The situation

We recently launched an application for a client, and there were several dependencies that were out of our control. Part of the project management challenge? The sheer number of people involved.

We had our mobile team, our web team, a third-party back-end team, and the client. Four major parties (30-40 people) involved in a delivery process already pushing past deadlines. Plus, we were all dealing with legacy systems which severely slowed things down.

Also, relying on a third-party, back-end team not directly under your project management can impact launch. You need a solid QA process in place, and guardrails to ensure you don’t have a lot of code regression. It’s easy for a feeling of imminent failure to set in. But there’s a way to survive and thrive in these situations.

How we handled it

Via strong project management and high-quality, flexible front-end development. We took the reins as the lead project management resource on behalf of the client. That doesn’t mean we’re simply running meetings, or delegating tasks… we represented the client and the product itself. 

We had to get all parties involved working towards the same goal. Making our client’s voice heard meant dialing up proactive, hands-on project management, including:

  • Daily status updates
  • Daily stand-ups with all team members (including the third-party teams)
  • Follow-ups on behalf of the client
  • Transparent, focused, and reassuring communication with the client, which made it easier for them to trust our process
  • Making decisions on behalf of the client

Communication is important, but we don’t do “meetings for meetings’ sake.” Technical leadership and design and product leadership in the room (or Zoom) is key. The leaders of the disciplines need to be there to guide people. If they can’t make it, have a proxy but don’t reschedule.

Establish a group project manager as a sort of air traffic controller, managing each of the various project managers. We’re usually taking on that role (sometimes instinctively) to ensure each delivery lands without delaying an upcoming one.

Hold the line

Some truth: there’s only so much you can do when you have a third-party dependency. Double down on proactive project management and identify risks early and often.

Delivery and launch

We recommend a very clear delivery checklist in the user acceptance testing and delivery phase. When you’re testing, you’re so close to delivery. The product feels tangible, which makes it tempting for product stakeholders to want to add new functionality or features, or fundamentally change the UX.

A strong project management team has to set UAT boundaries and make it clear what is accepted as feedback and what is out into a future backlog. UAT and Delivery is about completing the last remaining tasks until you’re completely done and the product is accepted. 

When every feature meets the acceptance criteria, we’re ready for deployment.

What our project management communication looks like

A strong project manager is the source of truth for any successful release. You have to have somebody commanding the project, not just facilitating or as a conduit between parties.

But to empower our project managers, Dom & Tom establishes a tone early at the executive level. What are your real goals as a founder or strategic thinker? Which business realities should we account for? What should we take over, and what shouldn’t we touch?  

We use the phrase “commander’s intent” as a way to focus the goal of the project and the decisions that the project manager has to make. It’s basically a reminder to put succinct clarity at the top of the list when communicating to, well…everybody.

This helps contextualize our team meetings so the project manager can then do their thing. You have to orchestrate the communication lines carefully to be as lean as possible to keep the budgets down. And, your project manager has to allow for (and still keep track of) free-flowing communication between all the parties to get action done in the most efficient way.

Recommending and prescribing things thoughtfully and confidently is very key. Showing clients different ways to do something actually helps (as long as you keep it focused), but then coming in ready with a definitive option to solve the specific challenge at hand means you’ve done your research and you’re relying on hard-won experience.

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