Several key IT roles contribute to product success. The article explores who you might need for a software project.
A project starts and ends with a Project Manager (PM).
At the project ideation stage, the PM is key to setting the right goal and determining the steps to achieve it. During initial meetings with the client (the presales phase), the PM communicates with them, helps to determine project goals and end-users, gets acquainted with project requirements, and analyzes them. This specialist asks specific questions to find out the needs of the business. And the PM’s functions do not end here.
The PM oversees all project phases – planning, execution, and completion. This specialist manages the project by monitoring the fulfillment of goals and the budget. They strive to complete it on time, predicting risks.
The PM monitors team performance and checks if programmers and other contributors keep up with tasks according to plan. The PM monitors the quality of the process, keeping track not only of deadlines but also of obstacles, setting up and adjusting strategies on the project so that the work is done well. For example, when a team member reports a problem, the PM understands it and engages specific stakeholders to solve it if necessary. The PM makes sure that nothing impedes the work process.
These obstacles can be associated with risks (lack of time, resources, budget, and other risks). The PM must foresee sudden threats and eliminate them with minimal damage to the project.
While developers write code, the PM communicates with the customer and reports to them on the results of the work done. This can be any kind of reporting agreed upon with the customer:
- daily reports;
- forecasting reports (how much work needs to be done and how much money is required);
- sprint reports (to show the risks and transparency of the work), etc.
The PM oversees the team throughout the SDLC and handles product delivery on time and within the budget. Without PM, a project will drag on, and the costs will increase significantly. The customer will keep on changing ideas, without analyzing the team’s capacity, risks, and the ultimate effect on the product quality. A project without a PM is like a ship without a captain.
In the age of Agile, some treat PMs with prejudice as a vestige of classic Waterfall models. But a good PM can perform many roles. A business owner picks the one to solve their problems and respond to the right needs. That is why one of the major management certifications in project management is PMP certification (a Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute). It trains project managers for IT and other areas.
Besides the PM, a team that provides project management consulting services has other key professionals – an Agile Coach, a Delivery Manager, an Account Manager, a Project Coordinator, a Scrum Master, a Product Owner, a Product Manager, and a Program Manager. We’ll tell you what they handle and when you can’t do without them on a project.
Agile Coach: a mentor in Agile culture
Today, most companies have realized the importance of the Agile methodology to improve team productivity, accelerate software delivery, and build quality applications. Statistically, Agile projects are 60% more successful than non-Agile ones and cost about 3.6 times less, with a 40% increase in delivery time.
If a company seeks to switch to the Agile methodology or improve existing Agile processes and do it with the highest quality, it hires a coach. Such a mentor teaches the team and the entire organization to apply the Agile culture to a specific project and implement it everywhere.
This specialist understands the business goals of a project and knows how to use tools to track key team results. They understand how the performance metrics of SDLC participants relate to business, analytics, marketing, development speed, and releases. The Agile Coach helps teams respond to change quickly, stick to business goals, work cohesively, manage tasks, and learn self-organization.
Some companies require an Agile Coach with strong technical skills to advise their teams on programming and integration issues. Others need management coaches who focus primarily on establishing leadership in Agile teams. In general, such a mentor concentrates on continuous improvement, business value, and getting feedback from team members to help them develop new technologies more efficiently and bring products to market faster.
Delivery Manager: the customer’s right-hand person
The primary responsibility of a Delivery Manager is to create a framework for communication with the customer, the team, and the PM. At the start of a project, a business owner needs to learn who they are working with, and how long it will take to cooperate. The DM is the first person who explains all these issues to the client, discovers the customer’s problems, and suggests efficient ways to solve them.
If there are any concerns during development, the client is dissatisfied or does not understand something, they turn to the DM. Such a manager handles the timely quality completion of all development phases, from evaluation and planning to delivery.
The DM constantly answers questions like “How to improve the product delivery system? Are there any risks preventing the successful delivery of the product?” Correct answers help to detect a problem in advance and fix it so that it has a lesser impact on delivery times.
This manager makes sure that the customer eventually gets what they need. They don’t solve low-level tasks like “Dan fixed such-and-such a bug yesterday” and “The stories are 43% ready”. The DM works with more significant processes. These are building communication and explaining the roles of SDLC participants to the customer. The specialist oversees the deadlines of software creation and its release to the market, deals with tactical tasks, takes part in the development and implementation of a strategy, and resolves issues of changing the product delivery strategy. The DM is needed on larger projects where they work hand in hand with the PM.
Account Manager: the customer’s friend
An account is a large company that has many projects, and a developer has established a long-term relationship with this business. Such an organization requires a person who will understand the company’s goals, interests, and aspirations and open up new horizons for its development.
An Account Manager must skillfully combine proposals with what the development company can do. For example, if a customer has a large firm and various unmet needs, the AM is concerned about the development of their business. This specialist communicates with the client, organizes meetings, and proposes new projects.
Unlike the PM and the DM, the AM seeks to expand collaboration and launch new projects rather than deliver a specific product.
Project Coordinator: the PM’s assistant
Coordinators are involved in large projects where one manager needs help controlling the development process. They help the PM handle administrative tasks and ensure team members have everything they need to meet deadlines.
