Ever wondered what it’s like to collaborate with disruptive startups which revolutionize the world? What it takes to manage projects for world-famous brands like Netflix or Uber? What a project manager does on a daily basis at Apptension?
Fortunately, we’re going to answers these questions today and that’s all thanks to Maciej, one of our brilliant PMs. Without further ado, let me introduce you to his list of 10 project management skills you are likely to sharpen if you join our team.
1. Working with best project management tools (including Teamdeck)
At Apptension, we believe that choosing the right software is half the battle for succeeding at work. That’s why, to ensure smooth execution of our daily tasks, we use a set of tried and tested applications.
The ultimate project management tool at Apptension is Teamdeck. True, it is our in-house product but “local patriotism” is not the only reason why we value it so much. Teamdeck is essentially a comprehensive resource management solution that makes PM life easier with a couple of features.
Firstly, it allows for effective resource scheduling. Taking into consideration data on the expertise and availability of people involved in a given project, we can reduce work overload, forecast team utilization, and plan the production pipeline accordingly. Secondly, timesheets and time tracker facilitate monitoring the actual performance of the team and allow to set it against the initial estimates. Thirdly, Teamdeck enables to create bespoke reports which can be easily shared with team members and clients. Sounds exciting? Try it for yourself here.
Notwithstanding its usability and versatility, Teamdeck is not our only weapon. Other project management software we’re acquainted with include Podio, Jira, Confluence, and Slack. So far, these tools have proved to match our processes and needs best. Nonetheless, we remain open to new solutions so feel free to let us know about your favorite project management tools. We’d love to check them out!
2. Not restricting yourself to a single project management methodology
Unless you live under a project management rock, you must have heard about Agile: a software development methodology which, according to The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Apptension’s PMs recognize all advantages of implementing Agile project management, such as transparency, schedule predictability, and focus on business goals. At the same time, however, we are firm believers in a case-by-case approach to clients’ needs and requirements. That’s why we’ve developed our own way of managing projects. It is highly iterative, i.e. it’s mostly based on sprints, but at the same time leaves much space for customization.
To facilitate the process of choosing the relevant project management methodology mix, our PM team has compiled a knowledge base which includes tips, insights, and lessons learned through our own experience. There are projects, of course, which are unusual, complex, or simply require more deliberation. Such cases are discussed at the weekly PM meetings. During these sessions, we analyze currently implemented project management methodologies as well as brainstorm potential improvements to the process.
3. Estimating project budget
So far you’ve learned what project management software we use and how we choose the most suitable project management methodology mix. Now, it’s time to get down to get down to business. And by business I mean money: the make-or-break factor in most deals.
Once the client approaches Apptension with a business idea, the duty of a project manager is to support the Sales Department in estimating resources as well as the budget needed to deliver the project on time. Getting the costs right is by no means an easy task. It involves drafting a feasible execution plan and anticipating potential obstacles. Even though you can count on Tech Lead’s and developers’ help in that matter, it’s only natural to find project budget estimation challenging, especially at the beginning of your PM career path.
You can trust me when I say, however, that wisdom comes from experience. One day, having estimated a couple of project budgets, you’ll find yourself in the position to advise clients on different solutions on your own. In the meantime, feel free to get inspired by the article explaining how we estimate the cost of building a website at Apptension.
4. Issuing invoices and managing project budget
Project manager’s financial responsibilities are not limited to estimating costs. Following the project’s kickoff, we are bound to manage developers’ billable hours, prevent budget overruns, and issue invoices to the client. This part of project manager duties requires a profound understanding of invoice requirements and tax regulations applicable both in Poland and internationally.
5. Writing comprehensive project documentation
Let’s leave the numbers for now and move to the client-team relationship. To ensure that our expectations are clear, terms agreed-upon, and misunderstanding practically non-existent, we base the cooperation of both parties involved on comprehensive project documentation.
