Some reflections on project management
During the last year, I became a software project manager. Wow. Not something I was expecting. It’s a chaotic (to say the least) environment I’ve been thrown into – especially in the realm of decision making (in fact, I think I probably need to sit down and think exactly what environment I’m in a la the Cyefin framework). The first few months felt like a breathless attempt to keep up, but finally, this Friday, I had a chance to sit down and take baby steps toward acquiring a knowledge framework for my job. Of course, my company has some online training modules, but I wanted an individual voice of experience (and my mentor is out on leave out the moment). Of course, googling ‘best practices agile software project management’ is going to get me a lot of hits – but many of those are from paid consultants, and many are highly general. I wanted something more grounded and personal than that.
Luckily, I happened to remember that a blogger whose personal writings I’ve been following for years, is also a (biotech) project manager & consultant! I spent about 2 hours devouring her content over at Beyond Managing and at Chronicle Vitae .
I love her pragmatism and honesty – particularly her admission that she was an accidental manager – thrown into the role because she was excellent as an individual contributor – and that she didn’t at first view project management as ‘real work’ compared to technical work. I identify on both counts! Or rather, I understood even before I became one that project management was real work – because I’ve seen both excellent and poor examples in the workplace — but I didn’t know if it could give me the satisfied feeling of ‘getting stuff done’ that say, publishing an API reference from scratch could. Now I am starting to understand from my own experience (and from reading hers) that yes, the *process *of figuring out how to get work done well as a PM can present mental challenges and satisfactions on par with ‘concrete’ technical work. No, the output is not so tangible – but that’s OK with me. I get my reward from the process, not from work artifacts. So what parts do I like the best? So far, I most enjoy:
- digging deep to truly understand the implications of the technical work in terms of schedule, risks, and dependencies
- translating detailed technical explanations from development managers into summaries for executives
- noticing when critical conversations are lagging and driving them to conclusion
- reconciling ambiguity underlying functional specifications and turning research language into software engineering language
- being the person who has the answers to engineers’ questions about priorities, cross-functional teams; and articulating agile best practices.
So, I can definitely see how project management could give me years of
interesting challenges, but a lingering question for me at this point is –
have I gotten the technical depth I wanted as an individual contributor yet?
How to balance the ‘fun’ of deep-diving into a new technical area with the more general approach necessary for a manager? Or is it a false dichotomy I’m constructing here? (I’ve heard a dev exec mention that he thinks the best project managers are those who are most technical, after all).