Project management is a complex field in software development. Sometimes you, as a project manager, feel like they are responsible for everything. Since your performance directly affects the success rate of the entire project. Project managers not only manage tasks but, most importantly, thoroughly guide the team toward the project goals. Being a great project manager requires interdisciplinary approaches and the ability to master both hard and soft skills. Let’s have a closer look at three essential competencies for the project manager to be successful.
Even though you don’t need extensive technical knowledge, having at least some competencies is a must. It will allow you to effectively interact with your team and contribute ideas to technical and business-related discussions, ask the right questions, and provide adequate answers. Most importantly, technical skills help project managers to evaluate the feasibility of the desired feature to a specific product and design a strategy for its future implementation.
It is also an excellent tool for resource management, i.e., you will be able to identify skill gaps in the team, and timely fill them in by bringing a new team member, organizing consultation, or replacing one of the specialists in the team.
What do technical skills imply?
- Programming and Coding. You don’t need to have a degree in software engineering and years of experience working as a developer; it is more important to read the code and understand its architecture.
- Data Analysis. Nowadays, we are getting overwhelmed by the amount of data on our hands. Therefore, it’s necessary to acquire skills that will help you to extract all the relevant information from the stack of data and then use it to create trends that are going to help you to answer important questions concerning business activity.
- System Analysis. In many small firms, which cannot afford to get separate specialists both for system analysis and project management, these positions are being filled by one person. So, there is a common ground between these jobs because they require the same set of skills from a person, such as excellent verbal communication, strategic thinking, and organizational skills.
How can you develop the above technical skills?
- Communicate with technical specialists. If you have any queries, do not hesitate to ask questions. Most of the developers that I worked with are very passionate about their job, so they will be more than happy to explain some concepts and IT specifics.
- Gather relevant technical information from similar projects. Learn the background and specifics of feature development from other products.
- Be curious about development processes. Be interested in all the technical processes and keep continually improving them. I would also suggest focusing on the QA process. Try to understand it thoroughly, everything from the process itself to the tools which can help. It will ensure the development of a quality product.
In conclusion, if you are entering this career without a technical background, don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s all about your aspiration to learn and the ability to communicate with the team effectively. You may start getting the technical skills with a couple of basic coding courses and continue developing them by reading the articles daily. If you have some humble technical experience, you can use your knowledge to back up the team by performing simple and mundane tasks. In turn, it will contribute to the smoother project delivery, improved development processes, and will help you in monitoring metrics.
Strategic and business skills
Business skills imply the ability to analyze the market, organization, customer behavior, and then use this knowledge to provide the best business results. It includes in itself a lot of things from being able to conduct proper market research, business planning to communication with your stakeholders. Every project manager deals with these tasks daily, starting from the planning stage, where you evaluate the feasibility of a feature and the value it will bring to an end customer to understand the long-term goals of a business to which you will align its further strategy. It is not something exceptionally hard, just as with any other skill to develop it, you need to be curious, use your critical thinking and practice.
What do strategic and business skills imply?
- Strategic planning. A strategic plan defines the project’s goals, visions, and missions. Thus helping employees stay on track and increase their overall engagement and productivity. As a project manager, you need to understand that the long-term perspectives of the product are essential for aligning and scheduling present work to them and managing risks.
- Decision-making skills. At the beginning of their career, project managers can hesitate in the moments when they are required to make decisions that might affect the team members and future project’s life cycle. Therefore, it is essential to build confidence and determination and evaluate a variety of options to bring the best outcome for the business. This will eventually come with experience, but remember that making mistakes is okay, asking for help is okay, but being feckless and not taking responsibility for your actions is not okay.
- Negotiation skills. A project manager is that person in a project who negotiates with all different stakeholders daily to bring the best possible result for a business. You have to negotiate agreements with the stakeholders and team members and customers when you ask for more resources, bidding prices, convincing executive bodies for extensions, and so on. But most importantly, you need negotiation skills to match the needs of all the stakeholders to a mutual goal for clear work prioritization.
How can you develop this skill?
- Explore more business cases. Research as many competitors’ products as you can, analyze why they were successful or not both from the technical and marketing side. This will enhance your knowledge and thus provide you with more options when making decisions.
