This interview is part of an ongoing series where we talk with a variety of people in the Drupal community about the work they do. Each interview focuses on a particular Drupal role, and asks the individuals about their work, tools they use, and advice for others starting in that role. You can read all of these interviews under this list of Drupal roles posts.
Interested in learning more about being a successful project manager? Check out our video series Introduction to Project Management where we interview our sister company Lullabot's managers and technical PMs about all-things project management.
Copenhagen-based Project Manager (PM) Alice Jensen has been working with Drupal since 2012. Her coworkers describe her with affection, using words such as "fearless", "calm", and "passionate".
Where to find Alice:
How do you define the project manager role?
At my job, I wear a number of hats. In addition to working as a project manager, I handle sales, client management, and general communication.
Focusing on the project management aspect, we do agile development based on the scrum framework, and using scrum terminology. I see my role as being the scrum master, but I also need to be a product co-owner, as the people who know about the product and the business around it aren’t necessarily trained in web development processes.
To simplify it a bit, I guess I could say that I have three main areas of focus:
One is expectation management. All our efforts don't matter if we don't meet clients' expectations. This is particularly important to master in an agile project where requirements aren't nearly as fleshed out as in a fixed scope project. Most of our projects are so complex that it's impossible to outline up front precisely what to expect of the outcome. This is an ongoing process, along with monitoring progress.
The second main focus is to help scope the solution along the way, mediating between technical possibilities and constraints, and business/user perspectives.
And lastly, I need to continuously report scope changes, and progress vs. budget.
What do you currently do for work? What does your daily routine and work process look like? What kind of tasks do you do on a daily basis?
I'm a Project Manager at Reload, in Denmark. I think project management is all about people skills; cracking jokes, and making sure that my team is having fun, that they feel motivated and comfortable enough to speak up if I make mistakes, or let me know if they're stuck. I check on people several times a day, just to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Normally, I run one or two large projects at a time. Typically, I have a short status meeting (daily scrum) with the team, and once a week I have at least one longer meeting per project. Every other week, we have a workshop to clarify the next bit of a given solution, where information architecture, graphic design, and sometimes technical proof of concept and so on can be completed. On alternate weeks, the meeting focuses on ending the current sprint, and starting a new sprint. Here we demo the “sprint delivery” for the client, and talk about progress and process.
Then we continue to plan a new sprint, and re-estimate the tasks in scope, to see if the clarification of the previous week's meeting and design delivery generated changes to the original estimates.
Finally, I create a sprint report per project, once every other week. This is to communicate items such as scope changes, risks, progress, and finances to the client, as well as the steering committee.
What do others look to you to do on a project?
My team expects me to have an overview, and be a step ahead. I'm expected to ensure that requirements are sensible, clarified, and prioritized. They expect me to be the go-to person for any problem they may have. If I can’t solve the problem, I need to figure out who can. And again, I need to make sure that on all levels, expectations are managed!
What would you say is your strongest skill, and how have you honed that skill over the years?
When clients say “jump”, I ask “why?” I believe my strongest, most important skill is to keep an eye on why we're building what we're building. I must have a good understanding of the business goals and the stakeholders in a project.
In this way, we're empowered to advise the client about scope, and suggest different ways forward. An important aspect of working in open source development is that you can often get 80% of your requirements quite inexpensively, but the last specific tweaks can be disproportionately expensive.
I guess asking why all the time always came naturally to me (just ask my teachers in school), though it does take some experience and confidence to actually begin a discussion with clients about what they really need, as opposed to what they say they need.
How did you get started on this career path?
During my master's studies I had a part-time job, working primarily with IA/UX on a Human Resources system for a small company. The PM left, and I took over—without much knowledge about project management. Looking back, I actually worked in a very agile way, without knowing a lot about the theory behind it. When it was time to move on, a friend pitched this very flexible CMS that was based on a “content pool” concept that I really liked, as opposed to a more fixed hierarchical content structure. I then started working as a PM in a Drupal shop (NodeOne Denmark), and learned more about scrum and agile development. I was able to get feedback from my Scandinavian PM peers, and expanded my network of clever Drupal people, PMs, and agilists.
I chose to work at Reload because of their profound dedication to agile development—I get great feedback, daily, on working with agile methodologies and complex projects.
What is most challenging about being a project manager?
The most challenging part is probably that you have the overall responsibility for something, where you can be totally dependent on other people to get the job done. It can also be very challenging to manage expectations—especially when dealing with clients who've already done many fixed price/fixed scope projects. They need more reassurance that we're all in the same boat.
What are your favorite tools and resources to help you do your work?
As I've mentioned, I like an all-agile approach to project management.
I'm also a fan of:
- Scrum/kanban methodologies
- Jira agile (ticket system by Atlassian)
- Impact mapping (Impact Mapping)
- Burn down charts for visualizing progress
If you were starting out as a project manager all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would aim to get a job/network/mentor that would provide good feedback on a regular basis, to avoid learning so much the hard way.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out as a project manager?
In general, you need to have four perspectives in play when scoping a project:
- The business goal perspective — why are we doing this solution, and the value of it.
- The user perspective (UX/IA/design) — how are people interacting with this solution
- The technical perspective — what technical constraints and possibilities do we have?
- The data/content perspective — what data is in scope, where does it come from, and how does it relate to other data.
Lastly, it can’t be said enough; expectation management is key!