Flow: From Product to Project and Back Again The success of any software project hinges on the communication loop between the project and product teams. That’s where a good project manager comes in. Suzanne O’Brien Senior Project Manager When a project comes to MentorMate, we assign staff according to the needs of the project. This includes certain technical expertise, analysts for business and quality, and usually, project management. A project manager works closely with the development team and the product owner to keep everyone moving forward around shared expectations, timelines, and budget. Effective Product Owners and Project Managers offer complementary strategies to the teams they work with, thus enabling their teams to also be as effective as possible. I was lucky to work with a fantastic product owner over the winter – we’ll call him Samin (because that’s his name). Samin’s knowledge and skills helped a difficult Umbraco CMS migration succeed, and subsequently, the MentorMate team was able to deliver early and under budget. Win-win! Of course, the development team was also committed, was highly skilled, and worked hard and smartly. Samin’s skills across the development cycle, together with his depth of knowledge of what the product needed to do, brought him closer to us. We succeeded in part due to Samin, and in part, due to me and the MentorMate team. For my part, as project manager, I could ask the right questions to get the team the answers they needed before they became blockers. I kept a close eye on the budget and the timeline (which are, of course, closely related). I could dedicate my time to ensuring incremental progress. Product Management The Team Project Management Was able to manage the scope and understand the impact.Didn’t become blocked by unknowns.Knew what questions to ask and how to apply the answers.Had authority and experience to make binding decisions.Didn’t have to wait while decisions were cycled up through other parties. Provided pros and cons of various pathways.Monitored and acted on the thresholds where decisions were necessary.Understood the business objectives of his product and has deep domain knowledge.Worked directly toward the product goals.Led communication and planning efforts.Prioritized our Roadmap. When information was missing, he gathered knowledge and brought it back. He helped us set up dependencies to prevent work blockage.There were no misunderstandings around what was expected or about how to reach our goals.Together we defined and maintained priorities. Anticipated what was coming next and surfaced questions or missing information. Managed dependencies also.Samin read ALL the tickets on our Jira board, validated ALL of them before development, and signed off ALL of them in User Acceptance Testing.The team was able to define, develop, test, and deploy.Developed well-planned, right-sized sprints on a regular cadence, planned in order to meet the project’s timeline. Product Management The Team Project Management Product Management Was able to manage the scope and understand the impact. Had authority and experience to make binding decisions. Understood the business objectives of his product and has deep domain knowledge. Prioritized our Roadmap. When information was missing, he gathered knowledge and brought it back. He helped us set up dependencies to prevent work blockage. Samin read ALL the tickets on our Jira board, validated ALL of them before development, and signed off ALL of them in User Acceptance Testing. The Team Didn’t become blocked by unknowns. Didn’t have to wait while decisions were cycled up through other parties. Provided pros and cons of various pathways. Worked directly toward the product goals. There were no misunderstandings around what was expected or about how to reach our goals. The team was able to define, develop, test, and deploy. Project Management Knew what questions to ask and how to apply the answers. Monitored and acted on the thresholds where decisions were necessary. Led communication and planning efforts. Together we defined and maintained priorities. Anticipated what was coming next and surfaced questions or missing information. Managed dependencies also. Developed well-planned, right-sized sprints on a regular cadence, planned in order to meet the project’s timeline. Together, we communicated. All parties possessed the skills to follow-through, follow-along, anticipate questions, and ask their own on a timely basis, so their questions could be answered. Together, we showed up every day, literally and figuratively. We were willing to be a part of the same team; we worked together on definition, development, and sign-off. It takes all the parts to orchestrate a software masterpiece. What happens when these valuable skills aren’t in place? Many things can go wrong. Sometimes product owners are not given enough authority to actually make decisions. This very often slows the pace of the work as the real decision-makers need to be engaged in a separate communications loop. A good project manager will see these decision points coming. If the product owner isn’t empowered to make the decision themselves, conversations with their own team will help them reach a conclusion. Sometimes product owners don’t have enough domain knowledge. This can lead to a lack of confidence in the solution, and an inability to work toward success for their product. Sometimes product owners aren’t given enough time to do their job successfully. Every missed meeting and every half-read requirement can lead to potential problems. Sometimes the project management role is not given the amount of time that the team deserves. As communicator and joiner of efforts, the role of “management” is to reduce ambiguity, foresee planning difficulties, and keep a project on time and on budget. It’s a cruel irony that some budgets cut out this role to try to “save money”. This rarely succeeds. When the Project and Product teams work in unison, we are best able to avoid blockages, work stoppage, and gaps. The communication loop between product and project is a certain kind of flow, and each cycle should move the scope forward. Our responsibilities as product, project, and process managers are ultimately to support the team from both sides. When one or the other fails, it is usually the development team, and the product, that suffers. 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