What makes a good manager?

I had a great Christmas this year, eating, drinking and conversing with family (as I always do).  This particular year, I got talking with Uncle Bob – a retired product manager from IBM – and we were conversing about what qualities make a good manager.  The post feast banter was riveting, so I decided to blog about the qualities that I seek in a good project manager in the software industry:

•    The project is the main concern – any manager who is not giving top priority to the project has another agenda.  Typically, the project manager is solely responsible for a failed project, but everyone on the team suffers in the long run. The client, the contractor company, middle management, and all the software engineers.  If all project decisions made are in the best interest of the project then the project is more likely to be a success.

•    Be free with information – Managers should never be “black hole” people when it comes down to important information about a project.  A good project manager should be able to share his/her information and be free from concern about reporting employees gaining power from increased knowledge.

•    Co-ordinate with staff – Along the lines of being free with information, every employee on the project should be aware of what their peers are doing.  In the case that one or more employees are out of commission, the project manager should be able to delegate responsibility of work to another member of staff.

•    Control the road map – As a manager, I would not run a project without a project plan any more than I would drive across the country without a road map.  The project plan is the living breathing core of any successful project, which evolves with the lifetime of the project.  Projects should never start without a baseline project plan and during the life of the project; the plan should always reflect the current progress and next steps in the project direction.

•    The client is always right… – within reason.  It is the job of a project manager to set the expectations of the client with regards to what work can be completed in a finite period of time with a set budget.  The project manager should never promise more than the development team can deliver, causing burnout.  On the other hand, it is important to provide the client with solutions to some of their requests, and good communication with the development team can assist in the creation of a good solution.

•    Never micro-manage – This is the sin of all manager tactics.  When you micro-manage your staff you’re affectively telling them that you do not trust their abilities.  Micro-management usually leads to frustrated team members, and the project manager looses respect of his/her peers.

•    The buck stops here – Some difficult decisions are sometimes called for in the lifetime of a project.  These decisions can be technical, staff related, or just about taking the next step in the project roadmap, but no matter what the quandary there needs to be a team member willing to make the hard decision.  It is usually the responsibility of the project manager to make these types of decisions.  Everyone on the team is entitled to an opinion (and should be asked), but once a decision has been reached everyone on the team should abide by it.  If things work out, great, but if not, the project manager is solely responsible for taking heat on the mistake.

•    You’re the leader, so lead – The development staff looks for a clear direction from an individual who can overview the whole project.  The project manager should be strong enough to drive the project according to the project plan.

•    Be a people person – Project management, and management as a whole, is not just about being in power and delegating work to other individuals.  A great project manager knows how to manage his/her people so that they are motivated, non-frustrated, and have a clear understanding of their role in the project.  Make no mistake, project management is not an easy job, and it is not a bolt on task to a regular developer role.  Management of staff and project can take a while to get right, and not everyone is cut out for the job.  Bottom line – if you want a managerial role, you need people skills.

4 thoughts on “What makes a good manager?

  1. http://

    I like this statement: "As a manager, I would not run a project without a project plan any more than I would drive across the country without a road map".
    <br>Project plan is more complex in that the map is changing (according to client’s requirement changes) and the distances between sites are not correctly labeled (we are not quite sure how long we need for a task in advance).
    <br>So Project Plan is based on very strong experience in system analysis and development. Is this also requirement for project manager? Many people say no, but I feel it is YES — Manager should know the driving path is on highway or on maintain road.

  2. http://

    A project plan is kind of like looking at a topographical map. You know where you are and you can see the dot for the city you wish to visit. A WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) is the equivalent of a turn-by-turn map. It states exact steps on how to get from beginning to end, how long each step takes, and who is responsible for it.
    <br>A good PM needs to manage three things: schedule, scope, and quality of the project deliverable. Most Project Managers can do the first two reasonably well. The third involves having some principals. A project manager can be a great friend to the client and push his or her team to deliver more then they promised, but they have to be responsible to the customer to deliver a quality product FIRST. Quality must be measured and tracked. What good is a system that has 100,000 lines of code if you get timeouts every time someone logs on?
    <br>Another trait of good Project Managers is that they get to know their people. A team of people consists of individuals with the same goal. A project manager’s job is to know each person and what drives him or her. Inspire each individual in the most appropriate way to achieve the same goal.
    <br>A good project manager keeps up to date on new technologies, management philosophies, and software development philosophies. Combine those together to best fit their team and situation.
    <br>A good project manager does not refer to his team as resources. If you are treating your talented professionals as resources, do not be surprised if they leave without giving it a second thought. Employees are investments. They are not gears in a transmission. The company invests time money and effort into each employee and the project manager needs to realize this.

  3. Nathan

    And one more heck yea. I’ve heard the word ‘resource’ way too many times from my current manager. And now I’m off to a new job…

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