How to manage a development team: 6 keys for success

How to manage a development team: 6 keys for success
Michel Cohen

Project management is one of the most complex responsibilities there is. A project manager is responsible for leading a project through its ideation, planning, execution, and control, to its very end. Each project is an adventure that leaves little room for boredom.

To be a great project manager, you must be a good leader, coworker, and supervisor. This career is challenging, as every day is different, and you must use all your skills to successfully develop each client’s vision. Additionally, you are the first person your team goes to when problems arise, and your team and the client probably expect you to have answers to all their queries. 

Given all these expectations, what can you do to make your project successful? What do you do in a critical situation? How can you ensure clients are happy with results? Here, I will answer these questions by describing  six key aspects every project manager must keep in mind while working on a project.

1. Project knowledge

This one might seem basic. You may say, “The project is the only thing I think of,” and I’m sure it’s true. However, have you heard the phrase, “Don’t work hard, work smart”? It’s especially true here. Knowing the project completely is essential to carrying it out successfully. You may spend all day thinking about how to execute the project, but not enough time thinking about what the project is. 

Before you even start defining resources, strategies, or time, you must understand the expectations and the end goals. You can ask yourself:

  • What’s the mission? 
  • Which goals are fixed and which ones are flexible? 
  • How does the business work? 
  • What is its main market? 

If you understand the end goal, you will do more than complete tasks. You will give clients a level of service that satisfies their expectations, and  provide suggestions that surpasses them.

Understanding the project and the client go hand in hand, so it’s extremely important that you also perceive the client’s worries, pain points, and sensitive topics. You should become familiar with which aspects of the project are more important and which are less so.

After knowing the client and the project, the most important thing for a project manager to understand is the risks. Identifying project risks, being honest with the client about them, and working from the beginning to mitigate and manage them is the best way to guarantee that everyone’s hard work won’t be ruined during a critical situation. In such an event, a project manager who knows the risks is better prepared to communicate them immediately, allowing the product owner to make the best decisions possible based on facts.

2. Effective communication

Being transparent can help a lot in creating a good relationship with the client. The client is the one taking the risks, so shouldn’t they know everything about the project and your decision-making process? 

Transparent communication shows the client you care about their project on a personal level. A strong communication channel becomes even more important when you must discuss difficult issues, like telling the client their choice isn’t the best one or, even worse, that you and your team made a mistake when choosing a tool, framework, or approach. But remember, although you must be clear and concise when talking with the client, you should be careful not to step out of line. 

You  must also make sure the client knows all the details of the project. In every conversation, their questions must be a priority. Never let a client’s question  go unanswered, keeping in mind they’re asking them to be able to make productive and reasonable decisions.

To ensure thorough communication, use reminders to make sure you don’t let anything slide. Slack alerts can be very useful for  tracking important topics and tasks. 

Communicating effectively is even more important when you need to talk about a serious bug that could cause a critical situation for the project and the business. Yet, this kind of conversation is among the most difficult, so how can you do it well ? In essence, by providing as much information as possible, including descriptions of the nature of the bug, when the problem started, the cause, and how much time the team will need to deploy a fix. Additionally, you must give the client options for how to compensate affected users and how the situation can be prevented from happening again. These actions have proved very useful for us when facing a crisis. You can be certain that, if you communicate a bug using these guidelines, the situation will be much less traumatic for the client and the team. Given that these situations are inevitable, what matters is that you do everything you can to communicate honestly and effectively.

3. Detail orientation 

A project manager must be organized and detail-oriented at all times to allow the team to move in the right direction. As each project includes hundreds of tasks, roles (like designers and developers), and expectations, keeping boards and tasks organized can be the difference between success and failure on each sprint. 

Part of being a good communicator is keeping tracking tools like Trello and Jira organized and clean, without old tickets that confuse the team or the client. I can assure you that your clients will check Trello and Jira constantly to see how everything is progressing, so they appreciate it when your team keeps each task updated. 

How can you use management tools to keep the team focused and not let any detail slide? First, make sure the client approves each function before developing it. You can use mockups and ticket descriptions for that purpose. With this approach, you save yourself and your team from working twice as hard for the same results, such as  creating something a client didn’t want or expect, or having to rebuild or discard a function. 

Second, to maintain workflow order and productivity on Trello and Jira, you must be incisive. Pay attention to each board and task to determine if it’s highly optimized and prevents distractions or confusion. For example, when creating a ticket on Trello, use as many details as possible. If team members don’t understand what the task is about, they might put time and effort into something that’s not  useful, creating a big obstacle to the team’s overall productivity.

You should also avoid placing the same task in two different tickets, or assigning a task to more people than needed. If you’re detail-oriented and pay attention to the organization of each board, you will notice these issues and help the devs, QA engineer, product owner, and the rest of the team get a clear idea of what they need to do and how they should do it. 

4. Good priority management

Having good priority management is only possible if you did a good job on item #1, project knowledge. Knowing the project makes it easier to understand the client’s priorities. With this understanding, you don’t have to make decisions on your own. Be sure you have the product owner’s approval on the priority hierarchy. 

Understanding the desired roadmap allows you to plan and execute each sprint in a way that corresponds to the needs of the business and the client. If you’re working with the Scrum methodology, you can achieve this alignment by having periodic calls with the product owner and working as a team to define priorities during sprint planning. If you’re working with the Kanban methodology, you must be adaptable, as priorities can change, requiring you to be especially knowledgeable about the client’s interests on a daily basis. 

