheer luck. So all of that, we help them solidify their vision and then help them communicate on a regular basis so they can get it right, or we can get it right.

Cris:

Seems reasonable. So as a project manager make sure that you’re communicating with your client and clients need to make sure that they’re listening to their project managers.

Andrew:

That helps.

Alexandra:

Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Bixly TechTuesday. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, go ahead and link those questions in the comment section down below. In addition, in the description to this video, you can find a link to our free custom software guide. You can also check out our website, Bixly.com and even sign up for an hour long consultation for free with Cris about your next app idea.