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Project Manager - What does it take to be the best?

The first thing I have to confess is that I do not know, because I’m not the best. However, I can tell you a few things you should know if you intend to improve the productivity, get the most out of your time and achieve your goals.

I don’t know if it has happened to you that sometimes you feel a little frustrated, that the last projects you managed did not turn out very well, either because you did not fulfill the agreed dates or the quality of the code was not good, that the time is never enough or that resources are a bit problematic, the requirements are changing or the customers, difficult to manage.

The truth is that to be a good project manager you must know how to deal with these issues on a daily basis. If you are one of the good ones, this will not cause you stress or take you too long. I tell you here some tricks to achieve it.

First of all, I’ll tell you why I think you should listen to me. As I have already mentioned on another opportunity, I am currently the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of my systems consultancy. My main function is to manage projects. I’ve been doing this for years, but as many others, I started as a developer.


When I created my first software development company, in 1993, I was the functional analyst, the technical leader, the developer, the tester, and, why not, also the implementer (I’m sure you went through something like that if you were or are an entrepreneur). Over the years, my company grew and a time came when, to my great regret, I had to learn to delegate. The first thing we hired were developers, taking care of the analytical and leadership tasks with my partner. Then, when the number or size of the projects increased, we hired analysts to join the team. My partner went on to occupy the commercial management and I stayed with the technical and operational.

At some point, I could not say exactly when it was, I found myself leading the projects of my consultant. It was not something I would have chosen, at least not consciously.

I don’t know if that was exactly your case, probably not, but the important thing is that at that time I was in a position where I did not know with certainty how to act before certain circumstances so typical of computer projects, like the ones I mentioned before. It took me years to learn (researching, reading, taking courses or with the classic method of trial and error) and become a good project manager, something that nowadays I enjoy very much.

man holding a tablet

The first thing I want to clarify is that all the projects are complicated, because the nature of the project itself is that. Obviously, there are better and worse ones. Without further ado, let’s go to the 10 tips that will help you be more productive and meet your goals.

Some of these “tricks” are rather habits you should acquire if you do not already have them by nature, others consist on the use of methodologies or the rigorous application of proven project management processes.

1.- An organized and structured nature

Among the features you have to have to be a good manager, this is the most important. The secret to the success of most projects is to keep them under control. No matter what happens, you should always be able to reorganize the team, objectives and tasks to cope with the circumstances.

The chaotic and unpredictable nature of the projects must be counteracted with a good dose of organization, and you are the one who must provide it. When a setback arises, you must coldly analyze the root of the problem and propose possible solutions to solve it. Do not forget that what all your team wants is to comply with the project. The problem is that sometimes they do not know what is the best and you must discover it.

2.- Make decisions without hesitation

Having an open mind and listening to everyone’s opinions is very good. But, when the time comes, you must make a decision without hesitation, because if you have doubts about it, you will lose the confidence of your team. You are in charge, do not forget, because if something goes wrong, I assure you that they will remember you.

3.- Have empathy and a good team management

This does not mean that you should be liked by everyone (in fact, a lot of people doesn’t like me, since I am sometimes too direct and transparent, I do not like to waste my time or beat around the bush). What it really means is that you must integrate with your team, lead it, but also understand and help it.

The customer wants the plan to be fulfilled in times and costs, the users want a system that make them feel that they helped to design it, the developers will be satisfied with a well done system and with being recognized for it.

There is no project that ends well with a poorly integrated or led team. I dare to say that 70% of the success of the project depends on the team that makes it up. You must generate a climate of trust within the entire team.

4.- Commitment of the project

You must commit yourself conscientiously to the project. Try to understand the costumer and what he really needs. Many times even he will not know, but your role is to help him discover it and then build that solution. Never lose sight of the objective of the project. Every decision you make should help to achieve it.

5.- Risk management

Most projects are born with a series of risks in the planning very typical of the nature of a software development project: user resistance to changes, lack of resources (diseases, rotation), immaturity of technology, little control of quality, to name just a few.

You have to take these issues very seriously and perform an efficient risk management of the project, which includes a contingency plan for each possible eventuality (at some point I will write an article that deals with this issue exclusively).

Once someone was asked: ‘How is it that the project was delayed 3 months? The answer was: ‘day by day‘.

Do not let this be your case. Control the planning on a daily basis. If today you did not reach the estimated goals, do not assume that tomorrow you will recover the time. Reschedule immediately, analyze the incident that occurred and try to include it in the risk planning.

6.- Use the appropriate methodology for each project

It is very difficult to carry out a project without a proper planning. That planning must be based on the application of a certain methodology or life cycle of the project. There are many, and each one is better for a type of client or type of project.

For example, for a research project, in which it is not very clear whether a product is viable or not, the best thing is a life cycle of spiral development or evolutionary prototyping. For a project known and limited in times (for example, a migration from an earlier version of the same system), an incremental development in cascade by stages is probably the most appropriate option. For an environment with changing requirements, I would opt for an agile methodology (probably Scrum). No matter which methodology you choose, the important thing is to choose one and stick to the rules.

7.- Control the costs of the project

If you find that being at a 50% of the project in terms of time, you came to develop 40% of the total functionality and spent 60% of the budget, you are in a big problem.

Include an efficient cost management as part of your routine. Do not wait until it’s too late to talk about it. The user often asks for features because he does not take into account the costs or directly ignores the impact of the change.

8.- Use adequate management tools

It is very important to rely on technology so it helps you manage the project. In order to do this, you must provide yourself with a set of tools that facilitate your day to day, not complicate it. Keep in mind that there are very complete tools but difficult to use. That makes you waste a lot of time making the planning into them. On the other hand, there are tools too simple and, therefore, insufficient. The answer is in the middle term: a tool that is, above all, easy to use, but that in turn it gives you all the information that allows you to maintain control of the project.

9.- Changes management

A development project invites changes. It is utopian to pretend otherwise. The issue is that some changes, although they would probably be positive for the system, can be very damaging to the planning of the project or to the budget.

The best way to deal with this is to create a changes control group, which should be formed by the client, a representative of the users and a technical-functional leader. The function of this group is neither to reject nor approve all changes, but to act as a filter to keep them under control. That is, if the change is positive, but implies a delay of three weeks in the project and a certain increase in the cost thereof, the group should decide whether to approve it or not. If it does, it will be necessary to replan. Keep in mind that the problem is never the consensual changes, but those that go unnoticed and then have an impact on the cost or times.

10.- Continuous training

Last, but not least, consider that to be a good leader you have to speak the language of the whole team: have business information to talk to peer-to-peer users, have technical knowledge to deal with tech and infrastructure bosses, know about databases, flows and documentation to discuss with analysts, learn about testing methodologies and QA to address the quality control team. Anyway, you need to know a little bit of everything to stay in front of the team and make them respect you for it. The solution to this is simple: you have to train continuously.

business people talking

Anyway, I hope these suggestions make you think about your current way of managing projects. Surely, you were not applying them all. If you do, I assure you that you will have much more free time to devote to what you want the most.

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