Being a PM is good for your career health

by Curt 30. April 2010 20:08

Stop hiding under your desk clutching your WPF manual.  That new project manager position may be just right for you.

I know its hard letting go of manipulating bits into elegant solutions, but a PM role will evolve your skill-set and likely lead to other opportunities.  Besides, transitioning back to a developer is not entirely out of reach. (You’ll probably be a better developer as a result.)

The reason I’m asking you to consider a PM role, is that it forces you to develop competencies that are typically at the other end of the spectrum for a developer.   Skills like communication, dealing with lots of ambiguity, and acquiring deeper business knowledge are not often practiced as a developer.

Let’s take a look at each one of these and how they can lead to something I know you’ve always thought about…  …starting your own business.


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Career | Management

PMs are banned from the Ivory Tower

by Curt 29. March 2010 21:50

As a technical PM, you’re not allowed in the ivory tower. (You know there’re too many people there anyway.)

It’s NOT your sole mission to simply bestow coding guidelines, check-in procedures, documentation structure, and continue to ask ‘Are you done yet?’.  Your project will be crushed if you take this disconnected approach and you'll end up with a turnover rate that rivals that of a fast food franchise.


Stay involved… …frequently


You have to avoid ‘ivory tower’ thinking and understand that delivering successful projects is about involvement throughout each person, level, and aspect of your project.  Unlike you, ivory tower mangers will never be found trudging through the weeds with their staff.

Despite having ‘manager’ or ‘lead’ in your title, you still need to have frequent participation in the low level stuff.  You do this, not by trying to do everyone’s work, but by going through a bit of a context shift from what you did as a developer.


Interactions are key


The primary way you stay involved in your project is through interactions with your team members. You use these interactions to shape how you pitch-in and add value to your project.


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Management | Techie Manager Tips

Why the hero on your project is dangerous

by Curt 13. February 2010 07:04

The ‘hero’ is that one person who swoops in and saves your project from imminent doom.  They have these unique super powers that make them such a critical person.


Critical production bug…  BAM!  FIXED!
Slow server response time….WHAM!  SPEEDY!
Obscure technical question…  POW! ANSWERED!


Why heroes are a threat


As much as the hero is reveled in your organization, few realize the risk they pose.  Yea, they get things done that other staff would struggle with.  But often times they perform their marvel and rarely communicate or document the solution. 

Why should they?...  Most heroes have this amazing capacity of knowledge and instant recall of information.  …and why do we care anyway?...  The hero has averted our disaster and they’re busy saving other citizens.  We shouldn’t burden them with such tedious knowledge transfer tasks.


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Management | Risks

3 Tales of Micromangement

by Curt 23. January 2010 08:27

Software projects tend to be susceptible to micromanagement.  Even if your project has healthy requirements definition, there are still so many hidden details that need to be worked out.  


I’m sure that you’ve experienced micromanagement in the past and it caused you a bit of grief.  However, you may not realize that other team members sometimes condition themselves and their managers into needing low level direction.


You may also be thinking that all micromanagement is evil.  Mostly it is, but it can sometimes be used as a tool when team members are having trouble executing.


Below are three stories of micromanagement to help you see these different forms.  I hope they allow you to identify when to use it and how it happens, so you can take appropriate action.


Jack the Robot


Jack, the developer, has transformed into a robot.  He has lost the ability to execute the simplest tasks without instruction.  When you, the project manager, are unavailable he wanders around aimlessly repeating “Need Input… Need input…”.  Regrettably, you may be to blame for his metamorphosis.

When you first began working with Jack, before he became the robot, you sensed something about him.  The ambiguity of project details, which was the norm for you, was frustrating for Jack.  You shrugged it off though, thinking it was just a developer striving for exactness.

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Developer to manager and back again.

by Curt 10. January 2010 07:50

You're done trying to control the chaos and you want your old development job back.  You're fed up with the endless stream of feature creep and politically motivated deadlines.  The hands on technical work that got you out of bed in the morning has been replaced with managing others to do that work.


Don't be rash


For the moment, hold off marching into your manager's office and requesting that you be 'unmade' a project manager.  Consider the rationale for your decision.  Make sure you not overreacting to something bad that just happened.


  • Did you miss a major milestone?
  • Did you make a bad call?
  • Did a key team member leave and cite you as the reason?


Events like this are painful, but they shape you into a better project manager.  They'll force you to do things differently and provide you with the best learning experience.


“I'm not being rash, I want out...”


Alright, perhaps your justifications are not related to one of the fires you couldn't put out. You feel that you have legitimate gripes about the core responsibilities of being a project manager.

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Career | Development | Management

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I'm a software project manager in the Boston area. More...

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