Digging Deeper: project management in a mobile dev team

Author Dorian Derežić
Category
Date Nov 19, 2019
13 min read

In this edition of Digging Deeper we sat down with Ivona and Tomislav, our Project Manager and Android Development Team Lead, and got them to tell us what’s it like to be a project manager in a mobile development team.

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Our Project Management team is growing. Check out currently open positions.

  1. Project Manager – mobile apps

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Let’s get straight to the point. What’s the deal with the mobile development team, what do you actually do?

TOMISLAV: Well, as the name would suggest, our mobile development team develops mobile applications. There are different kinds of apps that we create – from showcase apps that fully revolve around presenting a certain product, all the way to very complex tools that help our clients upgrade their internal processes.

We create both Android and iOS applications, and therefore we have specific development teams for each platform.

OK, tell me more about the specifics. How are those teams set up?

TOMISLAV: Since the tech stack is different for Android and iOS, and development processes are also somewhat different, we have separate teams for each platform. Each team has their own team lead who’s in charge of making sure every person in the team can grow and that everything is done up to the standard. In addition to team leads, we also have senior, mid, junior and intern developers – depending on the team.

We always pair up senior members of the team with more junior members to enable everyone to share knowledge much easier and to have that additional level of quality assurance on every project. This setup proved to be extremely efficient both in delivering top solutions, as well as in helping all team members upgrade their skills.

Let’s talk tech. What’s used in the Android team and what’s used in the iOS team?

TOMISLAV: Programming language is the biggest difference. Android team uses Kotlin – we used Java before, but we completely transferred to Kotlin when Google named it the official language for Android development. On the other hand, iOS team develops in Swift – they used Objective-C before, but switched as Apple focused on Swift as the main language.

As for some additional tools – we use Android Studio for Android development, and Xcode for iOS development. Those would be the main tools we use, but we also take advantage of some supporting tools for analyzing crashes, for analytics, for notifications… As we work closely with designers, we use Zeplin for design-development handover, and when we need to coordinate with back-end developers, we use Swagger.

So yeah, we’re following the latest trends in both Android and iOS development, and we’re always trying to work with the newest versions available.

Great. Which apps would you single out as some of the best or most innovative we ever created?

TOMISLAV: I have to say that would be the Moja Žuja app, as well as the Ajmo! app. These two apps are great because we managed to connect brands’ online and offline communication through them, and enabled their customers and users to connect their offline activities to their online profiles within the application. In these two applications, we do it through special codes that prompt users to buy products offline and then use those codes in the app to get special loyalty benefits.

Another application I’d mention is the Pvtistes app that’s extremely complex. It’s got a bunch of code, a bunch of screens, a bunch of content – it’s like an all-in-one network for people who want to work and travel. In addition to these apps, we also work on a lot of internal communication apps for large enterprises – those are basically mini social networks for companies, and they serve as main points of communication for hundreds or thousands of their employees.

OK, get ready for the big question. Why would someone want to join the mobile dev team at Bornfight, what can you offer them?

TOMISLAV: You know what, I’m gonna start with Bornfight – what Bornfight has to offer. And I have to say that Bornfight is a top pick when it comes to company culture and the overall atmosphere that can be seen in everyday interaction between all of the employees, regardless of the department or the team they’re in. We’re all friends, we help each other out, we hang out all the time, and we create really amazing solutions together – in my opinion, that’s the core of Bornfight. Those strong connections between all of us are the reason we’re constantly growing.

As for the mobile team – it’s all about working for great clients on great projects that will enable you to be creative, and that will challenge you to give your max. We mostly work on long-term projects, so you can really dig deep and understand all of the details of the client’s business, their customers, their goals with the app and their overall strategy.

Let’s focus on project management now. What do project managers do in the mobile team, what are they responsible for?

TOMISLAV: When we talk about project management in general, the skillset, approach, experience and mindset needed are more or less the same – regardless of the project type. Now, when we start talking about project management in mobile development, this is where things get more specific and where we can really find some differences between project managers for mobile and, for example, project managers who handle web projects.

The biggest one is the requirement to understand the steps and details of creating a mobile application – from the first contact with the client, through design and development phases, all the way to deployment and publishing on the App Store and the Play Store. In addition to that, types of specialists who work on mobile projects are different than specialist who, let’s say, create websites.

So yeah, as I said, there aren’t a lot of differences regarding the skillset, but they are present. But the aspect that’s even more important is the willingness and the drive to work on mobile projects – we found that project managers who are really interested in handling mobile projects can quickly learn all of those specifics regarding mobile processes.

