Management and ownership are different. But are these truly incompatible?
Successful business owners and entrepreneurs have simply struggled for a continuous period of time, juggling with anything and everything from legal and accounting through sales and marketing, IT, operations, recruitment, branding, management, negotiations, to name A FEW.
This isn’t necessarily a great thing if the vast majority of your time goes into dreadful stuff. I always cringe when I need to handle accounting or legal cases for over an hour!
Experienced managers, however, are paramount to the future (and the growth cycles) of an organization. Yet, these are rare to find.
This is particularly true for finding managers for technical teams.
Managing a technical team ain’t easy.
The Devil’s in the details and pairing up non-technical project managers with senior engineers is usually the way to go.
We’ve designed a separate role at DevriX called “Project Owner” that combines team leadership skills with account management chops. Of course, our project managers are helping coordinate the workload across all ongoing projects, balancing resources in-between, and prioritizing the work throughout the sprint.
But unless project managers learn to handle major business process issues, it will be difficult to keep an organization or a team from going haywire.
Defining Business Processes
Business Processes are significant steps in defining workflows, protecting against known problems, or focusing on the right direction of the business.
Each department and role could define a set of procedures that should be followed in various cases. From responding to a customer ticket through validating a product before launching a beta version to promoting a team member.
I was hired as a consultant for one of the largest petrol companies in the world. Before arranging the flight, I was asked to familiarize myself with 60 pages of processes and workflows followed by the 5 different types of roles attending my training courses.
It was crucial for the management team that my curriculum doesn’t dilute their vision and introduce concepts which are not applicable to the organization.
What Are The Roles of Project Managers?
Project managers are in charge of, well, managing projects.
That works just fine in service-oriented businesses selling long-term one-off projects or ongoing development initiatives.
There are different areas PMs specialize at, and their skillset or personality determines their stronger suit.
- Project management — Handling milestones, deadlines, estimates (with the tech team), deliverables, preparing Gantt charts, making sure that projects run smoothly.
- Team management — Mentoring and facilitating their own team. Managing available resources or allocating manpower for different initiatives. Working closely with a technical lead on the corresponding assignments and shielding the team from upper management and clients.
- Client management — Planning and strategy meetings, overcoming scope creep challenges, negotiating additional time or budget in case of surprises, ongoing communication, documentation, processing feedback and proxying both ways.
- Upstream Reporting — Understanding directions from the owners or the upper management of the organizations. Balancing the act of delivering projects on time with limited collateral damage towards the reputation (clients) or employee satisfaction (team). Handling operations in parallel with other projects or business initiatives within the organization.
Project managers are not expected to be strong at sales, business development, growth strategy, business planning, budget allocation and distribution across the organization.
Business consultants, Digital/Growth consultants, and other forms of startup advisors may be suitable for a starting entrepreneur.
Significant Business Process Challenges that PMs Face
Different businesses encounter different issues related to their unique business processes.
Project managers need to be strategic in handling these issues for the benefit of the team and of the business as a whole
1. Operational Challenges
Communication issues. Lack of an established process.
Tedious or unstable management over time.
Other mistakes caused by inefficient business process management will contribute to killing a successful relationship in the long run.
I would probably rank communication as #1. Great communicators can solve plenty of problematic cases and poor communicators can make an otherwise smooth journey a bitter one.
Speaking my mind out has turned out well for me and I will explain why.
I’ve employed this practice as a worker and still do so as a business owner talking to clients.
Poor managers will be afraid of this behavior. These aren’t the people you want to work with in the long run.
Great executives will, if not admire, at least appreciate and value this.
With all the political correctness and business tricks out there, honesty is a great policy forward.
It’s predictable. Safe. Reliable.
What do brands revolve around?
- Core purpose
- Mission statements
This is the core foundation of a business. The guiding light of the future. It feels uniting and odds are, management won’t easily go against them.
Same goes for speaking your mind. Stating your point of view and sticking to this policy is handy from a transparency point of view. Odds are, conflicts will be solved sooner or better without piling up.
Note: the only exception to this is being annoying or just arguing about every little bit. Picking your battles is important. And if you disagree every single time, it would appear that you don’t fit the culture and could cause more harm than good.
2. Low Process Returns
There’s no simple formula you can directly apply for every business that yields results.
It’s closely related to your business model and business processes, your industry, the team you’ve gathered to date, finances, and long-term opportunities.
A flower shop doesn’t rely on high-end tech. Location matters a lot. Quite the opposite for a software company (to illustrate a simple example).
My guiding light is ROI. You have limited resources and can’t spend your time dispersed across hundreds of initiatives.
While running a business, ROI is measured over time. Your best investment takes a longer period of time, gradually scaling on the way to success.