Regardless of the methodology you’re following, defining priorities is crucial. If you skip this step, you will easily be stuck like a hamster on a wheel powered by pointless tasks and activities. Defining priorities can be the difference between being productive and just being busy. The project may have hundreds of tasks left “To Do,” but what’s important is that you’re working first on those that have the highest priority. To determine if that’s the case, you can ask yourself, “Am I making sure each moment of my valuable time and my team’s is put to the best use?” 

As a final point, if you feel the client isn’t handling priorities as efficiently as they could, politely help them rethink their approach. As the project manager, you bear the responsibility for asking why a client decides something and, if necessary, tactfully showing them why it’s not the best choice, using objective research and examples. If you approach this conversation in a friendly manner, you improve your chances of success. 

Likewise, make sure that the client’s money is spent hyper-efficiently, especially when working for startups where resources are limited. Again, establishing priorities according to importance for all resources is key.

5. A winning team

The most productive and successful organizations are those with the best teams. A recent study of more than 600,000 researchers, artists, politicians, and athletes found that high performers are 400% more productive than average. In other words, a very large gap exists between those who perform acceptably and those who exceed expectations, with no middle ground. Company studies show similar results and also reveal that the gap increases with the complexity of a job. In highly complex occupations, such as software development, high performers are 800% more productive than average.

So, the first step to having a winning team is to hire people with exceptional skills. At BEON, we have a carefully-crafted hiring pipeline to ensure we accept only exceptional engineers, who we call “The Keepers.” These professionals stand out because they have noteworthy academic records, they are masters of their areas of expertise, and they possess crucial teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills that allow them to help clients daily and in critical situations.

The next thing to keep in mind when assembling your team is balance. A good development team should have experienced frontend, backend, DevOps, and QA engineers, and designers. If a team has two full-stack developers and they both specialize in the backend, the team isn’t balanced.

Once the team is formed, you must boost their performance. Take the time to find out what motivates each member individually and the team collectively. Try to discover  what each person and the group as a whole needs to achieve the goals you have in mind for them.

This process requires interest and patience so you can have meaningful conversations with each employee from the beginning, while discovering their strengths and weaknesses. These efforts may take time, but they will help you make much more realistic decisions based on the true capabilities of your team.

When a project is underway and you trust the capabilities of your team members, it’s vitally important that you keep them motivated. How? First, give them credit for the ideas and solutions they bring in, mentioning them to the rest of the team and to the client as well. Second, make sure they’re happy with their pay, working conditions, the technology they’re using, their teammates, and their ability to express the challenges they encounter daily.

6. Excellent crisis management

As a project manager, you must develop advanced crisis management skills that can help defuse complex situations. In fact, these events are opportunities for  you to show your  superb leadership abilities.

A crisis can happen to the best of teams at any time, so you must be well prepared. How can you take advantage of an emergency to stop the problem, keep your team focused, meet deadlines, and even come out of it in better shape than you started in?

First, throughout the crisis, keep calm. Your team and colleagues will look to you for guidance and moral support, so you must set an example. If your team sees that you’re concerned and focused, but calm and collected, they will imitate your behavior. By staying motivated, your team will be encouraged to work hard to solve the crisis. Panic does no one any good and shakes up an already difficult situation. Of course, you don’t need to give anyone false hope, but optimism is contagious and can help the situation get resolved much faster.

Second, make it clear to the client that you’re actively working on the issue. If the client sees that you’ve assigned the problem a high level of importance, and that you’re prepared to face it, you can work together calmly to resolve it. How can you achieve this state? As I mentioned in item #3, effective communication is the key.

In critical situations, you must keep the client informed at all times about your progress. Even when it’s minimal, offering frequent updates will let them know you’re available at all times. When informing the client, use data, reports, lists, numbers, and anything else that will show them you have the situation under control. If you want to see this process put into practice, read the case study one of our engineers wrote about a crisis in which communication proved very effective in keeping the client calm and motivated.

Third, solve the problem and prevent it from getting worse. To effectively contain a crisis, you need to gather all the facts about the cause and attack the problem quickly and decisively. In critical situations, you may need to ask your team to put in a special effort to solve the situation. However, you must keep a few things in mind when doing so.

For starters, don’t use the magic word “urgency” too much, as it can be dangerous. I guarantee that when you say something is urgent, your team will take it very seriously. So if something isn’t, don’t say it is. If you use the term excessively, it loses its value and fails to produce the needed results in a truly urgent situation. You can ask your team to work overtime or weekends, but it’s not something you can do too frequently if you want to keep morale and motivation high.

Next, make sure your team feels the extra effort and support they provided to the project are valued. If your team members feel that you don’t appreciate the sacrifices they made during a crisis, they may not be willing to make them again. It may sound incredible, but even a thank-you meeting and words of encouragement can make the difference between your team thinking their work has gone unnoticed and that it is appreciated.

How to manage a winning remote team

Managing a project is a huge responsibility. The client, your team, and everyone involved are counting on you to keep things under control. That’s why it’s so important that you know the business, the client, and the project perfectly. You also need to communicate effectively with the client and the team, work on efficient processes, and have thought-out plans in case of a crisis.

All in all, a good project manager is nothing without a good team. At BEON Tech Studio, we do our best to boost our clients’ projects by recruiting high-quality talent throughout Latin America. 

Is the quality of your team the most important thing for you too? We can give you the expert talent and productivity you need. Drop us a line, we will answer you today.