Thanks to shifting budgets, deadlines and priorities, the potential for conflict between project managers (PMs) and their teams is usually high. To make matters worse, project teams are almost always in flux, meaning developers must constantly adjust to new environments and project leaders.
“Programmers expect their PMs to be competent, but they also need to have respect for the planning and order that goes into a project management system and database,” explained Rich Garling, who has a background in project management and currently serves as program manager for the Network Time Foundation, Inc. “There has to be mutual respect if the team is going to function and succeed.”
Although relationships require effort from both sides, here are some tips for holding up your end of the bargain and building a productive partnership with your PM.
Be Open and Collaborative
Being open to new ideas encourages collaboration with your teammates and lets the best ideas prevail, advised Kiron Bondale, a certified PM and senior manager at Toronto-Dominion Bank. Developers who take a “my way or the highway approach” often butt heads with their teammates and PM.
Bondale involves his team in the project-planning phase, where he encourages developers to provide timeline and budget estimates.
“I find that I’m less likely to become annoying over the course of a project if my team has helped identify the underlying assumptions and constraints that might impact project outcomes,” he said. “Volunteering to provide input may open up the lines of communication with a new or inexperienced PM who isn’t comfortable reaching out to you.”
Raise a Flag
Are you having problems with the quality of your code? Are you going to miss a deadline? Don’t wait for your PM to chase you down or nag you; give him or her a heads-up if you’re running behind.
In that spirit, it’s better to finish one or two items on your to-do list than to start a whole bunch of things and only get halfway through, Bondale advised.
Also, don’t stew in silence. If you’ve had a run-in with someone from hardware or purchasing, bring it to your PM’s attention so he can do his job. “A PM is responsible for removing barriers and hurdles, but I can’t take action unless you let me know what’s going on,” Bondale said.
Respect the Chain of Command
Disagreements are bound to happen from time to time. When they do, try to resolve the issue with your PM before taking it up the ladder to the technical lead or program manager.
“First of all, pick your battles and follow the chain of command,” Garling said. “Second, opinions don’t matter. Be ready to support your argument with facts and data if you decide to elevate an issue above your PM’s head.”
Show, Don’t Tell
It’s sometimes hard for PMs and developers to communicate when one side speaks “business” and the other speaks “code.” Demonstrating a coding-side issue in person can help your PM respond appropriately.
“If you have a concern about code quality or testing, don’t try to explain it to me,” Garling said. “I’ll have a much easier time understanding the issue if you show me exactly what you’re talking about.”
Participate in Team-Building
Refusing to participate in team-building activities can make you seem standoffish and may damage your relationships with team members and your PM. Even if you’re a genuine rock star, you could hurt your career by not getting along with others. Get (and stay) on your PM’s good side by making it a priority to attend team-building events.