After my talk at QCon London, some of the feedback I got was that I was really, really mean to PMs.
In fairness, I was also mean to Tech Leads, architects and other managers, both in and out of software, as well as treating development teams as if they were made of sheep. It was a talk titled “Learning, Perverse Incentives and the Evil Hat”, and it focused on how we game systems, as set up by people who create the processes through which those systems emerge. But, mostly, I was indeed really, really mean to PMs. My hat was evil. I’m sorry.
It’s very easy for me to take the mick, especially out of a role that I’ve never taken on. I’d like to redress the balance.
Project Managers – the good ones, anyway – are invaluable. They protect us from the stress of high-level management and business politics. They spot obstacles coming and help prevent them from hitting the team. They negotiate deadlines. They facilitate collaboration between teams and across departments. They manage the budget. They work to protect the stuff that’s working and address the stuff which isn’t. The best project managers are servant leaders; invested in providing a motivating, learning, creative environment in which useful, effective software development can actually happen.
Not all project managers are good project managers. This is mostly because they’re learning, and while we get environments in which we can share our skills and learn from each other – pair-programming, talking, fixing problems together – project managers are frequently put in competition with others (because the high-level managers are still learning, too). The politics and existing processes can make their job hard. Really, really hard. They’re expected to be independent. They’re expected to know how to do their job. As one PM put it, “It’s a lonely place to be.” I’ve not yet worked as a PM, but I’ve coached a few.
So be nice to your project managers, and give them an environment in which they can learn. A PM is also human, and will make mistakes. Make it safe for them to say “Sorry”. Take them down the pub for a chat, and give them honest feedback. Very few PMs actually bite, and most will be grateful.
If you can do this enough, hopefully they’ll forgive you for the taunts, easy jibes and jokes at their expense. And hopefully they’ll forgive me too.