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How can you get rid of your Project Manager?

The author of this article is IT Manager Dzmitry Veliasnitski.

IT Manager Dzmitry Veliasnitski

If you are working as a software developer or in a similar position, chances are you have asked yourself:

What are Project Managers doing?

If so, you may have come to the conclusion that a PM is kind of a useless intermediary position.

Let’s be honest: Project Managers seem to know very little about the software or the product you develop but, somehow, they are in a position to tell you how to do your work. How does that even happen? It’s not clear what they are doing, or why, so maybe your organization would do better without them.

I may partially agree with the last premise (with a lot of caveats of course), but I want to briefly clarify why Project Managers, Agile Coaches, and Scrum Masters are where they are, and do what they do.

Why can’t I get rid of a position that seems useless?

This is a valid question. Project Manager is a bit of a crutch position really. But, to begin, we first need to clarify why developers have their jobs.

Unfortunately for developers, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The simple truth, as well-known blogger and programmer Lex "IT Beard" Kartynnik said in his brilliant video on AI taking our jobs, is that “no employer needs developers.

They need a finished product. It just so happens that, unfortunately for them, they need software developers to make that finished product. And while the developers are in the process of making it, their employer wants 2 things from them.

Effectiveness and efficiency

So, to get rid of your Project Manager, all you need to do is perform with sufficient effectiveness in achieving project goals – and efficiency in delivering those goals – to justify keeping you in your job, at your current salary rate (if not an increase in your pay). And you can’t do it at the expense of others. You must succeed and you must let others succeed as well. Sounds easy enough!

There’s one catch though… How do you know that the company executives perceive you as an effective/efficient employee? What does efficient/effective mean to the company heads anyway? If they want something done by a certain date, how would they know that something might go wrong and you may be late? Also, your input is often useless without the work your teammates are doing, so how would executives know that you personally did something useful when it was part of a larger team effort?

Okay, so it looks like we need 2 more things to make sure that everyone knows you’re effective, and make your PM obsolete.

Transparency and predictability

To really get rid of a Project Manager you need to somehow let everyone know: what you are doing, what you’ve done, and when what you’re doing is going to be done. The first thing seems easy, but the rest is tricky.

The problem is that even if you think you’re all done with your piece of the work, that may not mean much to the business. They consider the work done the moment they can use it in production. So they will continue giving you more and more tasks to do until THEY think the work is DONE. Not only that, but because you are used to just working your work and coding your code, you don’t really know whether “feature A” is going to be done by the deadline and, frankly, you may not even know that the deadline is there in the first place!

Stakeholders will continue to add more and more tasks for you to complete. Many of these will be dependent on your colleagues and teammates — who also need to calculate their efficiency. And let’s not forget about reporting. As the people who pay your salary, stakeholders have a right to know what the current status of the project is.

It looks like to finally say bye-bye to this PM person, we might need just 2 more things.

Agility and controllability

To be totally transparent about the future and the past, you need a controlled environment. Things need to be predictable to the maximum extent, yet not so rigid that you end up drowning in bureaucracy. Between the nature of your work and the competitive nature of business, you can’t just “perform” in a vacuum. You must show your performance, predict your performance, justify your performance, and – if some part of your process doesn’t work – you must have the ability to identify it and change it on the fly.

And this is not the end! Businesses are competitive. If they start losing to competitors, they will require YOU to work harder, analyze better, code faster, and perform stronger. So to do away with the Project Managers once and for all, you must have 2 last things.

Self-reflection and continuous improvement

Even if you are 100% effective, efficient, transparent, predictable, and agile, yet controllable, that still may not be enough. You must get better at all of these things constantly. And to get better at them, you must have the ability to reflect and analyze your past actions, draw correct conclusions, be absolutely sure that you are going in the right direction, have a plan of improvement, and execute it all the time. And you are not the only one who has to do this. For the business to actually feel the impact of your effort, your entire team must do the exact same things.

Once you and your team deliver well on every single one of the eight components, I can congratulate you: you don’t need a Project Manager, or an Agile Coach, or a Scrum Master.

Now, you can give yourself a pat on the back. Good job!

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