When you come to a software development company with app ideas, you’ll be assigned a project manager. This person is said to be your assistant and your link to the developers. But what does a project manager do, specifically? Do you really need one? (Spoiler — yes, you do.)
Let’s go through some particular responsibilities of the project manager and see why you need a professional when creating your app. We’re pretty sure we can convince you that they play a crucial role.
What is the role of a project manager in software development?
Project management is the first process to start when you come to a development company with your ideas. There are tasks a project manager (PM) does besides being a communication channel between you and the team of developers and designers.
Aside from the most basic stuff, which we’ll also discuss below, the PM’s responsibilities include:
- determining the problem that the app will solve for its users;
- determining the solution to this problem;
- helping you validate your ideas;
- roadmapping the software development process;
- together with you and the team, figuring out how to
complete the project on schedule and within budget.
Here’s some overview for each task, in no particular order.
When you come up with a business idea — any business idea, not just a mobile app one — you need to validate it. We’ll have a detailed article on idea validation soon, but for now, know that without this, you risk failure. To be profitable, a business needs to solve some problem for its customers; otherwise, its product is unneeded and won’t go far.
Part of the validation process is determining the problem the product (in our case, a mobile app) will solve. Fitness apps help us get in shape and keep fit, food delivery apps free us from shopping and cooking, and dating apps can liven up our love lives. Book, movie streaming, yoga, transportation, and booking apps — each and every one of them makes our lives easier in one way or another. This is what your app needs to do as well. And it needs to do it better than other apps, offering some feature that’s unique or better implemented. Brainstorming with your IT project manager is a way to find that uniqueness and let it bloom, since a professional PM can offer insights based on experience acquired over the years.
After determining the problem and coming up with the solution, it’s time to plan the project. Strategic roadmapping is one of the most important things that a project manager does. A roadmap is a list of tasks to be completed during each sprint. Without proper planning, the project can come loose at the seams. The PM creates a roadmap after discussing it with the client and the development team, then monitors the development process in accordance with this roadmap.
A good IT project manager knows their way around all parts of the app development process and can mitigate risks, add valuable opinions, and research the best options for a successful start. All this makes for a smoother development process with little to no extra expenses or stops in development due to unpredicted problems.
The main responsibilities of an IT project manager
The market changes swiftly. For your app to be profitable, it needs to be launched at the right time in the right category and it needs to look just right. App creation happens in several stages, and each stage is completed by a different part of the team. A good plan is built based on analysis of the market, the complexity of each stage, and the team assigned to each stage. Bad planning will result in missing deadlines.
The roadmap is the main part of planning for the technical side of software development. But there’s more to the process. Idea validation, user story mapping, designing an MVP/MLP — the project manager has many responsibilities in the app development process.
In most cases, the client would have neither the time nor the desire to keep in touch with each developer. That’s precisely why you go to an outsourcing IT company instead of building an app development department of your own, right? You order an app from a company and trust your IT project manager to pass along your requirements to the designers and developers. Without proper communication, you risk getting something other than what you wanted.
The role of the PM is to keep in touch with the client and the team and not only relay their messages but help them find a common language, in more ways than one. Here at Mind Studios, we don’t really have a problem with language barriers, as most of our designers and developers have a solid grasp of English and are able to communicate just fine. The bigger problem often lies in the way of thinking, and a PM can smooth this out so that the development team is on the same page as the client.
Introducing changes to the plan
Changes are inevitable during development. The reasons vary: you can have an “AHA!” moment when perfect ideas dawn on you that you just know will propel you to the top of the App Store charts; there might be a shift in the market when a new player enters your segment; a new technology might be released that’s just what your product needs; testing by you and your development company might bring unexpected results, either good or bad.
More often than not, it’s nearly impossible to change anything in the project immediately. Changes will be added to the next sprint or even the one after that. But those changes can be the best thing that happens to your product if they’re done well.
When there’s a need to add or remove something at any stage of development, it’s the role of the software project manager to introduce those changes to the team and adjust the plan. The PM needs to fit the changes into the plan while minimizing disruption to the project and keeping costs from skyrocketing.