Compiling the project’s paperwork, you need to bear in mind contract law so as to prepare airtight agreements. Writing documentation, project manager acts like a translator who paraphrases technical requirements into legal lingo. Another essential project management skill that should be mentioned at this point is composing a Scope of Work. An effective SOW has to cover all aspects of the work your team is going to perform, including schedule, terms, and conditions.
An important part of a project manager’s work is to ensure that the service execution is aligned with the contract terms. The latter are often pretty complex, e.g. it may be hard to understand how complex payment terms translate into every day project manager’s job and project execution on a task level.
I learned it the hard way when I was involved in the mobile app development for one of the world’s biggest open-air festivals. Back then I had to take care of both time and materials and fixed-price contracts, not to mention frequent change requests. In the end, it was a demanding yet educational experience.
6. Holding client-team workshops
When talking about the client-team relationship, we needn’t forget about real-life communication. While it’s not a dealbreaker, many consider it essential to building mutual trust and understanding. An excellent opportunity to do so are client workshops.
At Apptension, such a workshop usually takes the form of an in-house meeting attended by the client and the representatives of all teams involved in a given project. As project managers, we’re responsible for planning and running the session in such a way, so as to maximize its value for all parties involved. Well designed workshop ought to allow for investigating client’s business objectives in-depth, proposing viable solutions to their problems, and educating them about the company’s software development process.
I’ve learned how important this part of the project manager’s duties is by holding a workshop for the Magic Dusk project. We started by understanding client’s vision of the final product. Thorough analysis of business objectives was helpful in two ways.
One the one hand, it allowed us to make more precise estimates and reduce production costs. On the other hand, it provided us with insights necessary for suggesting the most suitable solutions (Shopify, in this case) and scoping an MVP. Another perk of the workshop was that is simply showed the client our unique Apptension vibe and added the human touch to the client-team relationship. It turned out to be a win-win for all attendees.
7. Managing project backlog
With the finances, documentation, and workshops covered, let me discuss cooperation between the project manager and the project team more thoroughly. Now’s the time to introduce you to the product backlog: a list of tasks that have to be fulfilled within the project.
To ensure that you’re capable of managing the development of a given product effectively, you need to make backlog your natural habitat. Some of our duties at this point in the project management process include:
- specifying product requirements, including its features and functionalities
- prioritizing tasks bearing in mind the implementation difficulty or task dependency
- assigning user stories and tasks to relevant iterations
- conducting regular backlog refinements
At first glance it may seem overwhelming; however, it’s important to remember that while you’re the person in charge of the project backlog, your actions should be based on insights and feedback provided by the development team and the client.
To be honest, backlog supervision is one of the essential project management skills for me. I’ve learned the importance of it while working for clients who treated Apptension as a fully-fledged production partner.
One of them was The Mill, a VFX and Creative Content studio, which us to develop a community-driven microsite for Netflix’s Roma. The client’s expectations were high and different time-zones did not facilitate communication. Had it not been for impeccable product backlog management, the project would end up as successful as it eventually did.
8. Team management
When answering the question what does a project manager do, we can’t leave out the answer they manage the project team. Our everyday duties involve adding bookings, removing blockers that are holding the team back, assigning tasks, and keeping our teammates up to date with the project progress. All that requires a high dose of proactivity, curiosity, and the propensity to question the status quo.
9. Subject matter expertise
As a project manager, you don’t need to be an expert in backend development or wireframing. Nonetheless, basic knowledge of technologies, design terms, etc. is essential. That’s why you need to stay curious and eager to learn from your teammates, whether they are developers, quality assurance specialists, or UI/UX designers.
To give you a real life example, when I joined Apptension, my design knowledge was limited. However, as the weeks passed, I understood what makes a good mood board, how important consistent branding is, and what the difference between wireframe and lo-fi prototype is. As of today, I’m using this knowledge to facilitate client-designer communication and ensuring that the product will be just as aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly as possible.
10. Other essential project management skills
Fostering positive relationships with the clients, managing the team, running workshops, risk management, business trips, creative treatment… The list of project management challenges that await you at Apptension is by no means a finished one. If you decide to join our team, you’ll definitely grow in a number of ways – but we’ll surely learn from you as well.