March 24, 2022
It all started in 2021. I was suffering from burnout and to get back on track, I needed to understand my role properly and what is it that gives value to my work, the team, and the people I work with. This changed the way I see the Project Manager’s role and in this article I'm going to share with you my observations and what I think the future holds for its responsibilities.
Project Management at Monterail
In 2021 there was a shift in responsibilities for the PMs in our company and Project Managers became more involved in the team. Besides management, they were also leaders, scrum masters, and more engaged in the product’s development.
Clients and leads also showed lower interest in PMs for their products. In their minds, this role only consisted of forwarding emails and being a wall between theirs and our team’s collaboration. Since I certainly don’t agree with this approach, it got me thinking about how we can shift the clients’ perception of a PM.
My journey of understanding this role started with Wikipedia’s definition of an IT Project Manager:
According to Wikipedia: A project manager is a professional in the field of project management. Project managers have the responsibility of the planning, procurement and execution of a project, in any undertaking that has a defined scope, defined start and a defined finish; regardless of industry.
The highlighted intrigued me the most. If there’s a Project Manager reading this, then you know that in the IT industry, having a “defined scope, defined start and defined finish” is rarely the case. The scope changes, requirements shift, focus and business value can pivot, same as the project overall. In real life, the project doesn’t look that simple. - it evolves, switch to different stages Going further into Wikipedia’s information page, in the PM’s scope of responsibilities there is a lot of managing tasks listed:
To establish what Project Managers actually do, I started listing what I (and other PMs of the company) do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis; and I listed over 45 different tasks. Within this list, you can have a rather large task, like establishing and confirming the project’s initial budget, communicating with the client and Monterail’s operations team. Or, cooperate with our operations managers, to decide development team size, timeline, or FTEs.
There are also smaller things that aren’t part of the “job description”, but it’s still a big part of what we do, such as:
There are also team-perspective tasks:
The 45+ tasks I’ve listed are continuously run and can pop out at any time during the cycle of the project.
This is what being a PM looks like right now. The biggest - or “classical” part of our role is project management:
As PMs, we also perform tasks from the product ownership part:
And lastly, being a PM is also about leadership or being a scrum master:
At Monterail, the average number of projects per PM is 4. Knowing the 3 main focus areas of our work, and knowing the average number of projects, the first word that comes to mind is Multitasking, or I should rather say “Context switching”. Which is the ultimate killer of efficiency and focus.
Does it mean that PMs aren’t efficient? Not at all. It means that if you want to be a Project Manager, you have to be a specialist in jumping between tasks and remaining focused (which is very hard). By taking on all of this pressure, PMs allow the rest of the team to focus on product development.
On that note. I highly recommend the book “Deep Work”, by Cal Newport.
Do you want some proof? I’ve seen up to 14 meetings a day in a PM’s calendar.
ps. the calendar has been blurred out for privacy
This shows how much of the team, project, and meetings PMs are taking on themselves in order to allow the rest of the team to focus on their efficient work.
If I can summarize what Project Managers in Monterail do, I’d say they are people who specialize in:
According to Gergely Orosz in his article “How Big Tech runs tech projects and the curious absence of scrum” - where he asked the biggest tech companies, who typically lead engineering projects, they assign a tech lead or an engineer as a project lead. They don’t have project managers.
Of course, these companies are mostly product companies, not software development companies. This might be the reason why they don’t need PMs. However, their argument is that “there are no dedicated project managers for team-level projects”. Most of these companies have Technical Program Managers (TPMs) who connect large projects involving multiple teams, or run across organizations.”
The main difference with Big Tech is that they do have Product Managers, but not Project Managers.
Product Managers ensure that the team keeps working on the right thing. This means working with the business, with data science, and with design to build a roadmap, create plans, prioritize work and escalate where needed.
At large companies, this itself is a full-time job.
Will the rest of the tech world follow the big tech companies and make the Project Manager role soon be redundant in IT? I don’t think so.
Orosz’ article talks about scrum, but I would go further than that. There are two situations that require a Project Manager:
In these situations, we need a Project Manager to step in.
A “kitchen sink” needs strong product ownership. Someone that makes the decisions and says “no, we can’t do this right now, it’s not a priority and it brings no business value”. It needs the verification of priorities and the tasks that can wait, what is the user-driven requirements and what needs to be implemented, or what it’s simply an idea that just popped out.
In the “Forming and storming stages”, leadership skills come in handy. You need somebody in the team to orchestrate the formations, the planning, the action points and distributions; someone that decides what to do in the next sprint or in a crisis situation.
Going back to the triangle of tasks and workload of a Project Manager I talked about earlier. In my opinion, Project Management will continue to be an important and needed role. Their tasks, however, will shift more towards product ownership and leadership, consequently making project management a smaller part of their responsibilities.
Going back, however to the Project Cycle graph, I believe the will be a need for a Project Management and a Project Lead/Tech Lead working together, and gradually, the PM will step down slowly, letting the Project Lead and the team to self-organize.
Project Management will be less about their typical responsibilities and more about asking the team “How can I help you?”, at the beginning of the project and then regularly through… The PM will listen to the teams' needs and allow them to slowly take on more responsibilities on themselves and be responsible for the outcome. That’s the Agile way, and the way I see the future PM role should look like.
Hungry for more content? Read about project management on our blog: