A Good Project Manager

I was interested to read Roy Osherove’s account of his worst team leaders recently. Jason Crawford writes about what he thinks makes good team managers. They are not talking about the same role I think.

Roy is talking about a technical lead on a team of developers and his basic problem is the technical lead’s perceived lack of or interest in technical ability. His criticisms fall into basically two categories: training, and judgment. He wants a technical lead to help make him a better developer by judging it. A lead that refuses to judge is no lead at all.

Jason Crawford draws portraits of three kinds of managers, but the best, he says, focus on communicating values. He is not suggesting that a good project manager should moralize to his employees, but rather that the PM should have a clear idea of the values of the company and ensure that the work his reports do conforms to those values. If we apply this to Roy’s technical lead, Roy’s technical lead should value technical ability to the point that he would be willing to point out mistakes and help the developer become better at his job.

I recently had occasion to write a recommendation for a former Project Manager. With permisssion, I’ll reprint the entire recommendation:

“Maggie Roberts was a great project manager. She was great at communicating with both technical and non-technical personnel. She knew enough about the technical work to describe the expected results as well as the goal she hoped to accomplish with the results, and then she got out of the way and let me deliver the results to her. When I had a better idea of how to get the desired results, she allowed me to pursue it.

My favorite thing about working with Maggie was her directness and the clarity of her expectations. She was never shy about indicating what was and was not good about the work I turned in. Her criticism was never cruel or directed toward me as a person, but targeted the work I turned in and its relationship to our client. She was not shy with her praise either. She had the same directness with pointing out great things I did as she did with errors. She always related both praise and criticism directly to how my performance affected the client. By making sure I had a clear understanding of our goals, and by being so clear about judging my work, she encouraged me to look for more creative ways of meeting our goals. She made me feel like both a technician and a partner in our quest to save our client money. Working with Maggie was a challenge because of the high standards she set, and a pleasure because the standards were clear, and she made sure I had the tools I needed to meet them. I can honestly say that I grew as a technician under her leadership.”

Maggie was not a technical lead, but a PM. In that role, she communicated values (save the client money, show each step of the work) very clearly, and she demanded quality. I had never worked with SQL Server before working with Maggie, but in six months I got two years of experience. When I created an automated Excel spreadsheet to retrieve data and perform the formatting we were doing by hand, she was very free with her praise.

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