Working as a Project Manager at Bornfight
DateOct 9, 2020
We sat down with Iva, our Project Management Team Lead, and we got the opportunity to learn more about their team and the projects they work on. So without further ado, let’s jump to the interview.
Let’s first start by introducing the team. Who are the members of our Product Unit’s PM team?
The team includes Leo as Middle, Tea as a Junior Project Manager and me as the Team Lead. Every Project Manager runs their own projects, but we are always in sync about everything that we are working on. Because of that, one of us can always jump in and say “hey, maybe this should be done differently for this or that reason”. Our team connection and knowledge sharing is definitely a bonus of working at Bornfight because you can learn a lot from your team members.
Recently, the whole company separated into organizational units. Can you explain how the Project Managers divided and why was it necessary to divide at all?
As the company’s production teams divided into Units, it was only logical for Project Managers to also split into the same Units – mostly because past experiences taught us that the complexity of building digital products requires different processes in each phase of a project lifecycle. An example in the Product Unit would be more space for continuous discovery and more agility in execution. By splitting into Units, we opened up space for each PM team to focus on processes that will deliver outstanding results for the type of projects we each work on, down to the tools we use in our everyday work. However, we still like to consider ourselves as one PM team (and still share the same relaxed chat for inappropriate jokes), and always make time for sharing knowledge about topics and issues that are common to all of us.
You say that you are always in sync about every project. How exactly do you do that?
Scrum principles of transparency, inspection and adaptation bring so much value to our projects, so we thought why not use the same for our PM team? Our team ceremonies include weekly Plannings, Daily Meetings and bi-weekly Retrospectives. We use Planning to plan resources and to discuss topics that we need to address at the department level. We use Daily Meets to coordinate progress of projects and, if necessary, to coordinate resources and clear roadblocks that might have occured. And we hold team Retrospectives every two weeks. This is a very important meeting for us since it is a time to focus on sharing knowledge – not only tips & tricks we learned, but also things that didn’t go as planned. We are not afraid to talk about mistakes because we use them to inspect and adapt ourselves in order to grow as Project Managers and as a team.
Now that we know who’s in the team, tell me more about the things that drive you to better when working on projects?
What makes us better at projects are two things. The first thing is the client, and the value we create for them – our job is to own their vision and continuously share it with the team. The other is the project team itself. We, as Project Managers, are here to remove obstacles and create enough space for the team to do their best work. Easy as that might sound, it is sometimes the toughest part of our job, but also the most rewarding.
We never interfere with the work that our Development or Design teams do, instead we provide them with everything they might need to do it well, since we know that that is when we can expect great results.
We can say that balancing between the client and the team is our drive – to make the whole process smooth, from the initiation of the project to the end, and that everyone involved is happy with what they are doing and ultimately that they are content with the product they made.
Can you tell me what do you exactly do as Project Managers on a specific project? And how much does it vary from client to client?
During the project, we are first and foremost Project Managers – which means that our job is to communicate with clients, analyze requirements, plan the resources, create project roadmaps and facilitate agile ceremonies… and of course, our job is to monitor the budget and timeline, and report to the client. That’s something all Project Managers in the company do – they run the project from start to finish.
Depending on the project and the client’s needs, we increasingly take on roles of Business Analysts and Product Managers. This is more demanding work that is given to middle and senior Project Managers since it requires knowledge of processes and tools needed for driving strategic direction in digital product development. Our long term vision for the team includes continuously growing our product management knowledge and skills so we can always provide this added value to all our clients.
The general difference between a Product Manager and a Project Manager is that a Product Manager answers the question of what and why, while a Project Manager answers the question how, when and who. A Product Manager is focused on the product vision and strategy, prioritized roadmap and goals, and its continued growth. A Project Manager brings that vision to life while balancing the agreed-upon constraints of scope, timeline and budget. On projects that require both, we try to separate the roles across two people so they can each focus on their goals.
You mentioned Agile and Scrum… tell me more about the methodologies and frameworks you use in your daily work…
Our work is definitely agile. When we embark on a project, we are always ready for change. We communicate with our clients, often in order for them to have a transparent overview of progress. It is important to us that the client can always, at every stage, see what we have been working on… this is different from the Waterfall methodology where the customer sees the product only at the end. By following the agile methodology, our goal is to regularly show the project to the client – we present each iteration and gather their feedback.
So, like I said… the framework we base our work on is Scrum. In Scrum, we set up specific ceremonies like Sprint Plannings, Daily Meetings, Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives that help us guide the project. We usually work in two-week sprints – these sprints enable us to set goals and define what we will do in the next two weeks. After each sprint, we conduct a Retrospective where we look at how different processes we followed can be improved within the teams.
