This interview was part of the Ergon Magazine SMART insights 2021. Order your free copy now ->
Agile, but not directionless. Focused, but not inflexible. Pacesetters have the necessary attention to detail and a feel for the right tempo. Combine that with good client relationships and the team is on course for success.
Agility is the order of the day when it comes to software projects. How is it possible to be flexible and focused?
Ultimately, every agile project has a destination somewhere on the horizon. A good project manager has to juggle what has to be done and where you're trying to get to with how agile you can be and what your budget is. Now and again, that means asking the customer questions like: “Do we really need X to arrive at Z?” It's about reminding them what we actually want to achieve.
How is that received?
Well. My experience is that customers are grateful when we challenge them about their expectations. In many cases, these are driven by their own environments, people channelling the demands of their own customers. It's often helpful then to take a step back with your customer; ask questions and reframe what they want. I’m an advisor in situations like that. Then I go to our internal specialists and find out the options for turning the customer's wishes into reality, and back to the customer to discuss and plan those ideas with them.
You're not just a project manager, you're involved in development, too. Why is that?
I like to be near the heart of the project and close to the customer. I also find it extremely valuable to know the source code of the project that I’m leading. It can be difficult to keep a balance sometimes, especially when we're under stress, but I really enjoy getting stuck into the development side.
"A common understanding of where we want to end up and a good relationship with the customer are the best motivators."
What's the key to a good working relationship, whether in the team or with customers?
I think it's essential to have a good connection between the members of the team and also with customers.
How do you achieve that?
By being open, empathetic and not being all about business, all the time. I think it's important to see the person behind the work. Close collaboration is another thing, of course. For instance, we have a project in which the customer is part of all of our chats. Everyone in the team communicates with him directly and that automatically generates closeness.
Is that a good thing?
Definitely. That said, when everyone has a positive, direct relationship with the customer, there's the danger that certain things bypass the project manager and things will suddenly be implemented that I know nothing about. Every once in a while, there has to be a little reminder that it all has to go through me! (laughs)
Is it harder to bring up critical topics with customers when you’re so friendly?
It is but I think that if you have that relationship, and it's a good one, it's actually easier to talk about the critical stuff. You work together as equals.
What character traits do you need in a team?
With agile projects you need characters who can cope with rapid changes in mindset - in other words putting one task on ice while you carry on somewhere else. Not everyone likes to do that and it can take practice. A common understanding of where we want to end up and a good relationship with the customer are the best motivators.
This interview is part of the series "Unsung heroes" in SMART insights 2021. You can find an overview with all interviews here.