Strategy and Innovation

The many, and sometimes conflicting, hats of a project manager

At WillowTree, a project manager wears many hats in service to the team. We act as account managers, project managers, proxy product owners, business analysts, team leaders, and scrum masters. Many of these roles are complementary. For instance, the account manager and proxy product owner both represent the voice of the stakeholders. However, other roles can appear to be at odds such as the product owner, project manager, and scrum master.

How do we wear conflicting hats that want to push each other out of the way? For me it is about having those conversations when I’m representing every role that needs to be at the table. I mentally, but sometimes verbally, explain to the other role that I’m inhabiting why an action makes sense. I then switch hats and respond. Just as I would do when dealing with separate people acting in the roles, I also make sure that I allow each role’s perspective to be considered. A lively self-contained debate ensues. Thank goodness that the frosted glass breakout booths have phones so others don’t know I’m debating with myself and not someone on the phone. Just like in real meetings, I keep notes on the highlights on the reasons that one side won and the main counter points.

Hypothetical exchange:

Product owner: It would delight the user to have a moving animation the first time they reach the next level.

Scrum master: No problem. Let’s write the user story and get the team to estimate it. Then we’ll put it in the backlog and discuss it during the next grooming meeting.

Project manager: Wait! That’s scope creep. How are we going to adjust our timeline or the planned scope for the next release?

Team leader: Make sure this is sustainable for the team and that they receive clear direction.

Product owner: The estimate is the same for the animation as it is for the transition screen. Let’s swap their priorities so we don’t change the release date.

Scrum master: [Updates backlog and tags stories to appropriate release date.]

Project manager: Before we finalize that decision, we need to make sure it doesn’t introduce undue risk or cause issues with our dependencies.

…and so on until a recommendation is formed.

The next key action, performed while wearing my team leader hat, is to bring the recommendation the other hats have agreed on to the team with full knowledge that there could still be changes. Everyone is encouraged to question my reasoning and propose alternate solutions. This brings in viewpoints that I may not have considered by inhabiting all the roles myself and gaining buy-in from the team.

Ultimately by actively considering the desired outcome through the lens of each role and then doing a final pass with not-in-my-head team members we can reach a solid conclusion without having to involve a large number of people. Yes, sometimes the roles are still at odds but just like debating with another team member, you usually reach a conclusion that may not make everyone happy but will result in the best quality product for the client and best solution for the team.

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