When does a junior PM become a middle PM? Or senior, for that matter? Does it take a certain number of years at work or successful project to move up the corporate ladder?
In fact, the number of projects and the length of your working experience are not as significant as your knowledge and skills as a project manager.
In this post, we have tried to structure the skills that are required of a project manager at each level. With this analysis, we hope to help junior PMs starting their careers in project management to better plan their self-education and select the areas for personal growth.
At the same time, we believe our recommendations might be of use for middle and even senior PMs, as a truly successful person never stops learning.
Moreover, most successful project managers devote some of their time to training and mentoring their younger colleagues.
Thus, we believe our summary of the most critical project management skills is going to help PMs of all levels.
Our analysis is based on the skills needed for mid-sized projects, as both huge and tiny ones require both a different team structure and different skills for each job.
For example, our recommendations could apply to the development of an AI-powered customer service chatbot for an HoReCa business or mobile augmented reality application for retail.
Project Manager functions and the required skill levels
Regardless of their experience level – junior, middle or senior – a project manager is engaged in multiple management functions, though to a different degree.
Let’s see what knowledge and skills a PM requires in the context of each of their basic functions and how they evolve from level to level.
Project architecture and release management
In this context, we can summarize what project architecture and release management knowledge the PM should possess at each level.
- Basics of web and mobile app architecture (frontend and backend layers)
- Basics of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
- HTTP and HTTPS
- Object-oriented Programming (OOP)
- Basics of Release management. The release is both the climax and the driving force of your project. The release is the goal you are aimed at that determines the flow of your project. The development, testing, quality control, and deployment should be planned with the focus on the release.
- Version control. While the project manager takes no direct part in the development and writes no code, he should have an understanding of how software version control works. Most often, teams use Git as the version control system, thus we recommend that the PM has some basic knowledge of how Git works. Of course, the technical aspects are the responsibility of the development team, but the PM should be able to coordinate the development flow.
- GitFlow. GitFlow is a great branching model allowing separating the completed components from those still in progress. New branches are merged into the main code only when they have been properly debugged. For the project manager, the basics of GitFlow give an understanding of how the team works on each individual feature.
- Understanding the environments – development, staging, production. The project manager should get the idea of how the environments are used for development, testing and deployment and how the software product passes from one to the other.
- Basics of Continuous Integration (CI). CI is one of the most common developing models where a new or changed code is integrated into the main trunk, thus preventing or minimizing integration issues. For the PM, understanding the CI mechanisms helps to get the full picture of the code creation process and the possibilities of its automation.
- Continuous Delivery Practices. Continuous Delivery (CD) concept means a frequent automated release of software to production. The CD processes are directly related to release management; therefore, the understanding of this concept is essential for a project manager.
- Business Intelligence (BI). BI includes a variety of methods of gathering, processing and analyzing business information for better decision making. The senior PM should be able to implement BI techniques and set up their automation with the help of BI tools. Check, for example, Sisense or Microsoft Power BI.
- Configuration of real-time monitoring of work processes and automatic data analytics.
In terms of project planning, there is a particular set of skills that PMs should master at each level.
- Waterfall vs. Agile methodology
- Scrum and Kanban
- Lean software development
- Types of software development contracts – ‘fixed price’ or ‘time and materials’. Some projects are built under Fixed Price contracts, others according to the time Time and Materials model. Both have their advantages. However, we believe the Time and Materials model to be more reasonable
- Budgeting basics
- Project planning
- Knowledge of Scrum Master duties and the ability to fill that role when needed
- Knowledge of project estimates (both rough and detailed estimates)
- Ability to plan at different levels – high-level planning, user story mapping, technical planning
- Project schedule visualization in the form of Gantt charts for the client
- Release planning including integration planning
- Basics of PMBOK and PRINCE2 methodologies and their differences from the Agile approach
- The ability to select the planning model suitable for the particular project
- Cross-project release management aimed at coordinating the backlog of multiple projects
- Project portfolio management
- Sprint selling
- Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Agile Process by Kenneth S. Rubin. A comprehensive Agile and Scrum guide for all team members.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The book on the lean methodology by the person who first coined this name.
In the context of communication, an effective Project Manager should both possess certain personal abilities and have knowledge of communication principles and concepts.
- English: Upper-intermediate (B2)
- The ability to explain the possible risks to the team
- The ability to maintain communication with the team members
- English: Fluent (C1, C2)
- The ability to manage the project after the SOW has been approved and signed. The SOW determines detailed project requirements and their cost as well as the main terms and conditions.
- Project Risk Management including communications with the customer on the project risks
- English: Fluent (C1, C2)
- Communicating with top-level stakeholders
- Experience in pre-sales activities
- Delivery Management
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher. This book is considered one of the best guides on negotiation and conflict resolution. It shows how any conflict can be turned into a mutually beneficial situation.
- Everything is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time by Gavin Kennedy. In this practical guide on negotiations, you can see how to reach the best deal both in professional and personal negotiations.
For a Project Manager, is it equally important to hire a great professional for the team and to maintain a working environment that motivates the colleagues and inspires their creativity and productiveness?
- Ability to act as an intermediary between the client and the team communicating the client’s requirements and their updates to the team and the team’s progress to the client.
- Conflict solving
- Risk Management
- Experience in conducting one-on-one meetings
- Ability to set and control KPIs for the team, evaluate the performance within the context of BI
- Experience in managing remote and distributed teams
- Experience in holding interviews with candidates
- Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know That Everyone Else Does Not by Andy Crowe. Based on the analysis of hundreds of successful project manager careers, the book summarizes their common features and provides valuable insights on becoming a great project manager.
Collaboration tools selection
No project can be completed with proper collaboration tools. This concerns all aspects of project development – communication, documentation, code creation, design, and prototyping. For a Project Manager, it is essential to have a working knowledge of such tools as well as their pros and cons.
- Jira (project and issue tracking tool) – user level
- Confluence – team collaboration and documentation tool
- Google Guite – set of collaboration tools by Google including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Hangouts, etc.
- Instant messaging tools – Slack, GoToMeeting, Skype
- Jira, Confluence – advanced level
- UX/UI prototyping tools – InVision, Axure, Proto.io, etc.
- MS Project – project management software by Microsoft
- Jira Configuration Manager
- Atlassian Portfolio for Jira – project portfolio management software for cross-project development and for managing multiple teams
- BI tools
Project budgeting means both creating the initial budget and keeping to it for the entire project duration. A Project Manager needs to balance the time and cost so that to stay within the limits of the budget approved by the client.
- Project Scope Management where the client’s requirements are translated into specific features and components that should be delivered, and the work required to deliver them is determined
- Project evaluation and discussion with the client
- Time tracking and estimation
- Budgeting (either management or discussion)
- Time management
- Budget Monitoring including the BI components
- Budget excess management (for each sprint as well as for the entire release), setting up automatic warnings of budget excess
- Budgeting in the context of the team and the project tasks
- Budgeting for future periods
Should you need more information on how we manage our development projects, contact us for a detailed discussion. In addition, we will be glad to work with you on implementing your startup idea.