Project Manager NETFORMIC GmbH & Author
Hi, I’m Martin and I’ve been a project manager at NETFORMIC for three years. I would like to give you a brief insight into the daily routine as a project manager and the associated tasks.
The change to NETFORMIC was a jump into cold water for me – or at least into the cool pond. I did have several years of experience in managing projects, but in a different industry. I previously worked in e-learning/video production and was very excited about the new challenge of managing e-commerce projects.
Role of the project manager – A question of perspective
Of course, the change of industry brought many changes in my work. The projects became larger and much more complex. For example, I have long had problems with the fact that in such a broad, technical environment, the project manager cannot understand everything down to the last detail. For me it was a contradiction in the beginning to control software developers without understanding in detail what they do or how they do it. In media production, I had deeper insights into the individual tasks and could also classify the implementation quite accurately. But to check the code of a developer or to judge a hosting setup independently I simply lack the appropriate knowledge. However, over time and through feedback from my colleagues and supervisors, I have learned that this is not at all necessary, and sometimes even a hindrance, to effective team management. As a project manager, you should always keep the big picture in mind, rather than obsessing over the level of detail. The implementing developer is responsible for the details in the implementation of a task. He has a different perspective on his ToDo than the project manager, who only looks at it “from above” and has to embed the content in the context of the project. In general, as a project manager you are often the “mediator” between different perspectives. Often you act as a translator between the customer and the internal project team, because the viewpoints of the same issue can differ massively depending on the role. In such cases, it is the task of the project manager to bring everything together. It can be helpful if you don’t know the developer’s code or don’t understand the technical underpinnings, for example, because then you have to find a level that works as a common denominator for everyone involved.
Tasks of a project manager – everything revolves around time, scope and budget
The communicative bridging described above, the controlling of KPIs, the scheduling, workshops and many other activities of a project manager all serve the same goal in the end: to define the three project dimensions of time, scope and budget and to keep them in balance. This sounds abstract at first, but you could also simply say that the project manager pays attention to: When, What, How expensive? Ultimately, all meetings, status reports, and ticket coordinations revolve directly or indirectly around keeping these dimensions under control. If you no longer have an overview of what exactly is to be implemented, when you will be finished with which feature or how you stand budget-wise, then the project is in trouble and you have to act accordingly. This can mean very different things to different individuals. Often, several project participants have to be brought to the same table and perspectives have to be synchronized. Sometimes plans have to be changed or the customer has to be told “no” so that the project steamer can get back on course.
Working methods in projects – maximum transparency
In order to stay true to this course in the best possible way, an important basic principle at NETFORMIC is transparency. We strive to achieve the best possible traceability internally and for our customers. If it is clear at all times who is working on what and the results are neatly documented, this not only helps the project manager but also each individual team member. This makes substitutions in case of illness or handovers easier and helps to look beyond one’s own nose. We also work together with the customer in our project tools Jira and Confluence. Customers can open each ticket themselves and view the status or read the documentation of a feature. We are intentionally not putting up an artificial barrier here. This openness was also an adjustment for me at first, but working at eye level makes a lot of things easier and also helps to recognize early on if something is going in the wrong direction.
Communication as a project manager – responsibility and what belongs to it
Still, the old adage applies: shit happens. People make mistakes or get sick unexpectedly. In the world of complex software development, it is also easy for something not to work as planned. What matters is how you deal with it. The project manager discusses the impact on the project with the customer and/or external partners. You are generally the first point of contact for any communication from an external direction and you channel it. In this way, communicative uncontrolled growth can be avoided in a project with a large number of actors. If, for example, developers are permanently contacted directly by telephone “from outside”, they are distracted and significantly less efficient in the processing of their tasks. The consequences for the dimension of “time” are to be expected. Regular status calls with the customer therefore serve the exchange and structuring of open questions. If you can’t get anywhere with the contact person on the customer side, you may have to escalate the matter accordingly. What sounds spectacular and unpleasant at first, is in my experience a planned and defined workflow at the beginning of each project, to solve problems proactively and in mutual interest and thus serve the project. At the same time, it gives the project manager the security of knowing that he or she is not alone if the worst comes to the worst. You always have your back.
In addition, you are also a bit of a coach for the project team and should keep the motivation and mood in the green zone. The best plan doesn’t help if the team doesn’t pull together, or if everyone is cobbling away in silence. Regular team meetings are therefore a must – apart from that, it is also advisable to simply chat with colleagues and not to let humour get a raw deal. A team in which everyone feels comfortable and valued works best.
The project manager from our customers’ point of view – captain on board
Facilitator, coach, project steamer – this vocabulary gives a decisive indication of the role of the project manager from the customer’s point of view. He is a key figure and decides on the success or failure of strategically often groundbreaking projects. NETFORMIC serves customers of completely different maturity levels and this is also reflected in the projects. It happens that the very first step into the world of e-commerce is taken together or that a long-term course is set in the digital transformation of a group. I have experienced several customers who wanted to meet the future project manager personally in the initiation phase before signing a project contract – even though he or she does not actually get involved in operations until after a project has been commissioned. If you consider the strategic scope of some projects from the point of view of our customers, then it is easy to understand that, in addition to technical competence, the famous “nose factor” must also be right.
After all, you are in constant communication with each other for several months and the client needs to be able to trust that the project manager is proactively advising them in the best interest of the project. By the way, this also includes not shying away from saying “no” to the customer at the appropriate moment, because the customer himself does not always know best which way is the right one. He’s hiring us because of our expertise. If one wanted to continue the above series of flowery vocabulary, one could therefore add “partner” or “navigator”, because especially with large projects or inexperienced customers one represents exactly that. You help him make the right decisions and steer his steamer safely to its destination on the wide, sometimes unpredictable sea of e-commerce. I still have a healthy respect for this responsibility, but on the other hand it is also a clear sign of confidence when you become project manager for a large project.
So what does that mean? – Skills that a project manager should have
Even after three years, there are of course still many areas in which I can develop further as a project manager. However, I have since gained a basic understanding of what an e-commerce project manager should bring to the table to deal with day-to-day challenges. In my opinion, two points in particular should be emphasised here:
The attentive reader will notice: Those up there are rather two soft skills. But that’s exactly my conclusion as a semi career changer: you shouldn’t be too intimidated by the technical industry or professional factors. Being a project manager at NETFORMIC is not witchcraft, but always challenging. Last but not least, the helpful colleagues and managers were decisive for the fact that the pond no longer feels so cool – and when the new shop platform finally goes live, one is admittedly a bit proud.