April 2018 marked my 20th year working in IT and software development.  As happens with most major milestones you wonder where the time went, what you have learned, and then realize there is still more to do. This April I  joined the team at HatchWorks to help build the Project Management team and deliver excellence to our clients.  As the team grows, we constantly ask ourselves: What makes a great project manager?

If your company has been discussing Agile methodology, you have probably deliberated the benefit of continuing a PM practice. Over the last 10 years, I have been involved in several transitions to a more Agile/SCRUM methodology. It seems that one of the first conversations is whether project management is still required. The temptation to cut the salaries from the bottom line is hard to resist.

Companies that move away from project management during the methodology transition often find that many of their workstreams are not prime for the quick and interactive pace of continuous delivery. These companies end up in an “Agilefall” process. They also realize they have lost a good deal of their IT risk management, long-term project perspective, and that customers and suppliers are still requesting delivery dates. This is often the moment the project management team is reintroduced.

Several years ago, I was the PM for a large application replacement project for multiple applications that handled the sales and customer service for every aspect of the business. The project was divided into two successive parts with three months between deliveries. The first project dealt with data and backend services, while the second included the remaining services and the five end-user apps. These applications held the competitive advantage we wanted in the marketplace.  As we approached the end of the first year and the targeted delivery of the first project, we were not meeting the mark. The team went as far as attempting a release only to rollback within 48 hours.

Following this disappointment, I was asked to refocus my energy from the second project to the failing project. After digging deep with each member of the technical team, I determined the project had gone adrift and was at least 6 months off schedule. There were several critical risks with technical problems that were yet to be solved. The typical response for a project manager would have been to identify all the tasks, document all risks and start managing a project plan.

Understanding that the overall goal was to get the competitive project to market, I spent time reviewing the business value of the failing project.  Shockingly, there was no real value. Over the course of the project the business had made concessions when technical issues arose in order to move the effort forward. In the current state, the project conceded all of its value and was technically fragile. The team had been too focused on solving each individual problem that the big picture had been lost.

When the CIO asked for an updated plan to deliver, I surprised him by saying the fastest way to get our ultimate project to market was to skip the delivery of the first. Working with technology and business leaders, we were able to augment the project plan for the second project to include the minimal technology work required to maintain the business value still left in the first initiative. While the company would sacrifice a $1M+ investment, the project with the high ROI could be delivered in four months instead of nine.

Hiring project managers that will look beyond the backlog, sprint tasks and project plan, and truly partner to understand both business and technology objectives will put your company at a competitive advantage. This will allow your company to stay on track with long-term initiatives and build plans or guideposts, even in an iterative delivery model.