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Project Management 101

Zack Urlocker
Thursday, July 01, 2004

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PM!If you're a typical programmer working in a corporate environment, you've probably wondered about a career in management. Maybe you have considered taking evening courses toward an MBA, or at least learning to play golf. But before you begin climbing the corporate ladder to a ground floor opportunity, you'll need to learn about project management.

In the majority of organizations, a project manager is a middle manager euphemism for someone who has complete responsibility and zero authority. A project manager is very similar to a referee in a sumo wrestling match. He or she needs to exert control over the process but can't afford to be too much in the middle.

To be successful, the project manager must earn the respect of the programmers who are working on the project. This can be done by having a Ph.D. from MIT, fluency in six programming languages, and several patents. Alternatively, you can just cut the salary of anyone who doubts your word.

Avoiding PMS

There can be confusion as to what exactly are the project manager's duties. The project manager, known as a PM, negotiates the features of a project with the Product Manager, known as a PM. The PM gets a detailed Market Requirement Document, usually written on a cocktail napkin, from the PM. A typical MRD pronounced "Merde" might be, "Combine the best features of Excel, Netscape Navigator, and Quake. Make it fit on a floppy disk. I'll be at the gym."

The PM then works with the PM and develops a project matrix, known as a PM, which is passed to the program manager, known as a PM. The PM coordinates between the PM and the PM as well as with Documentation, Quality Assurance, Product Marketing (known as PM), and the company shrink. Finally, the PM will call a meeting with the PM, the PM, and the PM. If more than one person shows up, it's either a project review or schizophrenia; otherwise it's consensus. Although the process sounds complex to the uninitiated, keep in mind the project manager motto: "No, that's the PM's job."

No Schedule Is Still A Schedule 

Project managers are responsible for shipping buggy software behind schedule.  At least that's the view among upper management. Among the programming staff, the project manager is blamed for shipping buggy software before it's ready. The project manager's biggest challenge is to reconcile these two views without letting on to either side that there is no schedule.

Project managers will often use project management software to create what is known in management as a messy diagram of squiggly lines and boxes. Everyone else calls it a Critical Path Management schedule--referred to as CPM, in honor of the last operating system that shipped on time. With modern project management software, a PM can produce a Gantt chart, which allows him or her to explain why the software Gantt ship on time. First the project manager enters dates that the engineers have made up for all the tasks they must complete. (If any of the engineers have had second dates or marriage proposals, those are added too.) Because every feature ever created always takes "about two weeks" from start to finish, you multiply the number of engineers by the number of weeks in a year, less six months off for good behavior. The resulting figure indicates how many years before either your stock options vest or you look for another job.

Tools to Advance Your Career

Luckily, there are several good project management tools available including MegaSoft Project This!, CA-Super-Duper-Project-with-Extra-Crunchy-Bits, and Pasta Project Primavera and Vegetables. All three have announced Windows XP versions for release early next year.  But rumors have it they've missed their beta dates.

About the author
Zack Urlocker is a pseudonym for a Silicon Valley software executive. He suffered through the better part of an MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and then decided to buy the sweatshirt instead.

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