Developer, Manage Thyself: How to Help Your Project Manager

Developers and Project Managers have a special relationship behind the scenes of the most successful companies and products. The methodology and communication styles used by the most productive teams is a topic on which there is no end of expert advice. Project Managers have written vast tomes on how to help Developers accomplish their work.

Unblock your developers. Help your developers become more productive and protect their time. Keep the team happy and positive. There’s no doubt that it’s the project manager’s job to keep the ship moving forward and focused on a core concept.

But where is the reciprocation?

I can honestly say I’ve not come across even one article from a developer’s perspective on how to help your product people. Are we so self-involved and caught up in our own world of Ones and Zeros that we can’t show a little love to those who help us push our goals across the line?

Whether the role is that of a Producer, Project Manager, or Product Manager, I think it’s time to notice the work that’s being done by the folks that keep the wheels spinning.
Here are 8 things Developers can do to balance the effort of communication across entire project sprints.

Speak up during kickoff.

Developers and project managers can coordinate right at the beginning of a project. Help your PM as much as possible by contributing your opinions on day one:

  • Share your opinions on timelines, features, MVP, and scope.
  • Organize the features proposed from the start:
    • Separate which features belong in the core product, are best as nice-to-haves, and could be developed in future phases.
  • Dig into the idea to discuss a real finalized MVP and core functionality.

Once these discussions are had, the project manager can better predict the timeline and expectations. This way, your PM can go to the client before any implementation work has started to get an initial sign-off. Don’t forget, that weeks later when you’re heads-down on this project, it’s the PM who will keep you insulated from feature creep conversations by referring back to this original agreement.

Help draft Acceptance Criteria.

Once the initial sprint has been set, your team should draft tickets and tighten up Acceptance Criteria. Don’t leave this completely to the PM. Review these tickets before working them. Book some time with your PM so you can share questions that may arise and propose edge cases.

Bring up thoughts or concerns during planning poker. Be explicit, but don’t forget the big picture. Ticket writing can make or break a project. Good AC and relevant notes can do wonders for your efficiency and velocity. The more you’re involved at the beginning, the healthier your project will be. You and your PM will reap the benefits of good communication.

Be available.

Once your project has gone through this constructive kickoff process, it’s time to jump into building the features and working through the tickets. But there are still many ways you can help your PM – and yourself. Take great care in making their lives easier. It is possible to go into the code zone while still communicating to your team what’s happening.

At Revelry, we do use Slack for communication. But Slack has many ways of communicating to your team that you’re currently in work mode. Set your status in Slack and turn your attention to your tickets. We use GitHub Issues to leave comments that provide an update of our progress. We integrate that with Waffle so that anyone can see at a glance where the overall project stands, and we also link tickets and commits with Slack so that there’s full transparency of the work.

Be loud.

If you’re updating your status and progress with the tools your team has agreed to use, you’re going to have far less “what are you working on” interruptions. Your project manager can protect your time if she knows what you’re doing. Your GitHub ticket should hear about it when you reach a stopping point and can call out your next steps.

Use your standup time, and call it out! Our PMs set up Slack reminders for morning standups where we can plan for the day by announcing what we’ve done, what we’re going to do, and where we’re blocked. We also have a late afternoon “How are you feeling?” reminder.

As a remote team, it’s important not to ignore these callouts. We use these opportunities to inform each other of our current state. No quiet suffering. Feeling overwhelmed? Say something. Known problems rarely turn into giant fires; it’s the unknown that gets you into trouble down the line.

Announce your blockers.

If you’re waiting on something from another team member, you don’t do anyone any good by not calling it out. Spell it out, and then allow the PM to pick it up and help with the unblocking. They can’t help with things they don’t know are blocking you.

Don’t forget that you can try to unblock yourself, but still, announce it. Call your shots. Announce what’s got you blocked, but spell out your plan for getting around it. This is an opportunity for your PM to step in if they see why that might be the wrong option.

Calling out things like this – whether it’s your feeling on your progress, the timeline, or your blockers – helps the PM do a more effective job. And it keeps you working when you’re in the zone, because everyone is on the same page.

Protect your first line of defense.

Your PM is the on the front lines. They need to be the first line of communication with clients, and clients can sometimes be volatile. They’re delivering your bad news when necessary, and they’re taking the heat when deadlines fall through. Arm them with the tools they need to hold the line.

If you see something that may cause an issue in the future, such as a feature that may not work as intended, let your PM know. They shouldn’t be blindsided when the issue bubbles up to the surface. If they have the knowledge in advance, they can resolve the situation before it becomes a situation.

Challenge them.

PMs do have the ability to step back and see the whole story. That doesn’t mean their word is Gospel. If you see something that they don’t see, speak up. Be polite, but call it out for the good of the team and the project.

And be willing to relent. You’re the builder, but the PM is the owner. Great products don’t come without some friction.

Call your shots.

Developers and project managers need to have enough transparency to know what’s being worked on. Doing a fly-by fix on something? Tell your PM. They can find that task and make sure it’s marked complete so there’s no duplication of work.

This is particularly important when working remotely in a fast-paced environment. Also, if you are doing extra work not specified on the ticket, it is good to let your PM know so that they can frame it up to the client. This shows how great and proactive your team is.

Developers, Project Managers make your life easier whether you want to admit it or not. Being loud about your work and keeping them informed will keep them happy and their projects on track, which can do nothing but benefit you as an engineer.

So take a minute and think about what you can do to help your PM. Changing a couple of habits can do wonders. Then buy them beer and give them a high five to show them how much value you KNOW they bring to your team.

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