By George Pitagorsky | Follow on Twitter!

A few months ago, I wrote about tension between project managers and software developers - How to Resolve Conflict between Project Managers and IT Application Developers. That was focused primarily on the project approach - Agile vs. Waterfall. The conclusion was that "Developers and PMs can work together as peers to craft a project approach that makes the most sense for their situation." However, there is more to the relationship than whether the project approach should be Agile or Waterfall.

Among the leading causes of tension between developers and project managers (PMs) is a lack of clarity and appreciation of the importance of both the work of managing and the work of performing. These tensions lead to conflicts that sap the energy of the team. While there are many causes of tension, in this post, we focus on how understanding the value of project management can improve relationships and, therefore, performance.


The developer is a performer. He or she gets the work done and delivers outcomes. Clearly, the performer is at the center of any project. Without performers, there is no performance. Without performance, there is no outcome. When there is no outcome, it is as if there is no project.

The PM serves the performers and the other stakeholders. He or she facilitates performance and adds value by:

  1. 1. Helping the team to articulate its strategy and tactics - the project approach and the plan
  2. 2. Assuring that the team has the necessary budget, resources and environment to enable effective work
  3. 3. Communicating to inform the team and the people, the team is working to satisfy of where the project is and where it seems to be headed
  4. 4. Managing expectations to protect the team from irrational demands from clients and sponsors (see my new book, Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, for more on this)
  5. 5. Coordinating the efforts of the multiple groups and players working together to accomplish project objectives
  6. 6. Minimizing administrative burden
  7. 7. Removing and avoiding obstacles.

Team work

The bottom line is that developers, other performers, such as BAs, testers and trainers, client subject matter experts, and the PM are all members of the same team, with each fulfilling needs that are essential to project success. Working together in a team requires that the team members have shared objectives, norms and values; clear roles and responsibilities, and an understanding of the value of each role. Team members must share common interpretations of the team's goals and roles and must agree upon a winning strategy and tactics.

Sometimes (more often than we would like) individuals and functional groups lose track of their place in the overall project team. They see themselves as being independent operators and do not get the fact they are part of the team. At the same time, project managers view themselves as the authority in charge rather than a facilitator whose role is to better enable the team to satisfy its objectives by minimizing administrative burdens and removing obstacles.

When team members recognize the synergy that exists between them, then there is the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship. This word "synergy" is an important one. It means the cooperation among people or organizations to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

Synergy is particularly important because in many, if not most systems development projects, there is a matrixed organization. Developers and other performers work for functional managers and the PM for a PMO or a "business" group that is often the beneficiary of the project. The common goal is to satisfy the project’s beneficiaries - the client and sponsor and the people who will live with the outcome.

The PM as Value Adding Team Member

The PM must be seen as someone who adds value as a team member and enhances the ability of the developers to excel and of the project to be successful - to satisfy its stakeholders' expectations. A critical part of the PM's role is to enable synergy by harmonizing the work of the players.

To do this, the project manager continuously informs and reminds the team of the big picture - the full project consisting of all the activities that must be performed to fully implement the new or changed product or process. Software development, while critical and often central to a project, is not the whole project. Every software development project, in fact any development project, is part of a higher-order project. The higher order project is focused on implementing a new or changed product or process. No one in organizations develops software just for the fun of it. With this in mind, it becomes increasingly obvious that the PM adds value by coordinating the various groups involved to achieve the desired outcome.

PM Work is Not an "Extra"

Developers may view the project management work they have to do, like keeping track of their time or producing regular and meaningful status reports, as "extra burdens" imposed on them by the PM. They may see the PM as someone who is pointing fingers.

PMs must help developers understand that planning and control are necessities in any practical setting. It is one thing to do a personal project without a plan and without any accountability, but in organizations, it is unacceptable. In addition to the core work, the performer is responsible for tracking time and reporting on progress, or the lack of it, as part of the job. Attorneys, management consultants and other professionals do it. It is necessary because it is the only way that the expectations of the key stakeholders can be managed and the important job of continuous improvement can be performed.

Tensions are reduced when developers understand the reason behind PM work and the role of the PM. Then, there can be a dialog that can lead to better ways to accomplish the PM work, perhaps reducing some of the developers' burden and also doing away with some other sources of tension caused by attitude and behavior regarding hierarchy and authority, personality differences, emotional intelligence and unclear boundaries, among others.

Questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!

You may also like:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: George Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies mindfulness meditation and people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. George authored Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict in Projects and PM Foundation. He is a senior teacher at the NY Insight Meditation Center.

Online 4/6/2017
George Pitagorsky
Updated on: