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Elisa Cepale standing in front of a tree
Elisa Cepale

As project managers, it’s important that we know how to best support our development teams (and vice versa), especially in Agile environments. At White October we continuously reflect on our process to refine the way we work.

Here is what we learned from an invaluable brainstorming session with our Tech Lead. A lot of the points below relate to teams in Agile environments , but can apply to any type of project team.

Secret #1: Set the pace in the beginning

The start of the project is paced by a series of activities and
workshops to set the project vision, internal and external objectives, and the
project deliverables.

A project manager knows that these project fundamentals will
guide decisions throughout the project, so their role in this initial phase is
to support the team in forming a shared understanding and clear definitions of
these fundamentals.

By setting a common basis the team will have a clear focus to
support the decision-making
, and ways to measure whether success is achieved.

Secret #2: Be clear on the structure expected

To ensure that the project direction doesn’t get compromised by
the lack of a good plan, the project manager chooses the most appropriate
approach to follow for the delivery of the project. Approaches you might
consider in an Agile environment are Scrum,
Kanban or Scrumban
, but there are others.

Discuss and agree this approach with the team so that they have
all the information they need about the schedule, resources ,
type of activities, communications and ceremonies that are expected to take
place during the project.

An unstructured project is frustrating and confusing for the team
and it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure such structure is
in place to facilitate team activities and discussions.

In the Planning phase, the project manager also defines internal
and external communications. At White October, we encourage direct
communication between the development team and clients. However, at times, the
PM should consider taking on client liaisons about specific issues, either to
add context to the matter, or simply to protect the team’s time.

Secret #3: Help the team track the work

In the Activity Planning phase, the project manager works with
the team to identify the tasks needed to accomplish the objectives that were
set in the initial phase.

These can be broken down in smaller, more manageable sub-tasks
and estimated by the team.

Tasks are continually added during the project. These can relate
to technical debt, bugs, new requirements, etc. The project manager ensures
that these tasks are recorded as needed. It’s vital that they clarify to the team
where tasks should be logged and what the expectations and schedule to complete
them are, so that the team doesn’t become concerned about tasks getting lost.

In some cases you might decide that it’s not necessary to record
certain bugs if they won’t be worked on during the project lifetime. In that
case, communicate this decision to the team as soon as possible.

Secret #4: Facilitate prioritization

Once the project is set up, milestones identified, and a backlog is created, a key responsibility for the project manager is to support the development team in organizing their workload.

This is something that as a PM, you will be working on with the
team throughout the project and includes:

In an Agile team, the team agrees what tasks should be worked on
and what tasks can be deferred to later in the project. The project manager
should be as explicit as they can when indicating task priorities, to allow the
team to stay focused on the assigned tasks for the current build/sprint.

Secret #5: Support time management

The project manager sets the project timeline and communicates
expectations to the team at the beginning of the project. However, at times,
resource requirements, blocks, and other issues may put the team’s time on the
project at risk.

The team will require the support of the project manager to liaise with others regarding their time when this is being requested for other work. It is the project manager’s responsibility to discuss priorities with the resource manager and management, and re-book, re-prioritize or re-assign the work accordingly (including updating the resource management system).

The project manager helps the team when focus is required by supporting a quick resolution of roadblocks on projects and taking ownership of timescale issues. The team can then return their focus to the project work, avoiding distractions or unnecessary stress around timescales.

Secret #6: Manage reports and documentation

Keeping documentation and producing reports is an essential part
of any project management role. On a day-to-day level, the team relies on the project
manager to take notes in
and produce summary reports of what’s been discussed and agreed.

Documentation also helps the team to remember goals, objectives,
and any other details throughout the project.

Project managers monitor the team progress and have a good
understanding of the project status at all times, which they communicate
regularly to the team and stakeholders. The updates will include the risks
identified by the team associated with the project, to help the wider team
define actions to address these project issues.

Secret #7: Motivate the team

Last but not least, the project manager above everyone else
should support and inspire the team and establish a trusting relationship with
them. Project managers should ensure that all team members’ views are shared
throughout the project from the beginning. Every team needs to know that their
work, their questions, and their concerns are valued.

The team’s work should be reviewed regularly by the client
through demos and sprint reviews to ensure that they receive the feedback they
need to help them advance to the finish line, but also to give them a chance to
show the client the good work they do.

People in your team are the most important asset for the success
of the project. Through understanding these secrets for better collaboration
between the team leader and the team members, you can guide and support your
team while getting great results for your clients.

Pin for later reading:

Project Manager Team Collaboration

This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management

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