I was surprised because nearly 60% of people seem to want to work with project management in their product development process. That’s not a slight on project managers from me… I have worked with some fantastic project managers in my time! However, it does run counter to the traditional product management narrative.
Some of the replies to the poll were interesting and made me think a little bit about the role of project management in product development, where project managers can deliver value, and the types of project managers that we might work with. I broke them down into four main groups (I’m sure there are more) in order of desirability:
The emergency Scrum masters
This is an interesting one that you might see in a company that is digitally transforming or moving from a professional service to a product mindset. That’s a good transformation to undergo, but we all know it’s not just a case of splitting your waterfalls into 2-week chunks and carrying on as usual. It takes substantial cultural change to do any of this stuff properly, and simply assuming that your project managers can take a 2-week course (if you even send them on a course at all) and become Scrum masters is not it at all.
That’s not to say that project managers (or anyone else for that matter) can’t train to be effective Scrum masters because I’m sure that many absolutely can. But if they’re just going to be treating each Sprint as a mini project and micromanaging the ceremonies, that’s not it. It really isn’t.
Red / Amber / Green Gantt jockeys
People in this group are mainly interested in creating beautifully crafted delivery plans and trying to introduce predictability to the product management process. They see the way to do this as asking people for constant updates so they can produce status reports for the leadership team showing whether things are on track.
My issue with this is that it prioritises working to an initial plan and on-time delivery over the impact of what you’re building. Building great products doesn’t work like that and I’m not really a fan of this style of project management for continuous product development.
Internal dependency wranglers
This is where it starts to get a bit tricky. If you read books like Team Topologies
, you’ll be aware of the Nirvana of product development; we need to organise our teams for flow and have as few dependencies as possible. Teams should be cross-functional and have everything they need to deliver value quickly without handoffs.
That’s the dream and, in many cases, the reality. I strongly believe we should get as close to this as possible. But many of us work for non-ideal (or at least non-by-the-book) companies and may well have structural inefficiency baked in. Ideally, a strong leader will change this, but change takes time and we need to do something in the meantime.
In this case I don’t really see the dependency wrangler as being a project manager per se, but more of a delivery manager, tasked with cross-team coordination and making sure we can deliver value as continuously as possible. I think this is a good person to have if you work in an environment that needs it, but I would ideally like to see the inefficiencies designed away at some point.
External dependency wranglers
This is one case where actual project managers can make a great deal of sense. When I’m talking about external dependencies, I’m including stuff like:
• Regulatory requirements
• Coordination with essential external partners
• Client-specific engagements
I’m sure there are more. The basic point is that we are all parts of a system. In today’s world, it’s less and less likely that we’ll be completely separated from external dependencies. We may be operating a mixed product / services model, or have a roadmap that includes integrating with selected integration partners, or have hard dates we have to hit to even be allowed to continue operating. In these cases, where we have things to schedule, dependencies to manage, possibly budgets and costs to navigate, I would absolutely recommend a project manager as these are… projects.