As a team working everyday on web development projects that span the complex worlds of ecommerce and community education, we know what can go wrong and how quickly it can happen. Part of the answer is to employ an experienced agile project manager to guide the team and ensure goals are met on time.
Project management comes with a cost, though. And when overhead becomes a concern, it can seem like an easy choice to reduce the person’s time who isn’t designing and isn’t building — and, in our case, that’s the agile project manager.
Before you do that, let’s take a look at what a good agile leader brings to the table, and why the role shouldn’t be divided up among other team members.
What is an agile project manager?
Traditionally, project management has focused on tracking, documentation, and tight oversight of development projects. Like many positions, though, it has changed to fit the times. More organizations that run agile projects like we do, use a form of project management referred to as delivery management or agile project management.
Like traditional project managers, agile project managers or delivery managers, keep projects running smoothly by tracking progress and monitoring deadlines. But delivery managers are leaders in the true sense of the word. They empower groups, influence individuals, prioritize team strengths (Drupal developers focusing on Drupal work, for example), and listen as much as they document.
Let’s take a look at some of the important responsibilities an agile project manager has.
First, managing a development project from start to finish requires an incredible amount of organization. The Relevant Bits team uses Jira Software to document projects and progress and this allows us to know who is working on what and when. The team (this includes the client) can observe progress and delays and communication is consolidated into a centralized place.
The agile project manager is responsible for keeping Jira up-to-date and keeping that line of communication open. Jira — or any project management system — has to realistically reflect the status of a project. When it doesn’t, errors will increase, satisfaction will decrease, scope will creep, and deadlines will be missed.
Agile project managers don’t magically make things seamless and easy but they will make things more organized, controlled, and productive.
You know when you’re doing too many things at work and you don’t have time to check-in with your team? You might make assumptions and hope that someone is paying attention to the things you can’t.
That’s what it’s like if, say, the web developer is in charge of following up on design mock-ups, hosting requirements, important launch deadlines, budget requests, etc.
There is a ripple effect and something gives.
An agile project manager provides accountability for both the vendor and the partner. The agile project manager is also the one responsible for communicating consequences. For example, if the design isn’t approved, the launch can’t take place. When a launch doesn’t take place, someone (usually everyone, tbh) isn’t happy.
It’s important to have a person who can communicate these consequences and impacts ahead of time. Each person on the team – internal and external – is better at completing their job when they understand the impact of their role on others.
Keep the project on-track
An agile project manager can keep a project on-track by ensuring any change or addition is approved. Needs and requirements do shift during the life of a project and it’s important to understand those needs.
Some adjustments are priorities and a good agile project manager can see where to fit them in. Other changes are not priorities and can (and should) wait for another sprint. What’s important about the scope is making sure changes are approved and everyone is aware what those changes will impact (deadlines, budget, etc.).
“By working on unapproved features of a product, a project team devotes time to the unauthorized changes. The work to incorporate these changes must usually be done within the original time and budget estimates, leaving less time for approved parts of the scope. That could mean approved features don’t get completed, and the end-product is not what was chartered.”
An agile project manager will have a clear bird’s eye view of a project and can make a holistic decision about scope. A developer or designer, who is knee deep in the project work does not have the same perspective.
Clarify roles and responsibilities
Agile project managers help maintain role clarity. In other words, they make sure each team member knows what their role is and what tasks they should be completing. According to Effectory, a leading provider of employee feedback solutions, “Employees who experience role clarity are 53% more efficient and 27% more effective at work than employees who have role ambiguity.”
Clarity keeps a development team organized, focused, and motivated and having a role designated to designing and maintaining that clarity, is incredibly valuable.
Preserve team health
A project is often referred to as being “healthy” or not, as in, “how healthy is your project?” A healthy project is going as-planned — on track, on time, and on budget.
But a physically and mentally healthy team of human beings is also important for making sure a project goes as-planned. And an agile project manager is as much in charge of keeping track of those human beings as he or she is of the project.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added “burnout” to its International Classification of Diseases, calling it a “occupational phenomenon”. A real syndrome that impacts both workers and workplaces, burnout has long plagued the software industry.
Organizations are responsible for managing burnout and creating a workplace culture that supports health, both physical and mental. The agile project manager is one role that can keep regular tabs on the health of a team and project.
When planning a development project, it’s imperative to make realistic financial decisions that keep a company profitable and operable. No one wins if all the cash is blown on bells and whistles that don’t have a purpose.
But paying to do things “right the first time,” is also good for business.
So, keep the delivery manager on and hit those deadlines!