7 Secrets to Successful Project Manager/Team Collaboration

Elisa Cepale standing in front of a tree
Elisa Cepale

As project managers, it’s important that we know how to best support our development teams (and vice versa), especially in Agile environments. At White October we continuously reflect on our process to refine the way we work.

Here is what we learned from an invaluable brainstorming session with our Tech Lead. A lot of the points below relate to teams in Agile environments, but can apply to any type of project team.

Secret #1: Set the pace in the beginning

The start of the project is paced by a series of activities and workshops to set the project vision, internal and external objectives, and the project deliverables.

A project manager knows that these project fundamentals will guide decisions throughout the project, so their role in this initial phase is to support the team in forming a shared understanding and clear definitions of these fundamentals.

By setting a common basis the team will have a clear focus to support the decision-making process, and ways to measure whether success is achieved.

Secret #2: Be clear on the structure expected

To ensure that the project direction doesn’t get compromised by the lack of a good plan, the project manager chooses the most appropriate approach to follow for the delivery of the project. Approaches you might consider in an Agile environment are Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban, but there are others.

Discuss and agree on this approach with the team so that they have all the information they need about the schedule, resources, type of activities, communications, and ceremonies that are expected to take place during the project.

An unstructured project is frustrating and confusing for the team and it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure such structure is in place to facilitate team activities and discussions.

In the Planning phase, the project manager also defines internal and external communications. At White October, we encourage direct communication between the development team and clients. However, at times, the PM should consider taking on client liaisons about specific issues, either to add context to the matter, or simply to protect the team’s time.

Secret #3: Help the team track the work

In the Activity Planning phase, the project manager works with the team to identify the tasks needed to accomplish the objectives that were set in the initial phase.

These can be broken down in smaller, more manageable sub-tasks and estimated by the team.

Tasks are continually added during the project. These can relate to technical debt, bugs, new requirements, etc. The project manager ensures that these tasks are recorded as needed. It’s vital that they clarify to the team where tasks should be logged and what the expectations and schedule to complete them are, so that the team doesn’t become concerned about tasks getting lost.

In some cases, you might decide that it’s not necessary to record certain bugs if they won’t be worked on during the project’s lifetime. In that case, communicate this decision to the team as soon as possible.

Secret #4: Facilitate prioritization

Once the project is set up, milestones identified, and a backlog is created, a key responsibility for the project manager is to support the development team in organizing their workload.

This is something that as a PM, you will be working on with the team throughout the project and includes:

In an Agile team, the team agrees what tasks should be worked on and what tasks can be deferred to later in the project. The project manager should be as explicit as they can to help others know how to prioritize workload requirements, for example indicating task priorities. This allows the team to stay focused on the assigned tasks for the current build/sprint.

Secret #5: Support time management

The project manager sets the project timeline and communicates expectations to the team at the beginning of the project. However, at times, resource requirements, blocks, and other issues may put the team’s time on the project at risk.

The team will require the support of the project manager to liaise with others regarding their time when this is being requested for other work. It is the project manager’s responsibility to discuss priorities with the resource manager and management, and re-book, re-prioritize or re-assign the work accordingly (including updating the resource management system).

The project manager helps the team when focus is required by supporting a quick resolution of roadblocks on projects and taking ownership of timescale issues. The team can then return their focus to the project work, avoiding distractions or unnecessary stress around timescales.

pin image with text: successful project manager/team collaboration

Secret #6: Manage reports and documentation

Keeping documentation and producing reports is an essential part of any project management role. On a day-to-day level, the team relies on the project manager to take notes in meetings and produce summary reports of what’s been discussed and agreed.

Documentation also helps the team to remember goals, objectives, and any other details throughout the project.

Project managers monitor the team’s progress and have a good understanding of the project status at all times, which they communicate regularly to the team and stakeholders. The updates will include the risks identified by the team associated with the project, to help the wider team define actions to address these project issues.

Secret #7: Motivate the team

Last but not least, the project manager above everyone else should support and inspire the team and establish a trusting relationship with them. Project managers should ensure that all team members’ views are shared throughout the project from the beginning. Every team needs to know that their work, their questions, and their concerns are valued.

The team’s work should be reviewed regularly by the client through demos and sprint reviews to ensure that they receive the feedback they need to help them advance to the finish line, but also to give them a chance to show the client the good work they do.

People in your team are the most important asset for the success of the project. Through understanding these secrets for better collaboration between the team leader and the team members, you can guide and support your team while getting great results for your clients.