The title is controversial. You may hate your project. You may be ashamed or proud of it as well. Nevertheless, you should never be indifferent to it.

I’ve been working with many Project Managers at Divante for many years now. For the past year, I’ve been responsible for their work and for the projects we perform together. I have one observation to share. If PMs have no feelings for their projects, if they don’t think of themselves as the owners, fathers or mothers of their projects, they will likely fail. Quality of their work will be poor.

I remember one scene from “The Red Violin” movie. Luthier’s workshop. Master and his apprentices. The apprentices finish their work on the violins, while their master walks around and observes everything. Suddenly, he takes one of the models – a fine piece, you may think. However, he smashes it against the table. For him, this model was hopeless, even though one of his apprentices probably worked very hard to make it. Making an analogy – the master may be perceived as a Project Manager.

If he had read some modern HR manuals, he wouldn’t have destroyed the violins, but instead he would have remarked: “Job well done. I can see you worked hard. There are some drawbacks, but I can see progress in comparison to the previous instrument.” Such an approach doesn’t lead us to the creation of excellent products.

I do not claim that PMs should criticize the work of their teams or rebuke their subordinates. I’ve already proven that I think exactly the opposite. The whole team is on the same boat. PMs shouldn’t have Steve Jobs’ character, they shouldn’t act like spitfires or autocrats.

What I hear from good project managers:

  • “This project s*cks, Peter. Look at those buttons on the product card… Still, we know what to do. We made some mistakes, but we have them reported.”

  • “According to the schedule, we should be fine, but I read the task descriptions and I can see that the boys didn’t considered X, Y, Z in the estimation. We need to make amends, I’m afraid we won’t make it.”

  • “I’m so proud that we are able to do such projects. I’ve never done such a huge one – the whole team was stressed out. Nevertheless, we managed to obtain excellent quality.”

What I hear from those, who still need to improve:

  • “The project goes well. Our tasks are scheduled, programmers estimated the tasks. The client told me, he has a cute kitty and that he likes the same music as I do.” ;)

PMs, who focus on being “managers” and not on the “project” don’t achieve success in a situation when their teams are supposed to create something (software, in our case). Project Managers, who concentrate more on the relations than on the content, may also have difficulties with delivering projects of the highest quality.

Being a Project Manager is a hard and ungrateful work. Bad opinions and criticism are much more frequent than appreciation. Nevertheless, we need to admit the unpleasant truth (“we won’t make it”) or negotiate the budget/scope of the works. In such conditions, some people who do this job start to care more about politics than content – creating the relations instead of the product. Managers have people responsible for everything – analysts know the scope of the works, testers check their quality. PM coordinates, toggles the switches.

Is it a bad approach? It doesn’t have to be bad. PMs ought to manage the works, they don’t need to do everything themselves. They shouldn’t – for their own good and for the good of their teams. It’s not easy to draw the line between the assignment and personal involvement.

PMs should thoroughly know the product developed by their teams. They should use this product. Know every screen and function. Have their own opinions about the product. Be proud of it or hate it (and think about what can be done to improve it).  In order to avoid indifference.

I have this in mind during inspections and recruitment procedures. It helps me to evaluate and choose people to perform particular projects.

Clients don’t pay us to “calm them down” or for “being nice”, even though this is important in day-by-day work, for sure. They pay us to do our best in the specified period of time. Sometimes PMs need to raise the alarm, to deliver bad news, to negotiate.

But PMs also need to know the reasons behind such actions. Their purpose. After all, the project is what matters the most.