- Pay attention to clients’ needs. As a project manager, you should always check on the end-users of the product. It means identifying their problems and needs and solving them. You can do this by stating hypotheses, testing them, analyzing the results over and over again.
- Be informed. Pay attention to updates on similar products. Research what worked and did not from the marketing and business side. Take notes and draw lessons from their experience to use this knowledge while developing your product.
The main objective of applying your business skills lies in developing a perfectly functioning product that will generate higher revenue for the client or optimize current expenses. Let’s consider a case: your team is working on a startup project. For startups, especially in the early stages, one of the most common ways to prove they can get this project on the next funding round. Though startup founders focus more on a discussion of features during meetups with technical teams, it’s essential for you, as a project manager, to dig deeper and evaluate the criteria for entering the next seeding round (user base, monetization, etc.) are. Then further ensure the achievement of this goal. Understanding the project objectives and deliverables will give you flexibility in decision-making and adjusting the plan to change. You develop the product, not for features, but to bring value to the client and end-users.
Leadership is a set of strategies that help managers deal with problems, achieve positive results, and adapt to the changing environment. On top of being a great strategist, who has an extensive knowledge in both technical and business-related spheres you need to have that inner charm and energetic personality that will inspire and drive the team to do bigger and better things. A project manager is not only someone who follows processes, creates tasks in Jira, or communicates with a client. A project manager is a person who can predict possible risks well in advance, eliminates them, and maximizes the team’s results. Every manager adopts their style of leadership; it can be more autocratic or democratic. Your choice should depend on your employees’ personalities because some require more guidance, while others feel suffocated by rules. So, you have to be good at reading people’s characters, which will help match your style to their needs and create an environment where their skills and talents can thrive.
What do leadership skills imply?
- Communication skill. Communication is key to becoming a great leader, whether it concerns delivering business goals to team members or having a one-on-one conversation. Being a good listener, transparent, speaking clearly, and concisely, asking relevant questions. All of these aspects are essential. They are not as easy as they sound, but with the right training and sufficient experience, you will be able to master it.
- People management. It is a set of skills that let you effectively interact, train, and motivate employees to improve productivity and boost their professional and personal growth. You are going to work closely with many individuals who have completely different personalities. Some members are more open, others are less, and it is a real trick to find an approach to each one of them without losing the bigger picture of the project.
How can you develop strategic and business skills?
- Be empathetic to every team member. Being attuned with your emotions and understanding those of others can impact your relationships in the workplace. This statement is confirmed by several surveys that show that EQ (emotional quotient) is being valued more amongst managers than IQ.
- Adjust your leadership style to different situations. It also can be called situational leadership, which is about being adaptive to a changing work environment. The benefit of such a dynamic approach is that it lets you analyze your employees’ profiles and organizational needs and match your leadership style accordingly. You can’t use one technique for every single setting; it is more beneficial to use a case-by-case examination.
- Be open-minded and open to knowledge. Just because you have the leading position does not mean that you can stop learning and working on yourself, stop listening, and considering the opinions of your team members and assume that your decisions are always free of fault. You are not invincible. Quite the opposite! Managing other people should pressure you, even more, to work harder and keep improving yourself.
Developing leadership skills requires extensive and constant hard-work. It is not something innate, and that can be acquired by a ‘chosen’ stratum of people. There are no hidden secrets. If you want to become a great leader and not only manage but also have a strong bond with your employees, work on your soft skills such as communication and people management, which were mentioned before. Do not just give out tasks and monitor the work of your employees. Try to be their friend, empathize with them, listen, and talk to them. You are not a god-like figure who sits at the top and bosses around. And don’t forget that good leadership and trustful relationships between all team members have a direct link to a better project outcome.
We are all striving to be well-rounded individuals and develop different sets of skills in the workplace and outside of it. Yes, technical skills are your foundation, but you won’t be able to build a proper house without having business and leadership skills in your arsenal. Developing them will take time, but you are not born to be a perfect leader or a project manager. But you can master your expertise with constant practice and by working hard and always educating yourself. An experienced and knowledgeable project manager is the backbone of a successful product.