How important is a good Project Manager?
How important is project management in the development process? It really depends on the project. If you have a simple project that can be finished in one week by one developer, then there isn’t much need for project management. But there are very few projects that really fall into this category. Most projects take multiple developers over the course of weeks, months, or years.
We have recently started on the next phase of a project we are working on with Disney Research. Contemplating working on that application again made me think about how much we accomplished in such a short period of time on the first phase. We created a truly distributed system with five different workstation type nodes, a website and a mobile application in five months. The only reason we were able to get so much done is because of great project management.
Tom Ngo, who was then the Vice President of Disney Research, became the project manager for that project. He created tasks, acceptance tests, design diagrams, screen shots, etc.—everything we needed as developers to create as quickly as possible. But he did more than that: he organized the tasks by scope, importance and precedence. He listened to our feedback and was able to make changes necessary as we found problems or issues with the design. We used SCRUM as our development process, which helped to make sure each task (story) was complete and testable, but even then, if we wouldn’t have had him as our Product Owner (scrum speak for Project Manager) to shift all the pieces around as new tasks and priorities came in, it wouldn’t have worked. We have tried to model all of our other projects after the approach we learned with Disney. If I had to quantify the usefulness of a good project manager, I would say they can add 20-30% to the effectiveness of a development team. To me, that means if you are behind on a project or continuously miss deadlines you should first look at project management before hiring or bringing over developers.
If your project management is lacking, more developers won’t solve anything.