The pain of project management

30 May

For the second time now, Grooveshark is making a serious effort to utilize project management software.

I don’t like the new project management solution, even though it is a vast improvement over the old one, and I think I’ve discovered why: I don’t like project management. I don’t like project management because project management is not for me; it’s for managers. Managers and developers have vastly different interests. Developers want to know what bugs are in their code, what features they need to develop, a way to view dependencies, and a way to see which bugs/features are most important. Bugzilla fits those needs perfectly. Managers, on the other hand, need to make sure that they are maximizing productivity by making sure devs are never sitting idle, they need to know what is going to happen when; they need ship dates.

The thing about bug tracking is that the people who benefit from it are the same people who have to do the work. If you want to see a bug get fixed, you file it. If you want to find bugs to fix, use the bug tracker. Project management tools, on the other hand, require a vast amount of work from the people who don’t need them: developers. That drastically decreases the chances that they will be used consistently. It also means that project managers end up working against their own goal: they reduce productivity. This is consistent with Le Chatelier’s Principle: Complex systems tend to oppose their own proper function.

It’s actually a more pronounced effect than just wasting dev time on project management. At least for me, having multiple people assign tasks to me with various arbitrary deadlines tends to make me feel like I am being micromanaged, which increases stress and also keeps me from being able to focus on any one thing for long enough to accomplish much. (“I’ve been working on this thing for 3 hours and I have all these other things to do, I should put it on the back burner and move on…”)

What’s the solution? I don’t know, but a good start would be to combine project management with bug tracking, ala FogBugz, set overarching deadlines for projects, let your devs work out the details, and be flexible. Plan for other things coming up, because new and very important bugs will pop up all the time, servers will break, and meetings will happen (sadly). If your developers are good, hardworking employees (and Grooveshark devs are), they will strive to meet or exceed the goals you set for them, without being micromanaged.

  1. Rohan

    May 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    How about project mgmt lite? Try

  2. Ray

    June 2, 2008 at 4:51 am

    Which one have you tried? You pain sounds so familiar. We strugled to find a proper project management tool for about 6 months! We finally settled with this one. It’s agile and easy to use. And it’s email integrated, in short just the thing we needed for our team.

  3. Jay

    June 6, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Rohan, which of the problems I’ve outlined with normal project management does statuswiz solve?

  4. Jay

    June 6, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Ray, we have used BaseCamp, ActiveCollab and now we are using Central Desktop. Each has had its own set of annoyances, but I really think the root of the problem isn’t “this PM is bad at project management” so much as traditional project management is bad at project management for software development. Central Desktop actually does a great job with email integration as well, but it doesn’t solve any of the root problems that I brought up in my post. A cursory glance at wrike makes me think that it also doesn’t address those problems.