Control over the process
Control at every stage is the only way to manage unexpected issues and implement changes without missing deadlines. And maintaining this control is probably the most crucial task for the project manager. If no one keeps a finger on the pulse of development, there’s no way the resulting application will be the best it can be. Even more, lack of control can be the reason things go down the drain.
At the same time, balance is vital for any project and control should have limits. An experienced PM trusts their team and doesn’t micromanage them. The IT industry is fairly young and flexible, and managers who lead app development projects should also be flexible. This is where the importance of project management is the most noticeable.
Good and bad PMs — How to tell the difference
It isn’t easy in the early stages of collaboration to see if the PM you’ve been assigned is good or bad. It’s even harder if you’re working with an outsourcing company located on the other side of the world. But there are some telltale signs to look for. Here are the things to watch out for from the earliest stages of application development.
Good PM: Asks a lot of questions
Sure, there will definitely be some changes to the scope when development is already underway. That’s practically a given. However, this only means that there must be a very detailed plan with a list of necessary features and possible issues from the get-go so that when those unexpected changes pop up, they don’t pile up. If your PM is pulling a Scarlett O'Hara on you with “we’ll think about it tomorrow,” there’s your first little sign that you need to pay attention.
Bad PM: Leaves everything to the team
Trust is a good thing; little is done well by teams where it’s every person for themselves. But in software engineering, it’s the job of the project manager to keep a finger on the pulse of things. If your PM can’t answer your questions about the goings-on at the current stage, you probably need to re-evaluate who you’re working with.
Good PM: Is honest and transparent
There are genius ideas and then there are those that are… not so much. A project manager should to be able to tell the client if their ideas need some adjustment. If your PM is goal-oriented and wants the project to succeed, they’ll tell you honestly whether you should go on with that or this feature or if maybe it’s better to let it go.
They’ll also be honest if the team is struggling with your project or if they lack relevant experience and might need additional time to familiarize themselves with some concepts and technologies. A good PM doesn't always say yes.
Bad PM: Is too much of an optimist (or a pessimist)
Unless the team has worked on a very similar project before, being all jolly and saying “we can do it” right away without an ounce of consideration is a sign of a bad manager. Designing an app for your company is a complex process and needs careful evaluation.
On the other hand, you don’t want your PM panicking at the smallest issue. Or saying “we can’t do that” without laying out the reasons and trying to find a way to make it work.
Good PM: Pays attention to everything
Be it a problem between team members or some little issue with how the process is proceeding, a good PM knows about it. They might not actively engage if the situation doesn’t call for it, but in knowing they have the power and the ability to jump in on time and not let the issue escalate.
Bad PM: Micromanages
It’s business and we’re all adults here, right? It’s considered bad practice to breathe down an employee’s neck and ask how things are going every half an hour. And as for personal issues within the team — sometimes, the best decisions are born from disputes. (Unless it’s closing on to bloodshed, of course.)
Good PM: Asks the team’s opinion (and relays it to the client)
It’s invaluable to see things from several points of view, and a good IT project manager knows that their knowledge is not absolute. Input from the team is priceless, and so is brainstorming with the client.
Bad PM: Bombards you with emails
It’s one thing to keep everyone in the loop. However, if your project is led by someone who informs you of even the tiniest changes and sends you reports twice a day, at some point you’ll start to filter it all out as an annoyance.
This leads to two things:
- you become angry and dissatisfied,
- you might filter out something that’s actually important.
A good project manager knows what’s important to share and with whom. Too much information is dizzying for anyone.
Why the contribution of a project manager is important for success
As you can see, the role of a project manager in software engineering is huge. While it’s necessary for everyone on the team to be knowledgeable about what they do and how, it’s the project manager who leads them. And like any leader, it’s their job to keep things going according to plan. This includes, among other things, inspiring, pushing and pulling, and motivating.
According to the Engagement Institute, employees who aren’t engaged in their work cost companies billions of dollars. A bad PM costs you and your project not only their own share of those potential profits but the shares of all the team members. And that’s not to mention the losses you’ll sustain if the product isn’t finished on time due to poor management. The input a good PM adds to the whole process can’t be overestimated.
Project managers at Mind Studios
Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, you have the knowledge to choose a good project manager to be your partner and help lead your app to a successful launch. Drop us a line if you have any questions left and we’ll apply our accumulated experience to help you.