Posts filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM

What is a scope document and why is it important for software development?

A scope document, or a statement of scope, is one of the most critical aspects of any project as it provides a fundamental understanding of the magnitude of the project for all involved. Especially critical in software development, it explains the boundaries of a project, establishes the responsibility of each team member, and sets up the procedures for how completed pieces will be validated and approved. Essentially, it defines goals, deliverables, tasks, deadlines, andcost. It is a way for the client and the development team to come to consensus on the vision and what it will take to get there.  Its relevance lies in managing the client’s expectations and coming to an agreement about what will define the project’s success.

Without a detailed requirements agreement, a developer might end up confined to an unrealistic fixed cost and possibly unreasonable time limits. Or the client may end up feeling frustrated with constraints. It is in these cases that defining the scope of a project is most important. Gathering the functionality requirements in the outset of the project can be difficult. Using a basic outline can help with that.

The scope document should generally start with a justification for the project or, in other words, the need it is to fulfill. Next, you might want to include some of the proposed characteristics of the project or, at the very least, an overall description of the desired result. Objectives and criteria for deliverable acceptance would be included as well as any exclusions, or unwanted bi-products. It’s important to try to identify any potential constraints or restrictions upfront so that everyone knows to expect and can also agree that they don’t actively know of any other restrictions which may impede progress.

In some situations, you might want to include what industry types call assumptions. These address how uncertain information is managed as the project moves forward. As you can imagine, this aspect is critical in software development.  Once all parties agree on the scope outlined in the statement, it becomes somewhat of a binding agreement and will define the client-developer relationship as well as the likelihood of continued success.

A scope document allows for a thorough analysis of the software development process, but, of course, having this document in place does not guarantee that issues will not arise. While the document provides the project manager with guidelines for decision-making as the project moves forward, unforeseen roadblocks can become an issue, as is true more often than not. When this happens, the scope may have to be revised. A client will likely accept the proposed changes once the project is underway, recognizing that change is often inevitable in software development, but it can also be decided not to continue the project if the depth of the unanticipated problem is for some reason too daunting or somehow renders the project obsolete.

So, the purpose of creating a scope document is to develop a common understanding as to what needs to be included in or excluded from a project. With a well-outlined document, the software developer will be much more able to complete the project within the agreed upon time and within the anticipated cost expectancy making it paramount to success from all sides.

Extra Nerds offers a dedicated project manager to each client, helping to keep both the developers and clients clear on the scope of the project as well as in the loop on progress or issues as work moves forward. Contact us if you have an idea for a project that we can manage for you!

Posted on February 24, 2017 and filed under Other, 5 Qualities of a Good PM, Development Methodologies.

The five qualities of a good project manager

Before we wrap up this project management series, let’s review that which we’ve learned so far. The introductory blog, P is for Project, outlined five important attributes, the Five Ps if you will, of project management – prepared, precise, proactive, perseverance, and perpetual learning. The subsequent installations expounded upon each of these. When considered individually, these characteristics  are incredibly important in their own right, but they are also related and interconnected. This final post addresses the final piece of the puzzle, the importance of learning perpetually.

P is for Perpetual Learning

It goes without saying that, as we move through life, we are continuously learning and growing and adapting in both our personal and professional lives. This is also critical in project management.  Despite the fact that most projects have similarities and common threads, each is also unique. Even projects which look similar on the surface, with the same objective, are rarely identical in planning or implementation. In order to stay current, relevant, and effective, PMs must be learning constantly.

Project Managers must not only have the essential industry-independent skills, but they must also quickly be able to gain a working knowledge of the particular industry in which their current project resides. For example, if one is managing a software development project, they will want to know something about programming concepts. Now, to be clear, PMs don’t need to be experts in every field. Can you imagine? The intricate level knowledge can be left to the team members who are doing the technical work and are highly educated in their respective fields. PMs however, do need to have a basic understanding and a foundation of information so that they are able to communicate and facilitate conversations between the client and the technical side as well as the ability to understand that conversation and maintain the confidence of the client. So how can one perpetually learn and obtain the basic knowledge that they need to lead a successful project when the topic at hand is unfamiliar?

Google it. These days, it’s not nearly as difficult as it used to be to research just about any topic you can name. Do you remember the days of libraries, card catalogs, and gilded-page encyclopedia sets?  Well, these days we have access to the most fantastic learning opportunity in history: the internet. Now many of us still love libraries, the smell of books and the tangible quiet is a source of much nostalgia and we’d never stoop to insult their efficacy. In fact, if you prefer a little more of an old school approach, the local library is the place for you. But for those of us who have busy schedules and maybe appreciate quicker access to information, there’s always your friendly neighborhood search engine. For folks newer to internet research, there are several websites with tips and tricks on how to refine your search to maximize your productive time.