In the meantime, it’s up to your best judgment as to which are the top channels that work for your product/business and your target market. If it was that easy, everyone would be running a highly profitable business.
There’s always a process or activity to optimize, though. Try to break down your weekly tasks into different categories, ranked by cost to outsource and complexity. If you can delegate a $10/hr task to a VA while working on a $150/hr consulting gig, then it’s a no-brainer.
If marketing costs you $30/hour and you have the right fit, it’s probably an even better investment than your own time, given better output.
And yes, you’ll likely fail multiple times. Risk assessment is another key trait that business managers have to gauge. But the balance between offloading tedious tasks and investing in channels that work is a great way to bootstrap until you define better KPIs once you have sufficient data in place.
3. Laziness In The Workplace
Lazy people tend to struggle with repetitive tasks. And they are smart enough to look for loopholes, shortcuts, and creative ways to work around business processes.
- My first notable “laziness” hack was teaching myself basic programming only to create a large set of applications solving physics and math formulas for my homework assignments. I wanted to get the work done and didn’t feel like writing down basic math calculations over and over and over again.
- This resulted in a larger series of applications – like my first public free desktop application displaying an extensive overview of all elements from Mendeleev’s periodic table.
- When I was 14, I freelanced for IDG – translating security news on certain topics. The English sources provided by the editor were poorly written and not that accurate. I can read Russian and I found several outstanding security sources that saved me a good chunk of my time.
- At 15, I was also administering a large local classifieds website. Through a number of automated processes and a couple of small scripts, I managed to fetch the required data I needed and pre-populate it by saving 2 steps from every 3-step process.
Working Around Workplace Laziness
By saving time I managed to study and work a couple of jobs at the same time. They were still time-consuming, which taught me discipline and following deadlines closely.
When I started freelancing, I made some strategic mistakes due to my inability to negotiate and handle scope creep. After losing a lot of sleep and money, I sat down and wrote a checklist of questions I should sort out with prospects and points that had to be written clearly in my proposals.
While transitioning to a company and hiring some team members, everything got much more complicated. I was responsible for paying salaries and taking care – indirectly – of my team member’s families dependent on my paycheck.
I even had to start a part-time job in order to ensure that I could afford to pay my salaries. It took some time until we generated enough recurring revenue that fills the buffer bucket and covers the salaries for a few months ahead.
As conclusion, I’d say that laziness is not a bad thing in a controlled environment. Achieving results is what matters.
And discipline is taught through responsibility and handling a large volume of activities within a limited time frame. Most regular folks I know of learned discipline once they moved out, got tasked to pay rent and communal fees, and later on take care of kids and other family members.
4. Multiple Management Layers
Larger enterprises employ multiple management layers.
Sometimes, the low-level manager is a slacker, and the team gets well regardless. Or, a mid-level manager takes all the credit for their subordinates. Or the project is successful but the wrong person claims the success on their behalf.
It’s a long list of “what ifs” but it directly affects employee motivation, commitment, loyalty; the quality of the company culture regardless of the subjective outcome.
Documentation is the last bit in which we could delve deeper into each type of activity within the organization.
You can take advantage of a knowledge management system, a wiki, or even a set of folders for each department. This could be included in your onboarding manual or provided every step of the way (being easier to grasp).
Documentation is easier to update and can reflect the different lessons learned day-to-day within the business.
The Ideal Organizational Structure for Project Management
There are different techniques that also depend on the organizational structure as a whole.
For instance, a team may have a “senior” expert in their field, a team leader, a supervisor, a department leader, a branch manager…
I’ve also worked with organizations that allocate a single expert to a project. Think of consultancies or social media agencies.
Then I’ve worked with factories or engineering companies, where a project is comprised of experts across a large set of skills, with niche professionals jumping between multiple teams.
Jeff Bezos has shared his “Two-Pizza rule”, stating that a team is too large if they can feed themselves at the room with two large pizzas. Depending on how you look at this, I’d venture 7 to 10 people should suffice.
In project management, 6 to 8 subordinates is optimal for less experienced managers. Professional ones, especially having worked with this particular team for at least a year, can handle 10 to 12 subordinates effectively.
Your mileage may vary, but this should be a good starting point.
What are the most pressing business challenges you’re dealing with? Make sure to check my business challenges breakdown and chime in if you find a missing work problem you need help with.
What Makes Managing A Software Team So Complex?
Project/product management is a challenging profession on its own.
You have to satisfy:
- The senior management
- Your direct manager
- Your client
- Team members
- The brand of the organization
Collisions are inevitable, and that causes friction. ☢
And managing a team of software engineers brings another layer of problems. Which is why non-technical PMs often struggle when joining tech firms working with engineers.
Here’s my take on the problem. 🎓
If you manage developers or work as a project manager outside of IT, what are the most painful business processes you struggle with?