Note: I’ll try posting monthly interviews with cool PMs on my blog. First rising star: Cipo! 🙂
While it’s critical for PMs to have impeccable customer service and understand business and marketing demands (market context, goals, customers), it is equally important for them to speak “tech talk” and translate all these into actual product specifications. Said another way: a PM must be a master diplomat and translator. [Read more here: link]
However, most PMs come from either a Marketing OR an IT background (rarely both), so what’s the best way to find the balance?
I brought my colleague and good friend Ciprian Borcescu, Web Project Manager @ OkapiStudio to answer a few questions. He is more of an IT-guru PM advocate, but let’s see how much tech is too much tech? 🙂
D: Short Intro – who is Ciprian Borcescu? 🙂
C: Probably a geek. Been around computers since I was five. Actually learned to write on a keyboard before developing any handwriting skills. I love technology that can also be practical. I love video games, music, cars and Tolkien’s legendarium. Can (and will) discuss on any of those subjects for hours.
D: They say good PMs are technically-savvy and know the methodologies required to manage project progress according to scope, cost and schedule constraints…but how does this tech/constraints-oriented management style affect your projects? Does it prove to be really efficient or sometimes ends up in killing creativity?
C: They should also say that good PMs also have really good people skills :).
There are many things that can kill creativity: budget, time constraints or technical requirements. The best thing to do is to try and identify projects that could really benefit from a good creative input and ask your creative guy to knock himself/herself out. To answer the first question, I don’t think there’s a particular tech/constraints oriented style. There will always be technological or other kinds of constraints, but it all comes down to the budget or time. I do believe that in IT, given the right budget and schedule, you can build anything. Basically what it comes down to is choosing the best solution for the given requirements, budget and time constraints.
D: I found this 2 questions on Project Management Stack Exchange and I honestly found myself in these situations also:
A – When the developers give an estimate for a technical task, how important it is for the PM to know what is being told to decide if is reasonable?
B – When the developers specify a technical impediment, how much involved should the PM be to resolve it?
C: Question A – Extremely important. The project manager needs to have a clear understanding about any technical task being estimated. Deciding whether or not the estimate is reasonable, the PM needs to have a very good an honest relationship with the developer (or designer) giving the estimate. The PM needs to ask a lot of questions to try and understand fine aspects of the task, trying to keep in mind any technical roadblocks that might throw off estimates. One last point is that the PM must clearly report estimates particularities to client service or directly to clients so that they will have a clear understanding about what are they paying for.
Question B – PM needs to be aware of any technical impediment, especially ones that will affect overall architecture. The PM and developer (or designer) must work together to come up with a reasonable solution. The PM must not rule out getting advice from other technical persons or anybody who can provide consultation on the issue.
Tech knowledge comes in handy when scoping the project. A good PM can figure out needed technologies and architecture while the project is being scoped. He/she should also start drafting the project team by bringing in key people in (developers and designers) who will actively contribute to defining the project scope and who will be consulted when making decisions. This helps create a good teamwork dynamic that will hopefully propagate along the lifespan of the project.
D: And what do you recommend to those PMs who don’t have this IT luggage? If your tech guys can’t help, where do you go/what do you do?
C: Go f**g learn some shit! Be curious! Go through tutorials! 😀
If your tech guys can’t help, where do you go/what do you do? Start looking for the people that can provide the best information or consultation on the matter and start digging for answers yourself.
D: What do you do to improve your Marketing/Customer Relations/Business skills as well? Or you don’t find them as important?
C: A good PM needs to have at least basic skills on all aspects of a project and should always search to increase his knowledge and understanding of adjacent areas of expertise. A good product can be a complete fail w/out a good marketing plan. Also, he/she needs to clearly communicate business decisions that clients need to take at any point during the project’s lifespan. Having such skills definitely helps grasping the bigger picture.
D: Any final thoughts? 🙂
C: As a final thought, from the experience gathered in almost 6 years I’ve spent managing web projects, my idea of a good project manager is a person who knows himself, people, technology and common sense. PMs need to find the energy that drives a project forward within themselves and allow it to flow through all team members in their own way, while managing budgets and expectations, enforcing milestones and delivery dates. Most of the times it’s exhausting, but worth it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I certainly have. Thanks a lot Ciprian for your answers!! As a “side effect” of this interview I actually started reading tutorials on APIs and Ruby :).
And now back to you – what are your thoughts on this? Any more questions for me or Ciprian?