As a manager of project managers, I spend a good chunk of time explaining the value that IT project management can provide. To some, its immediate usefulness is not instantly tangible in IT, since most project managers do not contribute to the codebase directly or regularly.
While a project manager may not know the ins and outs of the 1s and 0s, they can make projects more efficient, improve communication, and take some weight off your shoulders, especially in an agile environment.
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1. Project managers bring organization to the chaos
Imagine this: You bring a group of 10 people together to solve a problem, all with their own opinion on the solution. You drop them in a meeting room with a time constraint of 30 minutes and say "Go!"
What would likely happen?
Without an agenda and a master of ceremonies, I'd bet unorganized chaos would unfold. While a consensus might be reached, who would track key decisions and next steps?
I've heard horror stories about teams feeling really great about the conversations they've had in a meeting and the agreed-upon planned next steps. A few days later, maybe even weeks, they realize they haven't seen any of the action items completed. No one was tracking them, and everyone in the meeting promptly forgot the details.
The project manager can simultaneously act as the facilitator and the record keeper of the call. Even more important, the project manager will make sure there is traction on the decided next steps.
2. Project managers teach teams how to say "no"
Empowering teams to say "no" is my favorite part of my job. By teaching teams the value of prioritization, planning, and committing to work, they will realize that saying "no" to additional work can be a good thing.
In the example of velocity, there is a lot of value in understanding how much work your team can take on for planning and commitment purposes. If you know you can complete on average 100 story points per sprint, you can plan accordingly. There will be fewer surprises and more accuracy for the engineers and leadership.
Take for example, this velocity chart from Team Awesome with story points on the Y axis and sprints on the X.
The team had a couple sprints worth of data to know how much velocity they were achieving sprint over sprint. But, as you can see, the team still took on too much work and had a huge spike on committed velocity. Instead of saying, "No, this is too much work and we won't be able to complete it," the team pulled work into their sprint and overpromised (and underdelivered) for the sprint.
If the team had looked at historical data, they would have known that they were taking on too much work.
By providing the tools and data, a project manager can help the teams say "no."
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3. Project managers give engineers the time to be engineers
There are a lot of elements to moving a project's development forward. Design decisions, acceptance criteria, engineering dependencies from other teams, prioritization agreements, access to systems... this is just the tip of the iceberg of items that could slow an engineer.
The project manager can take ownership to make sure all the details are in place and questions are getting answered so that an engineer can do what they do best: code. This helps eliminate rework and context switching.
4. Project managers focus on continuous improvement
A key element to a successful team is regularly doing retrospectives on areas for improvement.
Taking time out of your sprint to reflect on your wins and losses and brainstorm ways to get better is essential. Project managers can facilitate these conversations and, more importantly, make sure there is follow-through on the discussion and decisions.
For example, I have a project manager on my team that needs a t-shirt that says "Fail fast." She encourages folks to try new things, like adjusted workflows and approaches to communication, with the mindset of "we can always change it if it doesn't work." Her teams feel empowered to bring ideas to the table, knowing that these tweaks, even if unsuccessful, can still be written off as a win because they tried something new to get better.
Project managers can provide suggestions about what they've seen work in the past, and empower the team to make decisions to improve various aspects of a scrum team.
While a project manager cannot solve all the problems a technical team might face, they can help make sure problems get tracked and solved efficiently. Consider adding a project manager to your team when you're ready to expand.
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