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Why Development Experience Helps With Project Management

Jen Fowler
#Industry Insights
Published on March 31, 2015

Learn why having experience in web development can provide a great deal of value for project managers.

At Diagram, we typically work on a number of concurrent web development projects, and in my role as Project Manager, I oversee these projects from start to finish, coordinating our efforts and working with our team and our clients to deliver the finished product. It can be a challenging, complex process, involving juggling resources across multiple projects, following up with team members to get updates and ensure that we will hit milestones on time, staying in touch with everyone to prepare for handoffs between departments at certain stages of the project, and preparing our Quality Control (QC) team for what they need to do, what is expected of the product, and how it should work.

While managing our development projects is a lot of work, I’m fortunate to bring 15 years of my own experience in front and back end development, including HTML/CSS, Javascript, .NET, and database programming to the table. The understanding that this experience provides about the work that our developers do and the way the technologies interface with each other gives me a huge advantage in making sure our projects are completed effectively and efficiently. I wanted to look at some of the benefits that this development experience gives me as I work with all the members of our team and our clients to complete our projects:

Understanding Team Members’ Roles

Project managers need to know their team members’ areas of expertise, which will help them determine who should handle which tasks. But in addition to understanding how best to assign and schedule the development work that needs to be done, having actual experience completing these development tasks can provide additional insight into exactly what needs to be done, how long it will take, and what can be expected of the team members who are completing it. This can greatly increase efficiency among the team and ensure that people work together to complete the project on time and under budget.

Having worked in different aspects of the web development process throughout my career, I have an understanding of what tasks should go to which people, and I can also communicate more effectively with the clients and help them understand exactly what needs to be done, how long it will take, and what they can expect to see when it is completed.

Experience with the Technology

In my past life as a developer, I was something of a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” With the work that I’ve done in all the various aspects of development projects, including defining specifications and building white label products from the ground up, I understand the real-world solutions to the problems that clients want to solve, and I can identify when solutions suggested by clients might not be the best course of action and provide alternate solutions that might make more sense.

This understanding of the underlying technology that their websites are built on allows me to reduce the need for developers to attend meetings with clients. If I can help clients understand the capabilities and/or limitations of their software, this frees up our team members to complete their development tasks rather than take the time to attend these one-off informational meetings, which greatly increases our efficiency and productivity.

Knowing When to Involve QC

Having worked within all stages of a web development project, I’ve gained a good sense of when and why our Quality Control team may need to be involved at different points in the development process. Rather than simply bringing them in after development has been completed, I try to involve them throughout the entire process, from designing wireframes and defining the technical specifications of the site, to the Quality Assurance (QA) testing and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) that takes place prior to handoff to the client. By bringing them in early on, they can understand the goals of the site and how it will look and function visually, they can offer their own insights on what might cause possible issues for the users, and they can be prepared for their own testing without the need for training from developers.

This inclusion of QC throughout the development process makes the entire process go more smoothly, and it also gives clients a better UAT experience, since as many errors or issues as possible will have been discovered and resolved before the UAT process begins.

Experience = Efficiency

With my background in development, I’ve found that I have a unique perspective in managing designers and developers. Since I’ve touched multiple different pieces of the development process throughout my career, I can bring this understanding to every project and help our entire team work together to complete our work in the most collaborative, efficient, and effective manner possible.

While I realize that this level of experience is not possible for all project managers, I do feel that “getting your hands dirty” and working directly on some of these development tasks can really make the difference for how you approach a project. Walking in each of your team members’ shoes can give you the insight you need to plan and effect an efficient process that meets your clients’ needs and results in success for everyone involved.

Do you have any questions for us about web development, project management, or QC? Please feel free to contact us, or leave a comment below.