Almost every development team has several other members in addition to the developers themselves – team leaders, analysts, and project managers, who are also often called product owners, product managers, or project managers, depending on the company. In addition to that, in many teams, the roles of project manager and analyst are merged into one position – project manager/analyst.
Just as the roles are named differently between companies, the specifics of the job can vary as well from team to team.
Mirja, who works as a project manager/analyst at Uptime, shares how she spends her days and what are the specifics of her role.
Your job is to be both a project manager and an analyst at the same time. What are your responsibilities and how do the two roles support each other?
There are quite a few people at Uptime with the same job title as mine, and you can be quite sure that our daily schedules and some specifics are quite different: some of us manage only one or two larger projects, while others oversee several smaller projects. This means that our average working day may be different in some aspects, but the main goals and the nature of the tasks are still the same.
Looking at my duties as an analyst, it’s my job to map out the client’s exact problems and needs, and figure out what solutions we can offer, or how to achieve the desired result. Here my job is also to assess the nature of the needs described by the client, the effectiveness of the different solutions, the costs associated with the project, and all the other aspects that need to be put in place before we can actually develop anything. All this must be presented to the client, the feedback received must be taken into account, the necessary changes must be made, and this process needs to be repeated until everything is agreed upon and developers can get to work.
So when, for example, a client says that they need a solution to figure out how many planes fly over their office building each day, I have several tasks ahead of me. My job is to figure out where to get air-traffic data, how to display it to the user in the most convenient and most logical way, and work with the developers to figure out the most effective way to connect the two ends – so essentially see, what we need to develop and what are the best options available.
The project manager role is the other side of the coin. Once the plan is in place, I must ensure that what has been agreed upon actually gets done and the goals are met. This means that I need to understand how long different tasks take and how many people we need to achieve our goal. It is also my job to coordinate the work of team members on an ongoing basis, to redeploy resources as needed, to organize and conduct meetings with the team and the client, to keep the schedule on track, and to be the link between the client and the dev-team, so any problems could be addressed quickly and efficiently.
Continuing our aircraft example, as a project manager, I need to make sure that the developers get the information they need from the right place, I need to make sure that they have enough time to come up with a working solution, I need to reprioritize tasks if necessary. I also must keep the client informed and if at one point they decide that the software should ignore all blue planes, I have to analyze this request with my analyst hat on and see if it fits inside the scope of work agreed upon, or do we need to approach it separately.
Looking at the day-to-day, the two roles I’m in are very closely related to each other, and although most of the analytical work takes place in the initial phase of the project, these tasks also occur at random times during the project. Thus, it’s sometimes difficult to understand if a certain action is taken as an analyst or as a project manager.
How important is it that you understand all the technical nuances?
Technical understanding is certainly helpful, but it is not a prerequisite to do the job. Excellent communication skills, the ability to find information, and the ability to set priorities are the most important skills. You’ll pick up the technical nuances quickly once you’re constantly exposed to them.
Also, don’t forget that you are working as a team, so you are always surrounded by top-level developers who always know more about technical solutions than you and are ready to explain them to you if needed.
So, from a technical point of view, you need to work with developers, listen to their suggestions on which approaches to use, which ones to avoid, and which will ultimately ensure the greatest success of the project. If necessary, a developer can always join you in a client meeting to assist you with any technical knowledge you may lack.
What does your average day look like?
There is no such thing as an average day in this role. Every day is different and depends a lot on what stages your projects are in.
This means that it is not rare for me to sit behind my desk all day without talking to anyone: updating documentation, dealing with administrative issues, writing analyses, drafting reports, or managing billing.
However, the next day I might not even have time to write an email, as my calendar is full of meetings, the phone rings constantly, and I need to write detailed project tasks for developers. There might also be a day where something has suddenly broken, so I need to focus on getting everything up and running again.
Sounds like a lot – don’t you get tired?
I think that this is what makes this role so exciting. There is no routine here because every day is different. A big bonus here is also the fact that I have near-absolute control over my own time. So, for example, if my mind is fatigued from writing an analysis, I can move on to another task and return to the earlier one once I am refreshed.
Of course, tasks need to be constantly prioritized based on how critical they are and whether someone else’s work is waiting on you. But if all necessary information has been passed on to both the client and the developers, and there are no emergencies anywhere, I can set my schedule myself – nobody tells me that at this moment I need to focus on X, Y, or Z.
How stressful is this job and do you need to take work home with you?
I think every job is stressful at times. Here it’s no different – there is more stress if something does not go according to plan, but if everything is running as it should, the stress levels are much lower.
Looking at a good work-life balance, I see that it’s not too difficult to achieve in this role. Since I have so much say over my own time, it is not difficult for me to plan my work in a way that enables me to stop working once the workday ends. In some rare cases a problem might arise on a Saturday afternoon that requires my intervention, but that’s the exception, not the norm.
A good team is also particularly important in achieving proper work-life balance. It’s crucial that you work with people who are responsible and do not text you on a Sunday evening to announce that they went to Italy for two weeks and it’s up to you to figure out how to carry on with the project. People at Uptime are trustworthy and supportive, thus finding balance isn’t too difficult.
Another factor that keeps my motivation high and helps to overcome stressful situations are the clients and awesome projects. I’m not even talking about launching a project that you’ve been working on for a year, but things on a much smaller scale. When a client calls me and I can give them an answer that lifts a burden from their shoulders, or when I feel how they trust me with a project that is especially important for their business, it fills me with energy and gives me the strength to overcome anything.
People take different paths to get to the role you are currently filling. What was your journey?
I started off as a high school English teacher, but as I was young and wasn’t yet ready to commit to the same profession for the next 40 years, I wanted to try something else. So, I moved on to the business side of the loan products business, where I was also constantly exposed to the work of the IT department: I was the main person who reported the needs of the business side to the IT side. At this point I realized that as I am already constantly dealing with IT-matters, why couldn’t this become my full-time job.
As such, I decided to go back to school and got a degree in information systems analysis and design. At the end of my first semester, I started work as a product analyst in my previous company, and after graduating I joined Uptime where I now manage and analyze projects as my job.
However, I don’t think that everyone should follow the same path as I did. In this role it’s crucial that you have at least some knowledge of how information systems work, as such, if you are interested in working as a project manager and/or analyst, it is worth your time to attend some courses that teach you the basics of databases, data management, project management, and give you an overview of the most common methods of information systems analysis.
Once you join a company after acquiring the necessary skills, you can be sure that you will be supported by an experienced project manager who will take you under their wing and help you reach a level where you can do everything on your own.