Pay attention to the expert. In addition to doing your homework, it is important to listen intelligently when interacting with the client during the initial stages of the project and attempt to internalize some of the concepts and jargon. Speak regularly to the member(s) of your team with the necessary technical expertise and request frequent updates. It’s important that more than one person of the technical team be involved. Multiple trusted points of view are extremely valuable.

Lessons learned. As any project draws to a close, it’s not a bad idea to review the process and everything that you learned. Regardless of success or failure, you will learn something. What worked well with the project? What would you have done differently? What did you learn about a particular niche industry that you didn’t know before? Documenting your thoughts could be exceedingly valuable to reference in the future. It could be several years, but it’s always possible that a similar project could present itself.  And, if a client was happy with your work, they could be returning to you with another project. If enough time has lapsed though, it is entirely possible that you have forgotten all that you learned. If you have notes to which you can refer, it could jog your memory and save much time in not duplicating your research from the past. Perpetual learning is a good practice in life. In project management, it is essential.

The PM role requires skill and planning, an ability to forecast and adapt, communication, confidence, attention to detail, organization, and both the desire and ability to coach as well as to learn.  All of these concepts play a part in the Five Ps – prepared, precise, proactive, perseverance, and perpetual learning. We hope that this series has been helpful in providing a foundation for successful project managers. Just remember: it can be done and you can be the one to do it.

Posted on August 14, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.

The five qualities of a good project manager

So let’s recap that which we’ve discussed so far. In the introductory blog in this series, we outlined five important attributes, the Five Ps if you will, of project management– prepared, precise, proactive, perseverance, and perpetual learning. The subsequent installations expounded upon these in P is for Prepared, P is for Precise, and P is for Proactive. Each of these characteristics is so important in its own right, but they are also interconnected and I hope that is becoming clear as we move forward. Let’s talk about the next critical element of project management: perseverance.

P is for Perseverance

This concept is a bit more difficult to address as it tends to be slightly more abstract.  There are tools and techniques available, as we’ve demonstrated, to help keep one prepared, precise, and even proactive. But what’s out there to aid with perseverance?  It really is more of an inherent quality, but that’s not to say that it can’t be taught or learned (luckily for us or this would be a fairly short blog post). Author and Program Manager Richard Newton, calls perseverance the “underestimated skill of the successful”.  That’s so true. Very few successes have resulted from managers ignoring or mishandling the inevitable problems which arise during the course of any given project.  One of the responsibilities of a project manager then, is to instill in their team an unwavering commitment to their project and having the perseverance to turn mistakes or unanticipated problems into opportunities. While there aren’t as many tangible tools to aid with perseverance, here are a couple of thoughts to keep in mind.

Avoid creating unnecessary problems, keep things in perspective. It can be easy to feel like you’re losing control and that can cause one to feel like throwing in the towel. In most cases, however, simply giving up isn’t really a viable option. Try taking a break, or a day off if that’s possible, to get some distance and perspective and then get back in the game. Spinning those wheels, so to speak, is only going to make the situation more difficult. When you begin missing milestone and deadlines it only adds to the stress and then, well, then the downward spiral continues. Don’t over think. Don’t invent problems. Don’t make it harder on yourself.

Strengthen your resolve, focus on the goal. Don’t get dragged down by an unhappy client or by a project set back. If you experience an impediment, let it feed your flame rather than extinguish it. Remind yourself of your goal and adjust your plan if necessary.  If you must adapt your plan, look for new opportunities. Some of the greatest innovations were born from an accident when one was pursuing a completely different outcome. Listen to your inner voice and learn from your mistakes. You may find that your ability to overcome obstacles will actually serve to build your confidence in yourself and motivate you to continue forward. And that’s exactly how you’re going to persevere.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, who could be the poster child for surmounting obstacles, advised that when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Perseverance is not about avoiding problems, it’s about overcoming them. Hopefully we’ve provided you with a way of thinking which may inspire you to do just that. Check back next week when we conclude this blog series and discuss the final topic in our project management series: perpetual learning.

Posted on August 7, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.

