What Project Managers Really Do in Software Service Companies

I started my project manager`s career in a small IT service agency, where the role of a manager was very vague and management processes were not formalized. Later, when I was joining a bigger company, I felt pretty anxious about my new position because I didn`t quite realize what the role of project manager implies in a large scale software company.

I clearly remember how I stayed in a room after my first meeting with my new colleagues and quietly (so that nobody else heard) asked some of my fellow project managers: “So, what are the main project manager’s responsibilities in this company”?

Their answer was: “You know, your main goal here is to deliver the project. And nobody cares how exactly you will do this”. Frankly speaking, it wasn`t the answer I expected to hear because I hoped to get more specific advice.  So, I had no choice but to pave my own way of delivering projects.

Now,  after my 5-year work in software service companies, I decided to systemize my own experience and describe what duties a project manager must perform to deliver any project. Though, I`m quite sure that this list is absolutely applicable for any organization, not only for software companies.

Roles and Responsibilities of Project Manager in Software Company:

Administrative function

Administrative function is a set of duties and responsibilities that are pretty simple and dull, but this doesn`t mean that they`re not important. This function is a good starting point for newbie project managers to enter the position. It may include setting up appointments for meetings, preparing reports for clients and upper management, putting together documentation, etc. Despite the simplicity of this work, it`s something that is expected by default from project managers of any seniority. If you fail any of the mentioned simple tasks, the stakeholders or your boss will be very disappointed, and you may even lose their trust.

HR function 

I believe that human resources management is the main function of a project manager working in a software service company because re-selling their people’s expertise is what such companies basically do. Now, when demand for seasoned tech specialists is skyrocketing, the competition for talented people between software service companies is becoming more and more severe. It is really difficult not only to find the gifted but also to keep them.

In fact, these are two main activities that make up the HR function of a project manager in a software service company: first, selecting appropriate people and, second, retaining them.

Let’s start with selecting people. In most companies, this function is performed by a dedicated recruiter or an HR person (or even the whole HR department), and then you as a project manager definitely are not supposed to search the candidates on the Internet and conduct preliminary interviews with them. If your company is quite large, there may be an internal competition between projects for recruiters` efforts and the candidates. That`s why you have to closely collaborate on your project`s open positions with your recruiting team. Provide them with the right requirements, care about the staffing progress, give valuable feedback on the candidates, and most importantly, be in good relationship with them. But don`t get too pushy, recruiter`s job is tough and they may feel nervous about your micromanaging them.

Let’s imagine that you`ve been lucky to form a team of your dream. Now the question arises: how to retain your team members on your project and save them from all types of seduction that come from your external competitors and even from inside the company. The key instrument here is One-on-One meetings. These meetings when done properly let you not only be aware of people’s satisfaction level and their plans for the future but also motivate them and make agreements in favor of the project. In most cases, this technique saves your projects from unexpected team members’ resignations and performance drops.

HR function also implies plenty of motivation and team building work for a project manager, but I don`t dive in details in this article, because there is a lot of information dedicated to team motivation, both on the Internet and on this blog.

Integrative function

Integrative function comprises activities that enable a project team to work as a whole. To achieve this project manager communicates with different departments, different stakeholders and employees. He collects necessary information in order to form the so-called “helicopter view” of the project. It is very important because most of the project people are focused on their particular tasks and they usually can`t see beyond their environment. There should be a person who sees the project from a bigger perspective and who should make sure that nothing is missed on the way to the goal.

It is very important to share the collected information between different stakeholders to keep them updated and help them make the right decisions and correct their work based on different inputs. In order to achieve this, project managers should build proper communication channels, engage project stakeholders into problem-solving activities and control the information flows. 

Representative function

The representative function is about being accountable and making project stakeholders happy. It means that the project manager should serve as the main contact point and the source of information about project status both for the client and for the company management. This function is realized through learning the expectations of the stakeholders, providing them with the regular status updates and giving them alternative solutions in case if something goes wrong on the project. This function is mostly about managing expectations(both of your client and the company management), but it is also about trust. The expectations of the client and the company management may be different in some points, but they are similar in one thing. They both need a single accountable person to whom they may refer if they have any project-related issues or questions, and they should also trust this person. I believe that a project manager must be such a person.

Political function

Project managers often find themselves in the midst of conflicting interests of different stakeholders. And it is really difficult to resolve these conflicts without good political and negotiation skills. The political function is about achieving a win-win situation at best or any kind of consensus at worst.  In order to achieve the consensus, a project manager should understand the interests and expectations of all the parties and subtly navigate between them. The ideal situation is when you can find a solution that works pretty well for all the parties of the conflict. Unfortunately, this is rarely possible. So, you as a project manager should know or, at least, assume what potential trade-offs each stakeholder has and what their main traits of character are, and then suggest alternatives based on this knowledge. 

Golden Triangle of Project Management in Software Service Companies

Risk management function

I think that every project manager should pay high attention to potential threats and risks that he or she faces on the project. If you haven’t put in place a strategy to mitigate the consequences of potential disasters, then you waste a lot of time, effort and nerves to resolve the situation when it eventually happens. Risk management means not only putting together and regularly updating risk management documentation, that is risk management plan and disaster recovery plan. It also requires applying risk management thinking, as I define it. It means that before planning or starting any project activity you can ask yourself (and ideally your team members) the question: “What may go wrong?”. All the things figured out during this brainstorming should become subject to a risk response strategy. 

Account development function

Account development is Sky High of project management in software service companies. It means expanding your company’s business opportunities within your project and/or your client’s account. It may be realized by adding extra people to your particular project or providing new services. In fact, in mid-sized and large companies this function is assigned to the position of an account manager. However, a good project manager can help account managers to do this on their project and in some cases can do it even better. There are a couple of things that project managers should possess in order to be able to perform account development function on their projects. First, a project manager should have a good understanding of the client’s business and have a trustworthy relationship with the client. Second, a project manager should know very well what his or her company capabilities. The purpose of good account development is not just to sell something extra, but to help the clients resolve their problems. 

These are the main functions and responsibilities of a project manager in software service companies that I`ve got from my personal experience. However, I know that the responsibilities of project managers vary from company to company and from project to project. Are you a project manager who does something else that is not mentioned in the article? Please, describe your range of functions in the comments.

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