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Peter Schuh coaches project teams and conducts trainings in the adoption and improvement of agile practices and techniques. He excels in both agile and traditional development environments (such as waterfall, heavy process and fixed cost). Peter is also the author of "Integrating Agile Development in the Real World," a field guild for software development professionals who aim to deliver useful and usable software in a timely manner. Peter is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 19 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

A Project Manager’s Acid Test: Fund Your Own Product

03.01.2011
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Do you think you are a rockstar project manager? Can you roll out an agile process and leap the tangle of legacy waterfall hurdles without breaking a sweat? Can you walk unaided from a fight club thronged with hackers, cowboy coders, support junkies and alpha heroes? Want to prove it?

I’ve got the acid test for you.

Identify a small product that you have always wanted to build. Commission something that you could use on the job or at home. It needs to be something that requires more than just you to complete. It must require a budget, paid help, realizable value, clear goals, and a plan. In other words, scope and fund your own project.

Yes. You fund the project with your own money. That’s what makes this an acid test.

For me, for example, this something is to rebuild and productize a web-application that has become a critical part of managing the rental properties my wife and I own. We have used two different prototypes over the last two years and I firmly believe this product captures a soon-to-be-ubiquitous element of property management. So I am taking the leap.

This PM acid test assesses whether you have the skill to contemplate and manage everything about your small project (and the product on which it is based). Either directly or via delegation you will need to:

  • Define your own requirements and break them into plannable features.
  • Identify a MVP (minimal viable product) and keep the project aligned to that vision.
  • Find and contract with the professionals who will complete the work.
  • Forecast and manage the development schedule.
  • Identify the technologies to use and the deployment environment.
  • Vet archiitecrure and design decisions.
  • Review all completed deliverables from a functional and technical perspectives.
  • Balance new features versus technical debt.
  • Do anything else a project manager, product manager, product owner, stakeholder or sponsor would do or delegate.

Of course you can get help on any or all of these activities. You can hire an architect to make decisions and review code. You can hire a QA professional to write scripts and run tests. But you still need to acclimate these professionals to your product and vision. And any additional hands will cut into your budget.

Even when delegating you still need to preform an informed review of all significant work products. Delegation without review is an elephant trap.

The only certainty around this acid test is that something will go badly. If you hire four contractors at least one will be a dud – you’ll pay someone to clean up that mess. Your own conception (and delivered specs) of the system will never be free of potholes – someone will need to go back and patch those, or dig up the road and start over. And your vision of the product will never be communicated so clearly as to avoid every misstep – that’s more rework still.

You will need to be on top of everything. Or you can sit back and watch Team Burn Rate blow half your budget in two weeks. Whenever anything goes wrong it will be your fault. You did not give clear requirements. You hired the wrong person. You changed your mind. You let one decision sit too long and made another decision too early. You let a technical issue sit unaddressed as it smoldered its way through your release timeline.

Can you complete a releasable version of your own, personably-funded product before you cut off the money supply because you can’t lose any more? That’s why it is an acid test.

References
Published at DZone with permission of Peter Schuh, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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