Servant archer leader

When you’re a project manager, you’re in charge of a team that’s better and more capable than you are. You’re like Green Arrow, a guy whose only “super power” is being really good with a bow, taking charge of a Justice League full of folks who can juggle cars, break the sound barrier, and pop off to alien planets for a coffee break. Your team makes things happen; yet you’re supposed to be team leader.

What’s a project management superhero to do?

You don’t need powers to feel empowered

As a project manager, it sometimes feels like your team has all the powers while you have none. It’s important to realize that’s not quite true. You do have some useful tools in your quiver. You have spreadsheets and project tracking software. At Four Kitchens, we also use time tracking and projection software that’s linked to our budget spreadsheets so that the current state of the budget is always available to our clients. A boxing glove arrow might not be as powerful as Green Lantern’s power ring or Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, but with that tool, you can apply your specialized skills to help the team achieve its goals.

The advantage of spreadsheets, budgets and project tracking tools is that a project manager can see the current state of the project at any time. It’s like being in the Justice League monitor room, keeping an eye on the state of the world and directing the team to jump into action when there’s an emergency. Except instead of tackling problems in Atlantis or on the moon, it’s a matter of CSS or database queries. Still, even the best project manager is nothing without their team.

Know your super friends

The most important thing you can do as a PM is to know your team: the more you know about your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, the better you can help them win. When you run the Justice League, you have to know that Superman is really good at, well, everything, but he’s not so hot if he’s around a green rock from his home planet. Some programmers are fast but messy, while others craft simple and elegant solutions with clean code… so long as they have the time. A programmer who’s great at frontend design might not be your heavy lifter when it comes to building a database, while your database person might make things that work beautifully but are far from beautiful. Everyone knows that if there’s an underwater emergency, Aquaman’s your guy. Who is your UX Aquaman? Your Backend Batman? Your Scripting Superman?

Trust your heroes

Knowing your team isn’t enough. You also need to trust them. Let your team self-direct whenever possible. You probably don’t need to tell Aquaman to go deal with the mutated giant squid – he’s going to choose that task for himself. That said, you also need to provide direction when necessary. If there’s a Sun Eater in the orbit of Saturn, Green Lantern might be better equipped than Wonder Woman for the mission thanks to his ability to survive the vacuum of space. There may be times when it makes sense for a developer to take on something outside of their comfort zone in order to learn new skills, but if your project is facing serious challenges, your team and client will thank you for maximizing productivity.

Clear the kryptonite

When it comes to keeping a team productive, one of the PM’s most important roles is removing blockers. One hunk of green rock and Superman is done for, but anyone can toss the kryptonite down the garbage chute so Supes can get back to being super. The same goes for Martian Manhunter and fire, Green Lantern and the color yellow or Batman and… bullets. Your team can run into obstacles from bugs to Internet outages to clients with priorities that change mid-sprint. If you can deal with those challenges for them, your development team can focus on what they do best: development.

With this handful of tips, you too can be a project management super hero! Now, if you’ll excuse me, apparently there’s a giant asteroid heading for Earth and only my team can stop it.

All images TM and © Warner Bros. and DC Comics