Project Management Communication for Developers – pt 3: Being Responsible [Video]

In the final video of “Project Management Communication for Developers”, Don Clark from FileMaker Pro Gurus and Susan discuss “Being Responsible as a Developer”. They’ll answer questions such as “How can you keep yourself on track?”, “How can you avoid becoming overwhelmed” and “How can your Project Manager help you?”

Please find a full video transcript below: 

Don:  Hi, this is Don Clark with FileMakerProGurus.com and FM Database Consulting. I’m with Susan Fennema of Beyond the Chaos. Susan, how are you today?

Susan:  Hey, Don, I’m great. Great to talk to you again. I’m actually sad this is our last in the series.

Don:  Yes, it is. This is the third in our project management series. What we’re going to be covering today is how you, as a developer, can do the things that are required of you. How can you keep yourself on track? With that, we’ll go over to Susan again because she is the one who has a lot more experience in these matters than I do, so I want to learn. Help me out here.

Susan:  All right, so you want to know the number one thing you could do to help keep yourself on track?

Don:  What’s that?

Susan:  Figure out how to say no. If you have too many demands-

Don:  No, I won’t do that.

Susan:  There you go. You can learn how to say it nicely. “No” can come in the form of, “Hey, I’m happy to do that for you, but it needs to be next week.” or, “It needs to be next month,” you know?

Don:  Another way you can do that, and this is a trick I learned, by the way, in negotiation tactics is ask somebody for help, “How can I do that? I have too much on my plate already, so how can we make these things happen?”

Susan:  That works great if all of your priorities are with one person.

Don:  Right, exactly.

Susan:  If you’re subcontracting, and it’s 40 hours a week, and it’s all one client, the project manager can absolutely help you prioritize. That’s a great tip. Unfortunately, if you’re spread between different clients that might not work as easily.

Don:  Oh, no. You can’t say, “I have a responsibility with somebody one else,” they’re going to say, “Well, I’m more important. I don’t care about your responsibilities with somebody else,” but that’s off-track.

Susan:  Well, and back to what we talked about last week, making sure that you just meet what you’ve promised to each client. To that end always under-promise and always over-deliver, and you’ll be in demand if you’re a developer. If you do that thing alone you will be in demand.

Don:  Okay, that’s true. If you can just schedule your time.

Susan:  One thing I think a lot of developers don’t do is realize that they have their own systems and work that they have to coordinate to make things happen. They have to send out invoices, they have to do timesheets. There’s a lot of things to remember, so don’t ever be afraid to get a free Basecamp Three account and make your own operations project and keep track of some of those things there.

Don:  Okay. I didn’t know that was available.

Susan:  You get one free project with Basecamp Three, so you can always do that. Log in as the same account as you’re using on other base camps, the same email address, and you’ll be able to set up your own. Use that project management system to work for you too, even if you’re being pulled in eight different directions by eight different contractors.

Don:  Which is constant, yeah.

Susan:  The other is take 10 minutes at the end of every day and look at what you have to do tomorrow so that the next day you’re not arriving at start time without having anything prepared. Instead of starting, you’re figuring out what to do.

Don: You’re planning your day at the end of that day. You should look over your calendar, look at your list of things just so it’s the top of your mind. If that’s all you did you’d be way farther ahead.

Susan:  Yeah, and you know what? Do your timesheets during that 10 minutes too.

Don:  It’s good you brought those up.

Susan:  It is impossible to remember at the end of the week what you did all week.

Don:  Don’t you recommend that they do their time sheets after each project?

Susan:   I absolutely do, but minimally at the end of every day. Many project management tools or time-tracking tools even allow you to track it as you work by hitting a timer button. I absolutely recommend using that, but if you can’t, or if you don’t work well that way or you forget, the end of the day, at least. The end of the week is too late. You won’t remember anything.

Don:  Oh, you won’t remember a thing. What did I do on Tuesday at 3:00? I don’t know unless I wrote it down.

Susan:  Absolutely.

Don:  Which program was I working on or, which project was I working on?

Susan:  I’m a firm believer too in calendering and blocking your calendar out of what project you’re working on. Are you spending time developing? Are you spending time invoicing? Do you have to go pick up your kids at school? Put that on your calendar and block the time out. If it happens every day at the same time, do it.

Don:  If you’re going to the gym.

Susan:  Right.

Don:  You’re going to go work out, put it on the calendar. You’ll go to the gym more often.

Susan:   I actually wrote a blog post about that in December, so if you go on my site, BeyondtheChaos.biz/blog you should find it there. It was in something about managing your virtual business. There are a lot of tips in there about how to keep yourself on track with all the other distractions. The first and foremost is calendar-out those things that you’re not going to change. If you’re going to go to your kid’s soccer game, put it on your calendar. It’s a great way to set that expectation. Then also to make sure that you’re coding and doing the really hard thinking work during the times that you are the best.

Don:  Yeah, if you’re a morning person schedule that in the morning. If you’re an afternoon person do it then.

Susan:  Right.

Don:  Exactly.

Susan:  Turn off your phone. Turn off your email. Turn off your Slack.

Don:  That’s tough to do, but, really, if you have that luxury to do that if you don’t have fires to put out. I wear a lot of hats in my business, so I’ll turn off my phone and somebody has a production system that cost them money when it goes down, and they need me as a project manager to contact my subcontractor or my developer. Then I have to be able to be somewhere where I can at least get the message somehow. That’s a little bit distracting, but it’s a necessary part of what I do. If you’re a coder and you’re deep in your code the last thing you want to have happen is the phone ring and, or, “Ding” here comes a message or “Ding” here comes an email or something like that. You’ve reached down to the sixth level of logic and you’ve got this thing just about cracked and all of a sudden you lose the train of thought.

