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'Not in the functional spec...'

My daughter asked me the other day about what I did exactly - apparently it was difficult to explain to her friends when asked ‘What do your olds do?’, and at 16, all she managed was ‘something to do with IT but she’s not a geek...’

Technically true, of course, but it got me thinking about my role and what it is I actually do.

Project Management, by its title alone, is something that most people can imagine. You manage projects. Duh. That in itself is no easy task, let me assure you. If it were easy, no one would need project managers - you would do it yourself.

The best definition that I can think of is that it’s like being an interpreter - turning client requirements into ‘regular speak’ into ‘geek speak’ - and vice versa. I find this to be an essential part of my role with Intergen, clarifying the needs of all parties involved, each who use a different language to get across what they want.

Now it may sound crazy - you would think the gap wouldn’t be that wide - like speaking with an Australian accent. Words sound different, or are used in a different context, but essentially it’s the same language, only with more crikeys and struth mates.

What I find is that the gap is very wide – like speaking Swahili in Japan. Well, maybe not that wide...

Communication is the key to projects going well; that is where a project manager’s interpreter skills come into play.

When a client says, ‘I would like that font bigger,’ developers hear ‘make that font really BIG,’ whereas the client expected one point size more. Part of my job is to define for the developers: ‘Can we make that font bigger – maybe one point size more?’

When a developer says, ‘I have fixed the bug that was causing the Error 500 on the website,’ he means just that. The client hears ‘that part of my website now works perfectly’ which is not necessarily the case, and often the functionality still doesn’t work, you just no longer get the error message.

Developers are great at taking things literally. If I ask them to develop me a programme that has the functionality to receive credit card payments and produce printable receipts, then I would get exactly that. I would probably not get a user interface that I could enter my visa details into, or be able to connect an actual printer to print the receipts out. As I did not request that specifically, then that is ‘not in the functional spec’. (This is something I would love on a t-shirt...)

Now I may be oversimplifying this, (although these are real examples here), but I’m using it as an example more to demonstrate the need for us all to be on the same page. Neither party is wrong in what they say and/or think. It’s all about interpretation.

Be clear with what it is you want, and ask for it - specifically. Time should be spent at the beginning of a project to clearly define client expectations and create technical specifications from these so that everyone agrees on what the outcome will be. If a client does not understand something technical that has been discussed, then they should ask for more information until they do understand. If a developer does not understand what the business requirement of outcome of a technical task is, then they should ask for more information until they do. And who do you go to?

The Project Manager - the glue in the middle, the speaker of all languages, the herder of cats!

Good luck with your next project!

Posted by: Diana Hennessy, Project Manager | 22 September 2009

Tags: Project Management

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