When it comes to delivering a new software solution, app or website, taking the project from idea to deliverable can be very complex at times. There are a lot of different players and a lot of moving parts to harmonize.
That’s where project managers (PMs) come in. They act as an important liaison between our customer and the software development team. Most importantly, project managers play a critical role in communications both with the development team and our customers who are always anxious to be kept abreast of their project’s progress.
For more insight as to what it takes to guide projects from concept to completion, we asked a few members of our project management team to weigh in:
1. PMs fit the pieces of the puzzle together
“To me, project managers are the glue that hold the entire project together. When the project team is focussed on their own role and their own responsibilities, the project manager is thinking of things from the high-level perspective. They’re not just making sure that the project finishes on time and on budget; because that’s the bare minimum a project manager needs to do, they’re really making sure the project is achieving the objectives and key success factors.” Whitecap Senior Project Manager, Maryam Baig
Maryam got her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification more than a decade ago and worked on the IT side of project management before moving to a Canadian non-profit organization where she built and led their project management office.
“I needed a new challenge, so I decided to go back to my roots which is working for an IT company,” she says of joining Whitecap. “I see a lot of professional development opportunities and people here who have a lot to teach. There’s also a lot more hands-on technology exposure within a growing company, so it was a really good fit for me.”
She admits project management isn’t a skill to turn on and off … the organization and communications skills spill over into day to day life!
2. PMs keep projects in perfect harmony
“As a project manager, we have an important role to play in communication, and by that I mean making sure you are communicating the right things to the right people at the right levels. You don’t want to talk to an executive about coding or a developer about business strategy. And, since there are always going to be problems and bumps in the road on a big project, you need someone to step in and solve those problems quickly to keep a project on track. A good project manager has the ability to get everyone playing in the same key or time sequence so we stay in harmony,” Stephen Graup, Senior Project Manager
After having his own consultancy and working for CGI, Graup joined Whitecap 13 years ago with a background working in both IT software and hardware.
“It was the right fit. When I was approached to join Whitecap, I was working for a massive company, which has its pros and its cons, but I liked the size of Whitecap. I liked the fact that I can do a lot of different things here, and I’m able to get more involved in all aspects of the business.”
3. PMs need to be a human firewall
“You need someone in the role of project manager to be a “human firewall”, so the people doing the work, can do the work. Sometimes this means translating client requirements in ways the developers can understand, other times it’s managing the client to prioritize wishes versus requirements. There’s a lot of work between the client and the development team that project managers do but no one really accounts for. At the same time, everyone expects it, and needs it to be done to keep a project going forward. We’re both the glue and the grease at the same time.” Peter Kaznowski, Technical Project Manager & Operations Manager
Four years ago, Kaznowski was brought to Whitecap by a colleague, bringing with him a pragmatic approach to project management, as well as extensive software development, operations and infrastructure experience.
He says it’s the comradery and the team that makes working at Whitecap enjoyable. “It’s the people. We have some very talented people here at Whitecap, and knowing they are with you when taking on challenges makes all the difference.”
4. PMs know how to plan, then adapt on the fly
“Project management, at its most effective, is very dynamic. It’s about building a plan before a project starts and then executing that plan to completion even when the project doesn’t go to plan. It comes down to adapting, on a very fluid basis, to things that arise and dealing with those issues as they come up,” says Wayne Vanderkaden, Vice President, Project Management & Delivery. “Good project management really comes down to how you act when an issue arises. You plan as much as possible up front for the unexpected but when things inevitably don’t go to plan, you need to respond and keep things on the rails.”
Vanderkaden has been with Whitecap for 15 years, moving from a large company in downtown Toronto to a “smaller (now mid-sized and), growing organization.” He, quite simply, likes the work at Whitecap.
“We’re doing interesting work. There’s a lot of a variety, certainly for myself and for a lot of people here, so I’d say it’s the variety of work we do here that’s appealing. There’s also a fair bit of challenge in the projects we take on. There’s always a new client or industry to wrap your head around so that keeps things fresh and interesting. You’re always learning, growing and being challenged.”
For Vanderkaden (and the leadership of Whitecap), being a mid-sized organization means staff can wear different hats and aren’t pigeon-holed into a role. “We try to make this an enjoyable place to work for ourselves and staff in general,” he says, noting this means taking on interesting projects, using the latest technologies and recognizing that work-life balance is important.