The five qualities of a good project manager

In the introductory blog in this series, we outlined five important attributes, the Five Ps if you will, of project management– prepared, precise, proactive, perseverance, and perpetual learning. The next installation expounded upon the first in P is for Prepared followed by P is for Precise. So, now let’s move on to talk about being proactive and the implications for project managers.

P is for Proactive

The word proactive is an adjective that means creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened. Simple enough concept, right? Even logical. And yet, proactivity is more rare than it should be. The world would probably be a much nicer place in which to live if we didn’t wait for chaos to ensue before we addressed an issue.  But, that’s a conversation for another time. For now, let’s just talk about our little corner of the business universe, the world of project management.

So, what does it mean for project managers to be proactive? TechRepublic identifies three kinds of project managers. The first is the accidental PM who comes up through the ranks and maybe understands the types of projects that they are managing, can build a work plan, and can assign work to other team members, but they don't have the project management discipline that comes from experience. The second type is good and understands that successful project management requires one to oversee issues, scope, communication, and  risk, but they don’t really embrace the idea that their approach really needs to be a proactive one in order to be effective. The third kind of PM, the one that we all want at the epicenter of our structure, is someone who has made the mental transition to apply his or her discipline on a proactive and ongoing basis.

The good PM understands the basic responsibilities of a project manager. The proactive PM has internalized these responsibilities and integrates them into the scope of the project work. Proactive PMs don't perform their duties simply because they're required. They perform their responsibilities because they fundamentally understand that these processes greatly increase the possibility of success. So, how do you go from being good to being proactive, you ask? Here are some tips.

Clearly define the project. This should be done in advance of the project commencement so that everyone on the team understands exactly the work that is to be done and their role in ensuring success.

Communication and customer engagement. A proactive PM doesn’t just do the bare minimum by providing occasional status reports, but takes it a step further and manages communication, anticipating the various needs of the client. Utilizing a communication plan can be really helpful. You can download a free template at Project Management Docs if you don't have one of your own.

Time control. Even if you manage risk, plan ahead to provide yourself with the time you’ll need to address unanticipated problems.  Mind Tools calls it “buffer time”, which is a nice segue way into the next point…

Risk management. Being proactive means trying to recognize risk factors from the very beginning of a project and utilizing a process by which to address all major problems as they occur. And inevitably problems will arise, people. They just will. Even if one is great at managing risk, that buffer time mentioned above is critical.

Review Processes. In the blog installation on precision we provided an overview of some techniques, such as the Critical Path Analysis (a fancy term for a project flow chart) that can help PMs to visualize their project and aid in efficient management and process determination. There are also free online project management interfaces, such as Asana, which can provide an organizational chart and process configuration if you do not already have one in place.

Quality solution. All effective PMs determine in advance the client’s expectations for quality and develops a plan to make sure that the level of quality will be met. It almost becomes a matter of pride for some PMs and that’s when the chief knows they have a keeper.

Last, but in no way least, budget management. Proactive budget management is so important and yet commonly overlooked. Even just using a simple spreadsheet as a forecasting tool may end up saving the day!

Project management can feel like a harrowing job to assume, but it can be done. And it can be done well. As an Extra Nerd, I have the pleasure of working daily with an extremely effective project manager, as a matter of fact. In the technology industry – and in many other industries, for that matter – you will find fewer more valuable members of your team than a proactive project manager.

That being said, another of the integral characteristics of a great project manager is perseverance so stop back next week for another post as we continue to dissect project management and, hopefully, provide PMs with a foundation for success!

Posted on July 31, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.

The five qualities of a good project manager

In the introductory blog in this series, we outlined five important attributes, the Five Ps if you will, of project management– prepared, precise, proactive, perseverance, and perpetual learning. The next installation expounded upon the first in P is for Prepared. Next, let’s talk about precision.

P is for Precise

As the person who is almost solely responsible for ensuring the success of a project, precision is critical for a project manager. Keeping track of all of the nuanced details can be challenging and it’s not uncommon for PMs to use external tools to help. For example, one could purchase a membership to the Project Management Institute  where you have access to templates, forms, and checklists galore as well as a fairly comprehensive support structure.

Some would rather a free option, of course, and there are some great ones out there. The following sites provide a framework for PMs to utilize for a structure within which to operate and communicate.  One that seems to be present on many PM lists and a favorite in the field is Asana, which is a collaboration tool and multi-project hybrid task and management site. Similar sites are Evernote, Trello,, and Each has their own style and organizational structure, so it would be prudent to explore various site interfaces to identify the one which is most appealing to you or most suitable for your particular projects.

