‘Some projects can run without a Project Manager’. This advice is heard frequently when setting up a project team, but heeding it can be a critical mistake. Forgoing a Project Manager (PM) is often an attempt to reduce costs or else is caused by underestimating the complexity of the project. To help you avoid this mistake, let’s discuss the role of a Project Manager in the software development process to determine when this team member is necessary.
What types of projects demand a PM?
The answer is all of them! According to a PWC global survey, 80% of a project’s success depends on a project manager with relevant experience. Even short projects with a small team fall apart without a PM. Of course, the PM’s involvement will vary: small projects may only need a part-time PM, but even a small team needs management.
The more sophisticated a project, the higher its risk of failure without proper management. If the project has complex software architecture and involves specialists from many departments, a PM is needed to coordinate project stages, facilitate teamwork, and control the project scope to ensure a high-quality product. According to a Gartner survey, the failure rate of projects with a budget over $1 million is 50 per cent higher than those with a budget below $350,000.
In the absence of a dedicated project manager, this role is often assumed by an account manager, the department head, or the product owner. However, this is a gross mistake. In this case, a specialist is torn between his daily responsibilities and the PM’s functions, which never bodes well for the project. Most difficult of all is when a client insists that projects with two or three developers don’t require a PM at all. According to our internal statistics, this leads to a 100% failure rate.
Project manager responsibilities
Below is a quick overview of a PM’s various responsibilities.
1. Project management
The goal of a PM is ensuring the project’s success. The PM determines the project scope, defines its development stages, and sets appropriate deadlines. A project manager controls all five phases of the project life cycle: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
Planning is often underestimated by stakeholders, although it is an essential phase. As evidence, the PMBOK Guide lists 24 discrete processes involved in planning. Without proper planning, the risk of project failure is high. During this phase, the PM prepares a project management plan, a project schedule, a list of potential risks, and a plan to address those risks.
2. Requirements collection (scope management)
All projects begin by collecting the client’s requirements. According to the Project Management Institute, 39% of projects fail due to inaccurate requirements gathering. To ensure that the project objectives meet the client’s demands, the PM must determine, document, and control the initial project scope throughout the software development process.
3. Time & cost management
Time and money are the primary indicators of a project’s success. According to PMI’s survey, only 57% of projects are finished within their initial budgets and 51% within their initially scheduled timeframes.
Determining the project budget, estimating and controlling costs, and managing project deadlines are primary tasks for a PM. A good PM must increase efficiency to stay within a project’s budget and time allotment.
4. Quality management
Poor quality accounts for 11–17% of project failure according to a Gartner survey. To realize a functional product, the PM is charged with defining quality standards and examining and testing the product at every stage. According to Capterra's survey, 44% of businesses find that project management improves the quality of the final product.
5. Human resources management
An effective project team is a key to a project’s success. The project manager is tasked with improving project execution by creating a project team with a common vision and high-performance culture that is aligned with the overall project goals.
6. Communication management
Communication is an essential project management process in all phases. According to PMI statistics, 30% of projects fail because of inadequate or poor communication. The final result depends on properly established project communication within the team and with stakeholders.
7. Risk management
Risk management practices are widely used in most companies. According to PMI statistics, 27% of companies always use them and only 3% reported never using risk management practices.
One of the PM’s responsibilities is to identify and manage potential risks. The PM analyses a checklist of potential risks to determine their possible impact on the project’s schedule and budget. After analysing the risks, the PM plans out risk responses and monitors the risk triggers too so the team can act quickly if needed.
The ability to foresee obstacles in a project and understand how to overcome them is a valuable quality in a project manager. This is why it is vital to have an experienced PM on the project.
An experienced project manager is required
An inexperienced project manager is cited as the reason for failure in 20% of projects, but finding an effective PM is not an easy task. A PM must combine a technical background with non-technical skills such as communication, leadership, organization, and strategic thinking. Let’s examine a list of requirements for an experienced PM.
1) Proven competence
Basic professional certifications for a project manager include PMI–PMP (Project Management Professional), PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments), or MSP (Managing Successful Programmes). Scrum and Agile certifications are also desirable and, for large software development projects with big budgets, it is preferable to also have SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) certifications.
2) Technical background
An experienced project manager must have a technical education. In reality, the best PMs begin as QA engineers, developers, business analysts, researchers, or scientists. Soft skills alone are not enough to be an effective PM. Technical education and first-hand experience give the PM insight into the software development process. An experienced PM ensures project quality, facilitates communication between the team and the stakeholders, and defines the project objectives, schedule, and budget. This role requires more than simply relaying communication between the client and the development team.
3) Relevant experience
The more experienced the PM, the better for the project. Attaining seniority in the field requires time and a number of completed projects. Thus, five years of practical experience is a minimum requirement for an experienced PM. Proper risk management demands critical thinking and the ability to predict all possible problems. A PM who has theoretical knowledge but little experience working on real projects will lack this kind of foresight since project failures teach a PM how to avoid those mistakes in the future.
4) Industry and/or Subject matter expertise
Subject matter expertise can be crucial for projects in some industries. In-depth knowledge of the industry helps to make more accurate estimations of costs and project duration, better identify potential risks, and provide more efficient problem solving. Also, it improves the development speed and quality due to more detailed and precise requirements collection and analysis. Industry experts better understand issues and can come up with creative and non-trivial solutions more quickly.
5) Soft skills
Communication skills, problem-solving skills, adaptability in a fast-paced work environment, leadership, the ability to work in a team, and a positive attitude are important skills for any manager, but two essential tasks of a PM are planning and risk management. Thus, a good PM is not only a liaison between stakeholders and developers but is also a strategist and analyst. Critical and strategic thinking, as well as analytical skills, are must-haves for any PM.
It is a common mistake to consider project management to play merely a supporting role in software development. Here are the facts:
Only 40% of projects at IBM meet their goals in three key categories – schedule, budget, and quality.
The average cost overrun for software projects is 66%, but in some cases, it can even reach 200%, according to a McKinsey-Oxford survey.
47% of projects fail to meet initial goals due to poor management of requirements.
17% of IT projects fail so spectacularly that they threaten the very existence of the company.
Reducing costs by neglecting proper project management always causes problems over the course of the project. Investing in project management during the initial project phase is more cost-effective than trying to get a troubled project back on track in the middle of the development process since the solution is often to return to the initial stages and ‘reboot’ the whole project.