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Software Project Manager Primer

By Taran Rampersad
Contributing Writer
Article Date: 01.15.03

Sooner or later, someone steps into your office and says, ďYouíre a project manager.Ē Itís that quick, itís that unannounced. Itís as though itís expected that, just by hearing those words, youíll magically know what youíre supposed to do, how youíre supposed to do it, and when things are supposed to get done. If youíre very lucky, youíll increase your salary. If youíre like most, you wonít.

Whatís more, you may have inherited a project that is already underway. It doesnít have to happen that way, but it does happen, and it happens quite a bit. In the present IT and Development job market, itís probably going to happen more frequently. What makes it worse is that there is no standard job description for a Software Project Manager. You can read as many books and articles as you wish, you can get certified in all fashions ≠ the bottom line, though, is succeeding as a Project Manager. Itís a lot like starting out in the IT world ≠ the only real way to learn is by doing, asking questions, and learning from mistakes. Being in charge of a project can really be intimidating ≠ and if it isnít, then youíve either successfully done it before, had too much caffeine, or donít know what youíre in for. This article is for the people who suddenly find themselves in a Project Management position and donít know what they are supposed to be doing ≠ or how to do it.

Why Me?
Typically, people who tell you that youíre a Project Manager think that you have the capability to do it, but they havenít told you what is expected of you. If you have a formal software process, you have it easier ≠ you can check the process, and see what you need ≠ even look at past project information and see what was done, and how.

If you take a few minutes and consider your experience, you may be pleasantly surprised. Almost any job experience within IT prepares you for your role as a project manager. If youíre a System Administrator, you understand how to manage a complex network and to troubleshoot it. If youíre a Software Developer, you know how to write software that accomplishes certain tasks. A project can be approached either way.

Youíre doing what youíre good at. Itís just a different project. Youíre projects are now projects.

OK. Where Do I Start?
If this is a brand-new project, you have to make sure quite a bit gets done. Typically, when a new project manager takes over, there is a meeting. When a new project starts, there is a meeting. When a project ends ≠ there is a meeting. Go in prepared with at least a pen and paper; the details are important.

Some things that are typical of starting a new project are:

  • Proposal Writing: To free up funds/resources for your project.
  • Project Costing: How much it will cost, including resources and time.
  • Project Planning And Scheduling: Landmarks, milestones and such.
  • Personnel Selection/Evaluation

These four items are important for starting up. If youíve inherited the project, youíll want this information immediately so that you can check and see where the project is, how much money you have in the budget, what milestones have been met, and which ones need to be met. If you donít know how to do these things at your company, start asking questions. You may not need to do the proposal or project costing ≠ it may be your bossís job, for instance ≠ but you should be aware of the information.

Unfortunately, if youíre replacing someone who left mid-project, that individual probably wasnít giving his or her best to the project - it may be either behind schedule, over budget, behind schedule, or all of the above. Stand by for heavy rolls in high seas! At least you now know where the project is ≠ and can therefore have a positive effect on it. Once you have this personal baseline, which is a snapshot of how things are going within the project now, you can share this information with your boss, so he or she knows what the status is.

If you donít have a formal process to work from, take time to sit down and think about what is expected of you. Think of the specifics of the project, and get the perspectives of everyone on the team both as individuals and as a group. This includes your boss as well; though you may not realize it, he or she is an integral part of your team. How active your boss is on the project depends on you.

Historic project information (if available) is a treasure trove to the beginning Project Manager. Simply reviewing past projects is a great way to learn the ropes, because you gain the benefit of learning from mistakes made by others ≠ and if youíre smart, you wonít repeat them.

Where a lot of people seem to go wrong here is that they donít ask questions, instead thinking they can hack their way through. Sometimes that works ≠ and sometimes it doesnít. Either way, asking questions of people who have handled projects at your company ≠ or the person/people Project Management reports to ≠ can save you a lot of time, frustration, hair and Pepto-Bismol ô (or whatever new brand that the pharmaceutical companies have sold you).

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