Treat Project Management as a Responsibility, Not a Role

LeadershipProduct Approach

Large product development companies usually have a dedicated person to control budgets, manage the pipeline of projects and tasks, schedule meetings as well as handle external communication and internal conflicts. It allows one person to be concentrated on these tasks without being sidetracked by additional activities. The drawback is that in some cases this person can be too far removed from the work itself. These Project Leads, whether a scrum master or a traditional Project Manager, who may have never been on the delivery side of a product build, don’t usually have empathy for the product development team and may set unrealistic deadlines, miscommunicate the progress or the requirements for the task and have a negative impact on team morale. We often see them taking the “contract” side, not the client, the team, or the product itself.

Many say that a good team has to have a dedicated person accountable for the traditional project manager tasks, period. But, on the other side, when it is a smaller, less complex project, there are benefits to having someone who manages the team in addition to their other responsibilities as a member of the product development squad. In some cases, a typical Project Manager misses the mark regarding workflow efficiency and productivity while being assigned to a short-term project with a smaller team. In these circumstances, we make Project Management a responsibility that is being tackled by a Team Lead.

How project management responsibility works

First and foremost, you must staff your project with a team that has the right skills to execute the product development while taking on other responsibilities, too. Then, you deem one of those experts as the Team Lead (in addition to their typical responsibilities).

Design lead with additional responsibility

Imagine the discovery phase of the project with a researcher, designer, and Design Manager. Since the Design Manager is also the Team Lead, they will be managing the team, project timeline, client communication, and the overall quality of the deliverables. This will take up the majority of their time, especially at the beginning of the project. But throughout the course of the project, they will be able to contribute to the deliverables, either by owning certain deliverables completely or by providing feedback to the team and contributing to iterations.

Tighter team drives better outcomes

The most obvious benefit for clients in making Team Lead a responsibility is that two roles are filled by one person which fosters great leadership, high-quality work, a more collaborative team, and clearer client communications—all of which lead to a better product.

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Direct Expertise
The person with the Team Lead responsibilities lives and breathes digital product development, so clients are constantly engaging directly with an industry expert and won’t have to wait for a “middle-man” to go back and forth between the client and the team to address questions and translate requirements.

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Strengthens Collaboration
Likewise, this team structure enhances internal collaboration and overall work efficiency. Every person in delivery knows what it takes to do the job right, and can foresee blockers ahead of time. And since they are working with the team on a day-to-day basis, there are no silos and improvements to the process and/or deliverables are immediate.

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Effectively Communicate Complexity
Each time a Team Lead from the Delivery department has to communicate the progress of the project – they are able to highlight the important parts and simplify complicated topics because they are so immersed in the experience and have a deep understanding of the target customers, the technology used and the desired business outcomes. Such reports are always digestible and actionable as well.

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Well-Rounded Leaders
Giving a project management responsibility challenges the person to grow professionally in many ways and prepares them for even more responsibilities on their career path. The manager must adapt to new situations, respond to client requests, support the team, and prepare for meetings and presentations… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Individuals who were just working on their multitasking abilities become exquisite jugglers over time.

The Support Team

Project management as a role is different from client success management. The entire concept of project management as a responsibility sprang out of the need for someone “in the weeds” to manage the project. That’s why there need to be other people whose sole responsibility is taking that “10,000 ft”, big-picture view of the client’s business and highlighting areas for development for the client to achieve their goals. These people typically have the titles of engagement manager or client partner.

Keys to Success

  1. Start strong. Begin with a good project plan and assign the work equally. This will help to avoid both burnout and idling.
  2. Leverage the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Strike a balance between assigning tasks to those that are highly skilled, and providing opportunities for growth for those that are less experienced. This will promote higher team satisfaction.
  3. Collaborate (in-person and remote).  Just because the Team Lead assigned work to one person doesn’t mean it has to be created in a vacuum. Encouraging brainstorms to bounce ideas around and add more solutions to the board will be an effective use of the diverse team assigned to the project.
  4. Celebrate. Take the time throughout the project to give shoutouts to people working hard and delivering valuable outcomes. Come together to recognize accomplishments and wins, which will get the team excited for the next project or task.

A New Day for Small Teams in Product Development

Growing into a Team Lead role is very thrilling but tough. The communication and organizational skills required of Project Managers are enviable. You need to keep track of every milestone, each team member’s progress, and blockers and think about the next steps. While a bigger cross-functional team may still need someone to fulfill a Project Management role, there is no doubt that the fewer people are on the team – the more collaborative it is. So next time you get to work on a small team, be a Team Lead there or collaborate with a squad with no Project Manager – get excited! There is so much to learn in this scenario because there surely will be challenges. But one thing is for sure – you will get to create the kind of incredible, industry-leading products everyone dreams of.

Image of Olesia Fisun

Olesia Fisun is a Product Design Manager at Dialexa. She is an adaptive leader who manages design teams during the research, design and execution phases of the product development while utilizing a user-centered approach. Her passion for collaboration and workshop facilitation helps her to visualize the big picture for the clients and strategically align the small steps to the big goals.
Connect with Olesia on LinkedIn


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