Most project managers have honed various techniques in order to stay organized, communicative, and on task. Frequently these include lengthy checklists or giant white board diagrams with colored post it notes (which sounds primitive, but can be useful if you are a more visual person and have the space). A common favorite for the more complex project is that which is called a Critical Path Analysis (CPA, also called a Critical Path Method or CPM) which is, in reality, just an impressive way to say flow chart. This is a logical and effective method as the format is linear, essentially a timeline. CPA diagrams are excellent for displaying each interdependent factor as well as demonstrating how they overlap and coincide with others. Mind Tools provides a step-by-step process using the CPA technique.

When we speak of precision, it’s not just the precision of the project manager that is important. One of the responsibilities of a PM is to be able to recognize the various strengths and weaknesses of team members. To this end, it may be helpful to have a skills inventory for each of their people. Along side the list of each person’s technical expertise, it is useful to have a directory of their more abstract qualities, such as creativity, vision, or, you got it, precision and attention to detail.  This is a valuable team member to have and a PM may utilize their ability by having them conduct a website audit, for example, in the beginning stages of a website project, or maybe have them aspart of the quality assurance process in the final stages of a project, or maybe even ask them to analyze and report metrics. Regardless of your project, be sure the use the person with an eye for detail and innate precision wisely.

In the next blog in this series, we’ll talk about the importance of being proactive and what that means for a project manager, so stay tuned!

Posted on July 24, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.

The five qualities of a good project manager

P is for Prepared

What does it mean to be prepared? When it comes to the art of project management, preparedness can mean the difference between project success or project failure. The team-oriented nature of building out a project demands a PM who knows how to adequately prepare for the series of meetings, status checks and overall communication required to move from one milestone to the next. In the real world, this is not as easy, nor as intuitive as one might imagine.

Prepared is not simply showing up with an agenda, prepared is moving the project closer to completion.

The venue for a PM to demonstrate his/her preparedness is the ever present “project meeting.” Meetings are both a necessity and a burden and no one is more responsible for a meeting’s outcome, good or bad, than the PM. In light of this fact, here are several key elements which I find critical in order to keep a meeting on track.

  • Agenda – of course you need one, and it should be detailed enough to warrant action
  • Obstacles – review them and determine who or what is needed to resolve any roadblocks
  • Break out – action items are moved into another forum, the project meeting is for the high level communication, break out into smaller groups for the real work

Preparedness allows for consistent and adequate communication. In between the larger project meetings, there will always be status updates from individual team members and other types of communication such as email, project calls, and webinars. The key to managing communication such as this effectively again requires the PM to be ready, conduct change management, and to retool. This means moving from Plan A to Plan C in rapid succession and with great attention to detail. One simply cannot move quickly unless one is prepared to move quickly.

Finally, the blood brother of preparedness is precision. Every project worth assigning to a PM has devilish details. Keeping track of the details can be challenging and usually requires third party tools. In my next blog post, I will discuss several techniques/tools which have helped me achieve greater precision in my own work.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.

The five qualities of a good project manager

P is for Project

There are certain skills inherent to project management excellence. Of course, real-world experience and outcomes are one measure of a successful project manager. More often than not, small businesses and start-ups “anoint” a PM to manage their projects. If this sounds familiar, I would like to offer up the following five traits to look for when assigning a project manager. It might seem straightforward to reach out to the person closest to the operational side of your project. On the other hand, it might make even more sense to look more subjectively at the people within your team and seek out a PM with many, if not all of, the following qualities:

  • Prepared: Who shows up with their research done, ready to ask questions, prepared to contribute?
  • Precise: Which member of your team shows the most attention to detail?
  • Proactive: Who is the most assertive member of your team? Who communicates well?
  • Persevere : PMs clearly need to be persistent and demonstrate follow-through, with an innate ability to seek alternate solutions to complex problems.
  • Perpetual Learner: One of the most overlooked qualities, an avid learner will actively strive to grow and develop their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Without overlooking experience and a proven track record of success, it is always wise to consider less tangible, more personality driven factors when assigning a member of your team to the role of PM. By that same token, it is naïve to assume that the person who is closest to the project – or the team member who seems most willing – should be handed this strategic position. Over the next five blog posts, I will examine each distinct quality, discuss why each one is important, and explore why the obvious choice for PM is often not the best choice. P is not only for Project, P is for Person! My next blog post will discuss the unique planning and preparation skills required to set the framework for project success.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under 5 Qualities of a Good PM.