Ivona, you handled a lot of mobile projects at Bornfight. What would you say are the biggest differences between mobile and other projects?

IVONA: On most mobile projects, we simultaneously work on apps for both Android and iOS, which means you, as a project manager, need to work on with two teams on two applications. Even though the apps are mostly the same, and all of the functionalities are identical, the processes are different. For example, when an iOS app is published on the App Store, it first needs to pass their review, which means you need to start the process sooner. Android apps don’t have that requirement.

As we mostly create native applications for Android and iOS, there’s always a possibility some functionality or an element within an application will need to be created in a different way – according to the standard and good practices of one platform or the other. Project managers need to be aware of those differences in order to successfully handle projects and create plans, as well as milestones, project estimates and the overall production strategy.

Although we’re nominally working on one application, there’s a lot of work when it comes to those small differences.

So, when do you get involved in a project? Right from the start or…

IVONA: Exactly. Project managers are involved right from the start – from the initial meeting with a client. We’re there to fully understand the goals of the project and the overall vision of the app, as we’re the ones who help others define the list of features and advise the client when it comes to the overall strategy regarding the app and its development, as well as a variety of other business aspects.

We, as project managers, need to understand the bigger picture around the application and we need to be able to guide the entire production team towards the right solution – one that will help our client achieve progress, whether that’s success on the market, upgrade to their internal process or something completely different.

Am I getting this right? In addition to being a project manager, you’re also some sort of an advisor or a business strategist for clients?

IVONA: In a way, yes. We need to know all about the latest trends, best practices and the best possible ways to achieve different goals our clients want to achieve – all with the goal of helping them get the best possible solution. We all work together on a project, but project managers are the ones who gather all of the ideas our production teams can come up with, and then organize them into a plan that can be presented to the clients.

You started talking about production teams. Who’s usually involved in a project?

IVONA: Well, in addition to a project manager, there’s always a digital designer, a back-end developer, an Android developer and an iOS developer. And, of course, a quality assurance specialist who makes sure everything works smoothly.

You mentioned that you’re in communication with clients. So, what’s the difference between project managers and members of the strategic partnerships team when it comes to communication with clients?

IVONA: That depends from client to client, and from project to project, but the most common situation is that our strategic partnerships and our business development teams have the initial contact with clients. And they are in direct communication with them until the moment we start working on the solution – that may start with a discovery workshop or full-on production (depending on the brief, the scope and the complexity of the project).

When we start working on the solution, that’s when project managers usually become the main points of contact between our production teams and clients. This makes communication much simpler and more streamlined – the goal is to cut out as many steps as we can in communication, and make it as direct as possible.

OK, got it. Let’s switch it up again. Tell me more about some specific skills a good project manager for mobile apps needs to have…

IVONA: One of the most important is the understanding where back-end development stops and where mobile development begins, as this is crucial for planning. Some of the elements are not clear cut, so this aspect is quite important to really understand.

As back-end development on a project usually starts before mobile, project managers need to ensure everybody knows when it’s their time to start. To make this part more simple, our back-end developers write detailed documentation that’s used to sync all of the teams and simplify the handover process.

TOMISLAV: Exactly. As we said, there are a lot of teams and a lot of people involved in the project, so this process of syncing is extremely important in order to minimize idling or the situation that one team waits for the other to finish their part. Project managers are the key element that leads to projects following the set plan and timeline as they know all of the processes, and can guide specific members of the team through their tasks.

IVONA: Also, as Tomislav said earlier, we mostly work on long-term projects – complex tools and applications that are frequently updated, with new features that are being added, elements being tweaked… there’s a lot of work. That’s where agile methodologies like Scrum come into play – we use them in our projects to be able to always stay on top.

TOMISLAV: I agree. Well, OK, being really skilled in Scrum is not a must-have for this position, but it is a big plus. I mean, agile methodologies have given us great results, they work, our teams feel comfortable with those setups and the end results are always far better than originally planned. So yeah, understanding agile and Scrum is a really big plus.

IVONA: One more thing that’s good to keep in mind if you’re a project manager for mobile -testing. Just like we always test the website on a multitude of browsers, we need to test a mobile application on a wide variety of devices and versions of operating systems.

Nice. Let’s continue with another big question. According to you, what would be an ideal PM for mobile?

IVONA: OK, that would most certainly be motivation and interest for working on mobile projects, as well as an agile-oriented mindset. An ideal mobile PM would be a person who loves tech, loves mobile apps and can understand the UX aspect of building apps. As we said, project managers guide other members of the team, so understanding what users might want and need is always a great skill to have.

