Recently, John Sonmez wrote about software development, and specifically claimed project managers don’t tend to do anything useful.

To be fair, sometimes he’s right. And you always have to watch out for “meta-work” — telling people what to do instead of doing things.

But I believe project managers are necessary — they just don’t do what John thinks they do. As an engineer, you’re the project and not the customer for them. This should make sense to you – you’re not paying their salary. And if you’re not paying for a thing, you’re the product, not the customer.

A business has to make technology decisions. They have to know “when will it be done?” and “how well will it do the thing it’s supposed to?” As a software engineer, you want the answers to those questions to be “it’ll be done when I say it is” and “it will do it perfectly, or at least as well as I can make it do it until I get bored with that.”

Those are unsatisfying answers to a manager who has to coordinate a marketing blitz with your technology release schedule.

The project manager is a way of slowing down engineering slightly (a significant cost) in order to know more about how well they’re doing, when they’ll be done doing it and how well it will work afterward (an enormous benefit.)

Note that the cost hits you too (you lose velocity) but the benefit is entirely to “business guys” you don’t particularly care about, though you should.

As a software engineer, you are the product rather than the customer when it comes to project managers and related tooling (e.g. Jira, Pivotal, nearly any “agile tool.”)

However, the tradeoff is actually a good one. The company will be a lot more successful if the business guys can make good decisions around your software quality and release schedule. And we do not traditionally give them the information necessary to do that accurately and on time.

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