Ops: How do you manage projects?

Tips on establishing and delivering ongoing processes and defined projects, for busy managers and founders of growing technology companies – from the 2018 series of Threads discussions.

Discussion host: Peter Cain, change and growth Consultant at Anamosys.


As the business expands beyond the founders and pieces of work grow in size and complexity, you’ll want to have the right process and practices in place.

Projects or processes

Projects are a great way to get work done that comes to a definite conclusion which is much of the work that a business needs to do. So work that can be scoped, has a timeframe and results in a clear and obvious outcome. Don’t use projects for work that never ceases such as ongoing customer support where the support tickets just keep on coming. Ongoing activities like this are operations that need rolling work management.

Appointing project leaders/managers

Grow project leaders from amongst the technicians who work in the team (those who have have an aptitude and an appetite for leadership). They will fully understand what work is needed and how it should be done. This will make for better project plans, and they will already have the respect of the project team.

Give project leaders full authority over, and responsibility for, their project. Really trust and empower them so that they think of the project as their baby.

Hire a dedicated delivery-oriented Project Manager only when your projects are large or when they require a significant amount of customer management. A technical Project Manager, who understands the nuts and bolt and can manage the engineering effort, could make a good interim hire freeing you up from to do other things.

Choosing project management tools

MS Project is a good tool for drawing and maintaining Gantt Charts, but avoid using its resource management and work levelling features. Keep to tasks that are no shorter than a week and add detail only when you have reasonable visibility (the coming six weeks).

Don’t expect the same tool to give you visibility at the task level, at the project level, and at the team level. Individual task lists, each project, and team resources will likely need different tools plus some manual intervention to keep the three zoom levels aligned.

Let individuals manage their own tasks in ways that suit them best. Roll up those tasks into week or more long tasks on the project Gantt Chart. Manage your team resources at the level of individual projects but don’t delve inside them.

A Project Manager is typically only interested in the resources available to their project and how they will be utilised on the project. Resource Management is the assignment of resources from the wider team across all of the projects. This is a separate activity best undertaken by a different person who can arbitrate resourcing needs between projects.

Agile project management

Agile methods require rapid iteration cycles which work best for software development. For hardware development, the iteration cycles are much slower as the hardware design must be realised physically as a working PCB, making Agile methods unsuitable for hardware development.

Agile software development is a great way to ensure that you’re always building the right code, but it makes it hard to predict when the development work will be complete. Agile works best when the scope can be flexed in order to meet a particular target date.

For software development the spec is often just a starting point, and the actual design moves on from there. Provided there is a way to manage what’s needed, such as regular Agile customer demos, it’s reasonable not to go back and update the spec and allow the team to innovate away from it.

For hardware development there is an almost zero chance of the original spec being the entirety of the customers need. But it’s important to to update the spec as things change, since each new hardware spin begins again from it.

Jira is practical for managing activities at the task level, as its origins are in item/ticket management. With plug-ins, such as BigPicture and Crowd, one can work towards a bigger picture view of project and resource management.

Published by Andrew Gifford

Co-organiser of Threads South West. Founder/MD and people person at techfolk. Interested in the people aspects of running a progressive business.

%d bloggers like this: