For any software engineer, the ability to keep projects on time and on schedule—even with the various challenges that inevitably arise—is essential. As software engineers grow into their careers, many begin to oversee or manage projects, even if they’re not yet in leadership positions. The effective management of engineering projects ensures that the software engineering team is productive and efficient and has no problems hitting organizational goals. Project management is no simple feat though; significant planning and experience is necessary to confidently manage an engineering project. Because project management for software engineers can be very particular, this article will outline exactly how to deliver projects successfully, every single time.
- What is project management?
- The benefits of project management for engineers
- 8 tips for leading a project as a software engineer
What is project management?
In software engineering, project management has to do with the management involved in executing team projects. Typically, when a software engineer is assigned to manage a project, they will both plan and then oversee the team that has been assigned to execute it. It takes time, experience, and training for a software engineer to manage a project, since a person in this role should have a strong understanding of project management principles, the project planning stage, scheduling, budgeting, and how to allocate the appropriate resources to execute projects successfully.
Project management in software engineering is typically based on either product or program development, which means that a project manager in this area needs to have an innovative mindset. A software engineering project manager may also be tasked with research, technical data management, and problem-solving responsibilities.
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The benefits of project management for engineers
1Better teamwork and collaboration
Having a software engineer project manager means that your team may experience better teamwork and collaboration. Rather than bringing in an external project manager who isn’t comfortable working with the team yet or who doesn’t know the team culture or understand the way the team works, you can optimize using an in-house engineer who already works well with the team. Having a software engineer who is already part of the team as a project manager will allow your team to collaborate more effectively.
Not only will you and your team collaborate more effectively, but you will also be more productive and efficient overall. This efficiency stems from having a good background and knowledge base of the project, of the areas of strength within the team, and of where the team may face some challenges. Rather than catching someone up to speed with how they work best, a software engineering project manager will already be aware, which will allow you to hit the ground running as soon as the project is initiated. The result is a smooth, efficient project process that leads to the successful completion of the project.
An organization will also benefit from spending less of its project budget by using an employee who is already working with the software engineering team. This budget can then be allocated to areas of a project that will benefit from the budget the most. Rather than spending money and time bringing on a project manager to conduct your software engineering project—and not truly knowing how the management of the project will go—consider working with someone in the team who is interested and ready to take the lead on an upcoming project.
8 tips for leading a project as a software engineer
- Have clear communication
- Manage risk
- Avoid micromanagement
- Use project management software
- Motivate your engineering team
- Create a project timeline
- Lead a project kickoff meeting
1Have clear communication
First and foremost, you need to develop and strengthen communication to be an effective project leader as an engineer. This means that you need to ensure that you establish strong communications with all stakeholders and shareholders from the get-go, as well as with each team member who is involved in the project. This communication—including how you will communicate with who, how often and which processes you will put in place—needs to be established during the project planning phase to ensure communication is successful. Communicating project progression is key, especially for internal stakeholders and your team, and can be done through your weekly team meetings and demos. Ensure you’re keeping all of your tracking documents up to date to avoid any confusion or setbacks.
As a project manager in software engineering, you need to always be prepared to manage risks. Also, as a hands-on engineer, you need to ensure that deliverables are on track, so be sure to consult status reports or use another means that is effective for you and your team. You’ll also need to understand all aspects of the project at a high level so you can lead it effectively and mitigate any issues that arise as the project progresses. If you happen to be working with an unfamiliar codebase, always over-exaggerate the time required and foreseeable risks so you’re prepared. As soon as any risks arise, call them out at standups so you can decide how to pivot effectively.
Avoid micromanagement at all costs. Micromanagement will render your team ineffective and ultimately waste everyone’s time. Of course, you want to be mindful of project scope, deliverables, deadlines, and key objectives, but it’s important to be just as mindful of how you’re treating the team. If you don’t show team members that you trust in their abilities, they won’t trust you to manage the project either. Part of learning how to manage a project as a software engineer is letting go of a little bit of control and trusting in your team members’ abilities and in the processes that you’ve put in place.
4Use project management software
It’s always helpful to use a project management software that can keep you on track to achieve your project goals on time. With Fellow, you can assign action items during project planning meetings so everyone knows what they’re responsible for in the project. You can also assign and track objectives and key results (OKRs) with Fellow; this way, you’re always on top of what progress has been made because it’s documented in one easy-to-use tool and you can revisit important project tasks every time you meet with your team. Using a project management software also drives alignment as each person involved in the project is able to be kept in the loop regarding the latest developments.
5Motivate your engineering team
As a software engineer managing a project, you have to be a bit of a cheerleader for your team. You want to aim to lead your project in a way that inspires confidence and builds trust with your team members. In this sense, you should really seek to earn the leadership role that you’ve been assigned and live up to the characteristics of a great leader. Encourage your team, let them know that you’re there to support and guide them wherever needed, and importantly, take responsibility for the way in which the project is being run—and yes, this includes if you run into any issues. Accountability is key, as is remaining calm under pressure so you can get back to leading in the most productive way possible.
6Create a project timeline
Be sure to create a realistic project timeline for you and your team to follow. To create an effective project timeline, you need to first develop a strong understanding of the deliverable, including its purpose and major objectives; this includes having a detailed understanding of all the tasks that are involved in taking the project to the next step. Work with both internal and external stakeholders to determine a realistic timeline for each task so you can understand how quickly you’ll be able to get things done. If your timeline isn’t completely clear, you won’t be able to hold team members accountable, and it’s likely that significant confusion will arise. Create a solid and informed timeline, adjusting where necessary.
Any project manager needs to learn how to delegate effectively. This is a central part of your role as you begin to manage software engineering projects. You want to ensure that your team has all of the necessary tools and resources they need to meet their responsibilities. As a project manager in engineering, your role is to oversee projects and delegate specific responsibilities to specific individuals. It may feel like you’re helping employees when you get involved with their tasks, but this involvement actually stumps productivity and workflow. It’s much more effective to delegate tasks and then check in with the team and provide support wherever it’s needed.
8Lead a project kickoff meeting
Leading a project kickoff meeting is important for setting the tone for the software engineering project. The goal of your project kickoff meeting is for all parties involved to leave the meeting with a clear vision of the project and understand the deliverables that will be necessary for successful execution. This is why it’s extremely beneficial to use the below project kickoff meeting agenda template to set the tone for the rest of the project and ensure the entire team is on the same page. Fellow has provided you with what should be included in your project kickoff meeting agenda to best prepare you to ensure team success—use the template to drive great results!
Project management for software engineers can be a little daunting if it’s your first time leading a project from initiation until completion. The project management process is both exciting and scary, but when you’re well prepared, it can be a hugely gratifying experience and you’ll learn many valuable new skills and competencies. We hope that this guide on project management for software engineers can support you on your way to successfully managing your next software engineering project.