Monday 12 September 2011

The secret of managing software projects

As a technology manager there is almost unlimited discourse you can read about how to successfully manage delivery and control projects.  The real secret here is you don't manage projects, you manage the circumstances around a project...

This assumes that you have a team of talented engineers, a project manager as strong of character as he is on process, and an architecturally sound plan with some slack in your estimates.  If you don't already have this then don't worry, you're not about to fail, you've already failed.  What you're about to experience is you doing your best to mitigate the consequences of poor leadership.  Good luck with that.

But let's just say that you've got the structure right - now what?  If that's true, then the best contribution you can make as a leader is managing the environment around the project.  Provide a vision and simple insight into what moves the dial for the business and then move the obstacles, keep the distractions away, make sure the priorities don't change, and protect the productivity of the team members.  Keep the project fed and watered; get it the budget and skillsets it needs, get it the right visibility and attention from external teams who may be dependencies.  You're usually on the hook for the whole thing, so the temptation to dive into the details is often overwhelming.  Do it if you must but know that you probably aren't helping.  Your guys won't feel trusted and you won't be encouraging them to take ownership of their own space.  If you have a good plan on a sensible horizon, don't fiddle with it.  Every time you do you increase the chances of things not working out.

That doesn't mean you should be disinterested or uninvolved - quite the opposite.  Be there 100% for every engineer every day and give them everything they need to give you what you need.  Be easily accessible and take on any potential problem, consequence-free, that your team feels like raising.  They don't want to waste your time any more than you want to waste theirs, so if they come to you with something, it will usually be because there is a genuine risk that you're not going to get what you planned and there is something you can do to put things back on track.

I love technology.  We all do.  That's why we got into this business.  I love what my guys do, and I love to talk to them about it, but I am always aware of when prudent interest in the organization's deliverables crosses the line and becomes micromanagement and interference.

The most important thing you can give to any project is certainty.  Make a good plan based around people better than you are and then defend them.

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