Rajal Chattopadhyay - Sr. General Manager - Atos Origin India
By Ernani Ferrari
Luckily for all those not involved with researching and developing work methods, models and references for complex software processes already exist. At least, that is, for the most common ones, such as development, testing, customer support and project management. For the latter, PMI (the Project Management Institute) provides the market with the PMBOK Guide (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) and several educational resources. The available material is very good. And the training resources, complemented by a certification process, bring added value by assuring that the professional masters particular concepts and techniques. Once approved (after a certain amount of field experience), the trained professional receives elegant certificates. The market deeply appreciates the work of the PMI and of all those who have contributed to and continue to further the evolution of this knowledge base.
Such a positive standpoint sadly forces us to observe the negative aspects of this reality and the trends it may cause. As I have seen during my more than twenty years of experience in the software cycle, trends come and go, though they usually leave some form of legacy that is, naturally, lesser than the excitement of their peak periods. We are still experiencing the project management trend. Never before has this subject been covered through such a vast proliferation of courses, books, company consultancies and certifications, providing professionals and companies with better approaches and methods for managing the core of software development services: projects. However, without practical experience, this flood of information often builds a bubble of expectation regarding the possibility of forming project managers in classrooms.
Companies are living organisms that are highly complex due to the interaction between people, tools, procedures, communications, polices, culture, equipment, technology, regulations, investors, competitors, clients and numerous other factors. Much as a physician studies mostly theory for four or five years, goes through a hands-on internship to get a diploma and then still faces another two-year or so residency for specialization, a project manager cannot be expected to simply walk out of a classroom or conclude time spent in virtual classes, regardless of a certification (a PMP – Project Management Professional certification requires a practical working period, but in no specific industry), and be ready to conduct complex projects efficiently.
It is precisely this efficiency that has often been lost in the euphoria over the subject of project management and its derivatives: project managers, portfolio management and PMO (Project Management Office), among many others. As no two software projects are the same, comparing projects is difficult and, therefore, any evaluation of a project manager becomes somewhat subjective. Consequently, precisely measuring the value added to a project by a project manager is impracticable. However, in the software business, the case of complex projects in complex contexts and only partially qualified teams is a situation typical of about 95% of software projects, for which just a minority of the resources are really experienced people. In this context, and based on my own experience in hundreds of projects of all sizes, natures and levels of complexity for software development and implementation, I feel it is safe to say that the performance of a project manager can improve or worsen team productivity by up to a frightening 50%.
Therefore, it is hard not to advocate in favor of project management for projects of software development or implementation. The most common justification for neither hiring nor internally developing project managers, which is that "project managers are expensive,” lacks any vision for the context, dynamics and immediate impact that a project manager has on the work of a whole team. In addition to adequately attending to all aspects that other team members would not, such as planning, control, risk analysis, financial follow-up, search for resources, coordination and communication, a project manager also contributes decisively to the most basic need of any project team, allowing members to actually work! How? Simply by helping them avoid the waste of productive time on contacts and coordination between team members, on redundant documents and communication, or even tackling the main villains in processes of execution and mental concentration: interruptions. According to research, just one of these interruptions can increase the time of a mental task by an average of 25%.
There are many requirements for achieving these important benefits, however. While methods applied alone will help a project team reach its objectives, the best results are beyond the reach of the inexperienced. For significant results, knowledge and experience in the process, environments and the business itself are essential. The project manager must do more than simply generate schedules and plans, hold meetings and issue status reports. He or she must efficiently promote analysis and ideas that will provide higher quality to project products, reduced risks, shortened delivery times and economy of all types of involved resources: human, financial and material. For this, besides the fundamental concepts and techniques for project management, a project manager also needs:
We can therefore extract three simple lessons. First: Reducing the project budget by reducing management effort will inevitably result in higher total costs in the project life cycle. Second: Project managers not only pay for themselves but also help guarantee and promote the project quality, reduce its time, maximize its resources and improve communication. And third: For a project manager, a title is not enough.
Chief consultant and founder of Mondo Strategies (www.mondostrategies.com), Ernani Ferrari consults with software companies of all sizes and large corporate users of enterprise software. He is a frequent speaker and teaches courses on Product Management and Integrated Management of Software Development