Technical Project Management
Being a technical project manager can feel as if I’m forever honing my skills at addressing uncertainty. I put forth my best effort to plan for every detail in a project, I even plan for mistakes and time to recover, but my best laid plans are never perfect. The process of describing a complex problem, breaking that problem down into smaller pieces, then arranging those pieces to be built, some simultaneously, is a puzzle unique to each project - and I love solving that puzzle.
Define & Divide
Depending on the size and complexity of my project, the seemingly simple task of defining the work and a definition of success can be the first challenge in forming my plan. This happened to me a couple times before I understood the pattern. These definitions are not clear because both the client and myself are working in the unknown. It takes time and good communication with the client before a good definition of the work and what success means is clear. This often means I have to move forward with breaking the work into the big chunks then smaller ones, then even smaller ones, before I have all the pieces to the puzzle.
The Details & Unknowns
Once the work has been described and is in smaller pieces I tackle the items I moved to the bottom of my list, the details and the parts that are unknown but I know will exist. Working on these is not fun, I find it tiring and tedious. Conversations with different members of my team usually reveal the answers I need, even if the specifics will not be clear until a few pieces of the projects have been finished.
Be Agile & Adjust
If the work I spent estimating effort, calculating a timeline and trying to define any missing pieces of the puzzle all fell into place when they should have, project management would be easy. I want to believe that scenario exist, but I’ve never experienced it. The challenge is how to adjust when things go wrong - because they will. All my effort to form my plan helps me handle these situations. I know exactly what has been done and what is left to do, handling any situation will be begin with those two questions. Typically the answer comes down to three options, fix it now, fix it later, change the rest of the plan to correct the error.
Requirements changing mid project test my patience, and when they happen I usually blame myself. The test of good project manager is how to handle these changes gracefully. Experience has taught me sometimes it’s impossible to accommodate every new requirement change and the only answer is a compromise, which is always fun to pitch in a meeting. Fortunately when there are deadlines and budgets restrictions, those can dictate if a compromise is needed.
The Definition of Done
Towards the end of a project another careful visit of the details is required. Depending how long the project has taken I sometimes face a new challenge, what I call project fatigue. When I find myself in this situation I rely on my checklists. This helps me separate my reaction to the project and focus on each detail I know was an issue earlier in the project. I’ve never finished a project and checked off all the items on my list. Having a clear definition of done gives you a finish line, but one day I know I’m going to check off my entire list before I reach the finish line.
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