The Project Manager (PM) is the single most important person in your mobile app development project. More important, arguably, than even you. The importance of avoiding a bad app project manager is critical.
The PM sits at the heart of everything, controlling the timing and costs of your project by making sure the developers – the guys writing the code for your app – are doing what they should be doing, at the right time.
It may surprise you to learn that good project managers are harder to recruit than good developers. For app development companies this represents a real problem, and they often have to recruit PM’s with less experience and technical knowledge than they would ideally need. This means, with the explosion in app development, that you can easily find your own project being run by a PM who doesn’t have the skills you actually need to make sure your project comes in on time and on budget.
Fortunately, there are a few ways where you can pre-qualify the quality of the project manager that will be assigned to your project before you actually go ahead and commission that development team to build your app.
Check their response to your app project briefing
When you are selecting a development team to work with it’s critical that you issue a solid project briefing to all the teams you are inviting to bid. We cannot stress enough how important this is.
For this reason, we have created an App Project Briefing template to help you. It will make sure you are giving the developer the information they need to give you the best possible response and most accurate timing.
In smaller development teams and agencies, the project manager you will be working with will nearly always make a direct contribution to the developer’s response to your briefing. In larger teams, where there may be a pre-sales team in place who handle the relationship before you are handed over to the actual development team, the project manager may not have had any impact.
In both cases look carefully at the quality of the developer’s response and ask the direct question – did the project manager they intend to put on the project have any input into the quote.
You are looking for a quality response and to hear that the PM did indeed contribute to their response.
By quality response we mean that the developer should leave you in no doubt about their technical credentials and their approach to realising your app idea.
Meet the project manager you’ll be working with
Before signing a contract with a development team, especially if it has significant costs attached to it, insist on meeting the project manager and hopefully the technical lead on the project first.
The former is more important than the latter, and in some respects, it’s almost better to meet them separately – this would help you get a better handle on the technical knowledge standard of the PM. You need this to be high because you need to avoid a situation where, in your regular meetings the PM constantly needs to defer answering a question until they have consulted with another member of the team (who knows more). The fact is, your PM should already have the answers, if they are on top of the project, as you need them to be.
You don’t need to physically meet them – a call or Skype/GoToMeeting is fine. You don’t need to even like them – although it does help if you do get on, obviously – but you do need to be assured that the project manager you will be working with give you confidence in their capability, competence and knowledge. If they come across as the kind of person you’d like to have a beer with, well that’s just a bonus: but it’s not critical.
Make sure they are named in the contract
OK, so the developer has provided you with a great response to your app project briefing and you have met one of the project managers and you trust that they will do a great job for you.
Now, what you absolutely must avoid is having the PM switched out on you. Remember we said that good PM’s are hard to find?
If the PM you trust and want to work with is not named in the contract, along with a defined service level, then there is nothing to stop the development managers swapping that PM out for another, say once the project has got past the specification stage.
You need to be really clear that the PM you meet is the PM you will work with – this goes for any Business Analysis (BA’s) that are involved in the early days of the project too.
This is doubly important in smaller teams where the PM will almost certainly be working with other clients at the same time as working on your project. Most project managers work on medium sized app development project will be working across four to six clients.
This is not a problem until one of those clients has something go wrong that takes up a disproportionate amount of your shared project manager’s time. This is why it’s important to, a) make sure a minimum amount of meetings and time is specified in the contract and b0 as soon as those specified times start to slip you get on their case and get the PM servicing your business as per the agreement. If you let this slip, it could see the whole project start to slip.
Give them the best chance of getting the project management right from the start
As always, to give both your project the greatest chance of success and to give good developers the best opportunity to provide you with a great proposal or quote, start with the App Project Briefing template [link] so that you are giving them a clear idea of your project requirements.