Susan:  You can lose a half of hour of work just by having your mind distracted. There are tools on your phones and things like that to let specific numbers through and not others, so don’t be afraid to investigate those. Really, other than a server going down, who can’t wait two hours for an answer, really?

Don:  Most of the people I know.

Susan:  But, again, if you start setting-

Don:  You’re right.

Susan:  If you set those expectations with them that it’s not insta-Don, it’s, “I get Don in two hours,” that’s usually acceptable.

Don: It usually works that way. Most of the time people are reaching out to you their message. If I’m on something like I’m doing here, we’re recording something live, and the phone rings three or four times I’m going to know that it’s something I have to get to as soon as I’m done here if it’s the same person calling or something like that. I’ll at least be able to monitor that portion of it. I don’t have to answer the phone ever time, they know I won’t. These are all good tools, and you should structure your work day that way. If you have things scheduled out, you’re focused on what you want to get done, you’re maximizing it, and then you’re going to be able to raise your rates, as we talked about in an earlier video because you’re over-delivering and under-promising.

Susan:  Under-promising. The other thing that I would encourage is how can you avoid those phone calls, how can you avoid those interrupted emails, all those things in the first place, right? Is it that you set a regular status meeting with your clients so that they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to talk to him on Thursdays. I don’t need to interrupt him.” Those types of things actually work. If you set up some of those expectations and use your project management tools properly a lot of the times you can avoid those emergencies, or the client freaking out about, “What’s going on?” because they haven’t heard from you. Some of those things are absolutely suggestions I have to put those processes in place to prevent that so that you have-

Don:  Calendar those too, you know?

Susan: Yeah.

Don:  The time to write an email to my client for this project or that client or what have you, or make a phone call, whatever it is.

Susan:  Well, I have to calendar when I am going to go and do social media posts, even. That’s part of your business and that kind of communication. Even as a subcontractor you need to be in touch, you need to be running your subcontracting world as a business, not just as an employee of different companies.

Don:  You are, if you’re a subcontractor you’re running your own business. It’s a business and everything that demands.

Susan:  Right, including the financial part that everybody hates.

Don:  Doing the marketing.

Susan:  Right, exactly. Make sure you’re making time for that. Even if you’re in high-demand and you don’t feel like you need to advertise, you still want people to want you all the time.

Don:  Well, just because you’re busy now doesn’t mean you’ll be busy two months from now.

Susan:  That’s also true.

Don:   If you’re going to have something in the hopper for two months from now you should be working on it now.

Susan:  That’s absolutely true, and that’s a challenge, but if you make time and block time to do it you can weather those fluctuations a lot easier.

Don:  Okay, the other thing I think people can do is they can reach out to their project manager if they’re using one.

Susan:  That’s what we’re here for. You know what? We’re a lot better at saying no nicely, probably, than developers are. I know developers want everything to work. Here comes my cat making noise. When they’re overwhelmed, when you’re overwhelmed, we absolutely can help you sort out priorities. If the client’s not getting you things so that you can keep going we can get you an extended deadline. Just because the deadline’s Friday doesn’t mean that’s the end-all, end-all. We can help negotiate those things. A lot of those things are very hard for a developer to do. It’s not your world.

Don: That right.

Susan:  It is ours.

Don:  That’s why they develop for a living.

Susan:  Right, so ask for help. If the client asks for something that’s not in scope, man, I can always get more money and more time for that. Minimally, more time, but not if you’re just saying, “Yes,” and doing it. Right?

Don:  Yeah.

Susan:  You have to make sure that communication is there. The other thing that many project managers can do is actually test for you as a user to do user testing.

Don:  Good point.

Susan:  Don’t be afraid to ask your project manager for help. That’s what we’re here for is to facilitate the project and to help you get the work done.

Don:  I had never thought about doing that, but I do it for my subcontractors. I test it. I have a vested interest in it.

Susan:  Especially if you have a non-technical project manager like I am, or like my project manager Laura is, it’s absolutely perfect for user testing. We don’t know what the backend is supposed to do. We know how FileMaker works, but we don’t know how the backend. We don’t know any of that. We don’t care.

Don:  You don’t even know what they’ve done. The biggest problem with developers is we see it from a preconceived point of view. We know what it’s supposed to do. We’re already trained in the system. Users break it all the time.

Susan:  Yeah, because-

Don:  Just because they don’t go to the same area with the same preconceptions.

Susan:  Right, and we want it to be intuitive, so if I can’t figure out how to create an invoice, and that’s my whole job here, we might have to look at a little bit of redesign, but at least having that input up front can help avoid some problems. You’re still going to have users that do things that you could never imagine.

Don:  It happens all the time. We all know that one.

Susan:  Having a PM look at it can really help get things a lot more firm before their handed-off to the client.

Don:  Well, I think that covers everything unless I missed something. Tell me, did I miss anything?

Susan:  I think we’ve shared a lot.

Don:  We’ve shared a lot of really good information. I want to thank everybody for watching and following along and look for your feedback. This is the last of our currently planned series of videos, and there may be more in the future. We don’t know yet. At any rate, this is Don Clark with FileMakerProGurus.com and Susan Fennema.

Susan:  I’m the chaos eradicating officer for Beyond the Chaos.

Don:  All right, thanks very much for joining us.

Susan:  Thanks for listening.

Don:  Take care.

Susan:  Bye, bye.

About Susan Fennema

Susan helps you gain control of your business through process development, organization, and structure of your business operations and projects. From developing processes to coaching project managers, she can help you get beyond the chaos.
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