If we compare it to a school, the PM is the headmaster, whose deputies are PCs. They are familiar with a project, its goals, details, and budget and monitor the implementation of the individual stages of a plan developed by the PM. This allows the latter to focus on more critical issues and be aware of all the inside information simultaneously.
The PC communicates with team members, organizes regular meetings, identifies problems, and notifies the PM about them, maintains the documentation, and provides the PM with graphs, tables, and reports. PCs report to management regularly. They have minimal powers. On smaller outsourced projects, a coordinator may take over the PM’s responsibilities.
Scrum Master: a team coach
A coach is like a mentor who gives the team the knowledge of how to work quickly and successfully within the Agile framework. In turn, a Scrum Master is a role in Scrum. They train the team to be organized, fast, and efficient.
This IT role is not related to management. The SM works differently: they hold meetings and help the team solve problems and come to a consensus. Importantly, the SM suggests solutions to major issues, but does not dictate to others what to do. If the SM dictates their opinion to “students”, they will stop generating ideas.
To make team members resolve a dilemma quickly, the SM resorts to various facilitation techniques (open questions, brainstorming, etc.). This specialist removes the obstacles that arise during a project. For example, newcomers do not have the necessary equipment and access. The SM must figure out how to solve this problem quickly so that it does not slow down the project.
If we compare the PM and the SM, the former has managerial functions, while the latter has a less official mission. Most often, they help the team and teach specialists to analyze their performance. They help with reports, handle the climate in the team and its development, teach group members to negotiate and find optimal solutions, explain the essence of Scrum at other levels of the organization, and help the Product Owner.
The Product Owner collaborates with the Scrum Master and developers on the same project and owns the software solution on behalf of an organization. They handle management and accept any feedback, but independently decide what the product backlog will contain, guided by the goals of the organization and the situation in the market.
According to the Scrum Guide, the PO is interested in maximizing product value and effectively managing the product backlog. If someone wants to change the backlog, this can only be done with the permission of the PO.
Often customers understand nothing about programming and software development and just intend to express their wishes about how products should look like. With this approach, it is extremely difficult to create an application that will meet all the requirements.
The PO knows the target audience of a project, its problems, needs, and wishes. Based on this vision, the specialist determines what valuable features the product should contain. They add them to the product backlog, prioritize them, or remove them. They take the final decision and bear the main responsibility. The PO takes part in all sprint activities (planning, retrospective) and addresses the developers to resolve important issues.
The PM’s tasks pursue one primary goal – to create a cool, high-quality, and useful product that will bring a good income to the customer.
Product Manager: a farsighted researcher and manager
The PM leads the teamwork from the beginning to the end of a project. The Product Manager, however, is primarily responsible for a software solution itself.
The Product Manager comes into play before the PM when identifying user concerns and finding an available solution. Based on a product concept, they develop a product strategy and software success metrics, determine the benefits of the application for marketing development and further sales, and much more.
The Product Manager makes up a roadmap to guide the team and takes part in the design, implementation, and scaling stages. They make sure that the tasks correspond to the software development concept, and the customer can bring their ideas to life.
The PM acts under the Product Manager’s software vision and ensures that all work is completed on time and does not go beyond the established budget. The Product Manager bears a share of the responsibility for the product profits and losses. Often, they work with sales departments, marketing, and customer support to increase revenue, outperform competitors, and build user loyalty.
How do the Product Manager and the Product Owner differ? The first one defines the strategic vision of the product so that the software solution meets the needs of the customer and users. They develop the product, determine the pricing and assortment policy, and monitor the implementation of KPIs. The Product Owner’s activities are focused on marketing, the market success of the product, and its payback.
The PM is responsible for the implementation of a specific project (stages, deadlines, budget, and resources). The Product Manager handles the ultimate solution for consumers. And the Program Manager seeks to make the entire program successful (including several products or projects).
As the work progresses, the Program Manager can communicate with various project teams and monitor the progress of all projects, but does not control them. This initiative includes a variety of tasks: launching a product, implementing a new sales process, or opening an office.
Program Managers understand when to schedule a meeting with marketing, sales, and product teams to discuss the best way to launch. They are among the first to know about the upcoming financial problem and organize departmental meetings to analyze the situation with budget cuts.
The Program Manager directs programs in the most strategically beneficial way. They manage program risks and overall progress by addressing a variety of issues. Any organization that runs more than one project at the same time will benefit from having such an expert.
IT Roles – Final Thoughts
All the listed IT roles relate to the development of a software product and are similar in a way. They help companies improve processes within Agile methodologies (Agile, Scrum, and DevOps) and pursue a common goal – the rapid delivery of high-quality, effective software while reducing development costs.
The size and objectives of the project, as well as the needs of the customer, affect the choice of the right specialists. For example, you do not need to hire a Project Manager for Scrum because the Product Owner does their job. When an organization is transforming and implementing Agile and DevOps methodologies, or when several teams are working on a project, an Agile Coach and a Delivery Manager are necessary.
Other specialists need to be involved in a project for large-scale work, which is difficult to implement with the usual IT roles.
Each IT role has its value. Therefore, when ordering project management services, consider the unique skills of specialists that will help make your project even better and more successful.