Although our go-to framework is Scrum, our projects can range from 2 months to several years, and we always stay flexible about choosing the methodology that will work best on any individual project. We like to think that in this way we embrace true agility by making sure that we adapt and always do what makes most sense in the given circumstances.
OK, let’s now jump onto different types of projects you’re working on…
We work on all kinds of different projects… and I really mean different. We have projects where a client only has an idea for a startup… that is when we have to start with a very intensive Discovery workshop. Because if we were to start working on a project like this without conducting a workshop, there would really be no point in working on it at all.
On the other hand, we have projects where clients know exactly what they want and how they want their new software to look and function. In that case, the client knows the workflow that needs to be improved, and our primary task is to interpret these requirements. However, no matter how familiar the clients are with their workflow and what they want to solve, new aspects can always appear along the way… that is when we step in and guide the client on deciding whether a specific part of the project should be set aside to make room for adding something we feel will ultimately bring more value. It’s the iron project management triangle turned upside down in order to embrace change.
In both cases, a PM’s role is very important because we are ultimately the client’s ambassador to the project team. And the most interesting thing about working on projects is that you never know what you’re going to get. Not to mention that clients we get are also very diverse and that you get to learn about a bunch of different industries every day.
You mentioned a couple of things that a traditional Project Manager wouldn’t be doing. So, how is our Project Management team different from the traditional ones?
I think that Bornfight always tries to provide something more to clients… some specific added value that others may not give. We received a lot of feedback from clients that says they prefer working with us because they can see the extra effort we put in.
That’s the reason why it’s very important for us to conduct a good discovery workshop, really understand the client’s problem or goal, do market research, and dig deep into our client’s company. This step helps us define that specific value we can provide to the client.
You see… we can have a customer who develops a product and their priority is to make something that customers will want to buy. The next client may want to solve their problem with the smallest possible budget and then we focus on making the solution cost-effective. The third type can be someone who wants to improve the internal workflow, and then the most important thing for us will be to create a product their employees will love to use – so our focus here would be on UX. But the baseline is… regardless of the clients and their main priorities, at Bornfight we’re always looking at how we can provide them with something extra.
As for a specific value that we, as Project Managers, provide… well, our work mostly revolves around taking care of the team, budget and timeline, as well as around ensuring that we deliver the value we agreed upon. But we also often go a step further and take on a consulting role – we use our knowledge of the digital to guide our clients when it comes to solving business problems and achieving product goals.
What would you say a good Project Manager in Bornfight should have the knowledge of? Should they know a lot about design and development in order to do their job right?
We don’t micromanage people because we have very capable teams and educated specialists in both the Design and the Development teams, so we try to never interfere in their business – as Project Managers, our task is to define the problem or need, and their task is to find a solution. We have to be experts in “how to define something” rather than “how to solve something”.
At the same time, it is very important to understand technical aspects of a project, so that we can always make informed decisions. Technical background is not a requirement – none of us from the Project Management team have a purely technical background. Instead, we rely on the project team to provide us with the insights needed to make the best decisions – it’s all a matter of open communication. If the team thinks it’s better to do something different than a Project Manager had imagined, we always listen. In the end, it’s just a matter of which solution is the best for the client.
Okay, so what skills should a new Project Manager have?
We are looking for a person who is definitely a team player. And not only in the context of our own PM team, but also with the project team – it is very important that this person does not micromanage the project team, but allows them the freedom to do their job well. For us as the PM team, we are looking for someone that will want to contribute to the development of the whole team.
In addition to that, we are looking for a person who is not afraid to say NO and who is not afraid to discuss why something should be done differently. So yeah… we want someone proactive, someone who strives that everything they do is always their best work, someone who is not afraid to improve processes or ideas and who’s ready to have fun with us in addition to work.
Last one. If someone were to join your team, what benefits would they get from it?
Well, I’ve only been working here for a year, and I can say that I’ve never, in my life, learned so much in such a short amount of time. From new industries to new technologies, I can say that my knowledge in the technical field is increasing every day.
Secondly, everyone here has the freedom to propose new ideas. A person who joins us is expected to be proactive and responsible, and this in turn leaves a lot of freedom to find their optimal way of working – of course, while respecting some of the standards we have defined within the department.
Another element that I see as a big bonus is working every day with people who are real team players – there are more than 60 people in Bornfight and they are all always ready to help you out. This support system we have from other team members and other people here is really rare.
And the last thing I want to mention is that there is always room to move in the more strategic direction that comes with business analysis and product management – we always want to step into strategic waters and into those slightly more creative roles. That’s always a possible path for all new Project Managers because it enables us to have a much greater impact on the final product, and that’s a really large benefit.