Whenever you’re tasked with managing a software team, you’re responsible for a great deal more than you may initially realize. This is true not in terms of your own directives, but those of everyone around you as well. You need to make sure individuals are not only functioning at peak efficiency on their own, but that they’re also capable of coming together to form something much more effective – and powerful – as a collective. This is true even of those who may or may not be your direct reports.
Because of that, managing a team of developers can see your days get busy very quickly. With that in mind, here are a number of essential tips that you can use to empower your own ability to effectively manage a project, regardless of what life happens to throw at you in the moment.
1. Test Solutions Before Implementing
Testing solutions and even individual components of your project isn’t just important – it is something that should be done at each stage of development. Not only will this help keep everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction, but it can also help identify and address small problems now before they have a chance to become much bigger (and more time-consuming) ones down the road.
Preview environments are of paramount importance to that end. Oftentimes, releases are held up by common issues like buggy commits in a trunk branch. Things move along far too linearly in a way that only ends up delaying what you’re capable of putting out.
Preview environments solve this – particularly on teams with more than four developers – by allowing things to be tested in a shared environment. Not only can bugs be caught before merging (which dramatically cuts down on the number of potential issues that a project manager has to deal with), but it also helps to standardize the way you operate as well.
2. Embrace the Sum of a Project’s Parts
Another one of the best things that a busy project manager can do to reduce their workload involves breaking a project down into a series of not just smaller tasks, but sub-tasks as well. Rather than looking at the entire project as one massive entity, try to separate things into smaller and more manageable chunks – not unlike the team itself. As each gets completed, it all eventually adds up to what will soon become the finished product.
Of course, this requires skills in terms of delegating responsibility in particular. You need to know exactly who to give each task or sub-task to in order to A) make sure that it gets completed in the right way, and B) allow the team member in question to function at their own peak efficiency. This means becoming intimately familiar with who your team members are and where their various strengths and/or weaknesses rest.
3. It’s All About Prioritization
One of the most crucial skills that a project manager needs to combat their busy schedule requires them to prioritize the work to be done whenever possible. That is to say, when it comes to software development, not all features are created equally.
If one larger piece of software can ultimately be broken down into 50 unique features, you need to understand which ones require immediate attention and which ones can wait until progress is a bit further along. That’s not to say that any one of them is somehow “less important,” because that’s not the case. It’s just that if you prioritize tasks based on deadlines or their overall importance in the grand scheme of things, you begin to lay a rock-solid foundation for further development. It’s much easier to build upon something that is already proven to be successful than to try to divide your attention in 50 different directions at the same time and hope it all manages to somehow come together in the end.
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4. Recognize That Every Project is Unique
Finally, it is essential for project managers to understand that each new project is unique unto itself. The exact process that you followed to success on the last project may be woefully inadequate for the one that is now in front of you as conditions, team members, and even clients continue to change.
That is to say, while you should absolutely develop a series of best practices that work for you and your collaborators, understand that you may also need to throw some of them out for the best results in the present. Don’t try to cram the process that you go through on every last project into a “one size fits all” box that doesn’t really exist. Start with the mechanics of this specific project and work your way back to a process that makes the most sense. You’ll save a great deal of time (not to mention energy) in the process.
In the end, don’t let yourself forget that project management is every bit as much an art as it is a science. Some methods that worked excellently in the past may be woefully inadequate to rise to the challenges of the present. Focus on the tasks and problems in front of you and solve them one-by-one. Once you settle into that rhythm, there is truly no limit to that which you and your team members will be able to accomplish.