And on top of all of this – communication. I see the position of a project manager as a sort of a motivator who can be positive, who can listen to others and understand their problems, who can give them advice when they need it and support them while they work on the project.

TOMISLAV: I agree 100%. There are just a few things I would add. The first one would be the attention to details – that’s always great to have as the projects we work on are living beings with lots of changing parts and elements.

The other elements is understanding the business side of projects. As we said, project managers are sometimes also advisors, so they need to be able to explain to clients why we believe some elements might work great, and why others might fail and we should avoid them.

IVONA: I almost forgot the most important ones. These are generic but really important – a really high level of organization, as well as great time management skills.

We mentioned agile and Scrum in one of the previous questions. Are those the primary methodologies we use?

IVONA: OK, I think it’s important to understand that the point of agile and Scrum is to tailor it to fit the needs of your projects and your company. We never use the original version of Scrum, but modify it to fit our needs – sometimes we add a bit of waterfall, sometimes we mix it all up. The ability to modify processes and methodologies to fit the team in order to achieve the best results – that’s what being a good project manager is all about.

TOMISLAV: I fully agree. It’s all about understanding the processes and methodologies, but also understanding how to modify them to make them better.

Got it. A few days ago, you mentioned having a project owner in the mobile team. Can you tell me some more about it?

TOMISLAV: OK, here’s the deal. We’re currently working on a setup in which every project will have its own project owner. A little disclaimer before I continue – we won’t have a single person with that title. The plan is to have one of the senior members working on the project or the project manager dedicated to that project to take on that role while said project is active.

These project owners would be expected to have a bird’s eye view of the entire project and they would need to be involved in every aspect, as they would be the final decision-makers from our side. As project managers are already fully involved into every element of the project they are handling and are in direct communication with clients, more than any other specialist on the team, we find it logical for a project manager to also take on the role of a project owner – it just seem as the optimal way to conduct the entire process. As I said, that would be somewhat ideal, but it will ultimately be decided on a case by case basis.

OK, can you tell me a bit more about the advancement opportunities of project managers in the mobile team?

TOMISLAV: New project managers who join Bornfight first go through the onboarding program with all other members of our entire project management department. Ivona, you can certainly say some more about it.

IVONA: Yes, this onboarding is the core element every PM needs to go through when they join the team. We organized a very detailed onboarding plan during which our seniors and team leads cover all of the aspects of project management – from production processes, creating estimates, working on project briefs, understanding timelines and budgets, communication with clients… basically every aspect of a project manager’s work. But it’s not just educations – there are a lot of workshops and tasks that really help new project managers get a grip on the entire scope of work they’ll be doing.

In addition to that, new project managers very quickly start working on new projects alongside senior members of the team to get as much practice and to see how things are done for real.

TOMISLAV: As for advancement. Our goal is to have a fully dedicated team of project managers for mobile apps, and we will be looking for people with different levels of skill (from interns to seniors), as well as for people who would be willing to lead that team sometime in the future. So yeah, showing a high level of interest in leading a team of people is certainly a big plus, but this also comes with an expectation to handle and constantly all of the processes that would help that project management, as well as the entire mobile team grow even further.

We list requirements and extra points when we open new positions. Can you tell me which elements are important to you when you’re deciding on a new project manager for mobile?

TOMISLAV: Well, for a project management position, I find all of that requirements somewhat equally as important. Project managers need some technical knowledge and working experience in order to streamline the entire production process – they need to know what can be done and what can’t be done, as well as what should be a great next step. All with the goal of guiding our team and advising clients.

On the other hand, the level of their cultural fit needs to be very high as they’ll closely work with all of the members of our team.

If I had to decide and choose which elements would have a stronger pull on the final decision, I’d say that would be the set of general project management skills, as all of the mobile specifics can be easily learned with a bit of will and some extra time invested in it.

IVONA: Yes, I have to completely agree.

Last question. What would you say to people interested in joining our team as project managers for mobile?

TOMISLAV: I would ask them to send us their CV because we’d love to meet them. If they’re open, friendly, love working with people and love mobile technologies, they’re the type of people we’re looking for at Bornfight. As I already said before, these connections between all of us at Bornfight are what makes us successful and what leads us to create great digital solutions for clients.

IVONA: Apply, just try it. We hire a wide variety of people with different skills and levels of expertise, and anyone can contribute. Anyone can add their knowledge to the pool and help us all grow. If you’re motivated, willing to learn and share knowledge – do it!

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And that’s been all for this edition of Digging Deeper. If you’d like to join our team, send us your application.

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