At MentorMate, we practice Agile Project Management. In most engagements, our Project Manager is acting as the keeper of the budget, scope, and timeline—very traditional project management responsibilities—while also fulfilling the role of Scrum Master on our Scrum Development teams. While these roles can sometimes contradict one another, bringing together the skills and tools that support both roles helps MentorMate deliver successfully.
We believe that Agile brings a host of benefits to our teams and clients. One value that the Agile movement and methodology has championed is transparency, with Scrum even considering it a very pillar of the method. Bringing radical transparency to our project management approach is one dynamic of delivering a truly delightful experience to our clients.
What Does Transparency Mean?
At MentorMate our clients are a key part of the project process. We journey with the client through all project stages in close collaboration, welcoming participation in all our Scrum ceremonies to see and engage with the team in real time. Our teams will use a Scrum board and Daily Stand-Up as tools to increase transparency. We share and engage our clients in both of these. Visibility into what the team is working on at the task level and progress holds the team accountable to share movement, success, and points where assistance is needed. Clients can also always see what we are working on and hear and see its status in real time. Clients are empowered and able to ask questions. At the end of the stand-up, a client should have a good understanding of why a task has been In Progress for five days, or why so many tasks are Ready for QA, or why certain tasks are blocked. In fact, this information should be transparent to clients—when an issue that is blocked turns into a real risk that may impact delivery, the client can easily recall the discussion they heard during stand-up. Another part of the process utilized is regular check-ins with the client and the project leaders. This may include some combination of the Account Manager, Project Manager, Solutions or Team Lead or Business Development Manager. This allows us to speak transparently and openly about how the project is progressing, what is being delivered, risks or potential issues, team morale, budget, and opportunities for improvement.
Integration into the process is one way that MentorMate can be transparent with clients. However, transparency is also contingent upon trust, and a MentorMate Project Manager starts to build that relationship as soon as we’re brought on board. Our collaboration and partnership are critical to delivering a successful product or service at the end of our time together. The first step to building trust and opening the lines of communication toward transparency with our clients is listening! The Project Manager’s first job is to understand what our clients are looking for—what are the priorities of the engagement? Is it getting a working product out the door by a certain date? Is it increasing stability and ensuring users’ confidence in the system? Is spending the least amount of money the key factor? Understanding our clients’ goals is key to ensuring they have the information they need to be successful by their own definition.
The Importance of Dealing in Facts
It can be hard to deliver tough news to your team or client, but no one can make the best decisions about how to move forward without the facts. When difficult things happen, empathy with the team and the client is important, and acknowledging that it’s a situation no one wants to be in is a critical step. To move forward, structuring hard conversations around the facts of the situation helps ground everyone in the goals we have already discussed and enables better problem solving and risk mitigation.
While facts are important, there can also be a role in transparency for “gut feelings” or hunches. The MentorMate team brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the projects they work on. They might have an inherent sense that the scope is misunderstood or too large, a bug is easy to fix or incredibly complex, or alternative delivery options are needed. Those perceptions require listening and consideration. Oftentimes, if the team brings ideas or concerns forward, we discuss and share with the client our potential mitigation or resolution options. While we might not yet have all the facts and hard data to back this up, sharing what we do know early enough to change course is important and prevents the team from making assumptions about the client’s success metrics or requirements.
For example, we recently had a scope that the team felt was too large to confidently complete by the end of the project. We had estimated the stories and knew the velocity necessary would be a huge stretch for the team. We discussed and presented a modified user flow that would be faster to implement, and we hoped we would meet the same end goal. The client was pleased with the option, which enabled us to complete the features within the project’s timeline. We also captured the desired end state on the backlog to ensure we didn’t lose sight of the end goal for the product—but a release on time was the more critical factor to complete the project successfully. Ultimately, sharing as much information with the client so they can make informed decisions enables success.
Transparency can be hard when a person is put on the spot. In a company that aims to please clients and provide expertise, the Project Manager must also set the expectation for the team that they are empowered to say, “I don’t know,” if a client question stumps them. Of course, that should be quickly followed by, “But I’ll do some research and get back to you,” or “Let me confirm.” Either way, making sure our clients know that we aren’t making stuff up or trying to sound smart, and that we value communicating the truth, helps set a precedent for future conversations and builds trust over time. This lets our clients know they can rely on us to give it to them straight.
Ideally, trust and transparency go both ways. All of the ways described above that make MentorMate a good partner are helpful in return. When clients can make sure their Project Manager knows what their top priorities are and what success looks like, and can communicate potential changes as soon as possible, it gives the team more time to adapt and be flexible to support the client. MentorMate thrives on establishing a partnership with our clients, and it’s a pleasure and honor to earn their trust.