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Project Managers Are Essential for Any Video Development Project

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In my role as a video solutions architect, I am typically an advisor, programmer, technical director, trainer, or a combination thereof. The majority of my clients from larger institutions bring several resources, including iOS/ Android/HTML developers, database administrators, IT administrators, product owners, and stakeholders. For smaller clients, I may be working with a very tight team that includes the founder/CEO and a couple of developers. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a trend—the absence of a qualified project manager (PM).

It’s long been said that project managers have thankless jobs. They keep a project moving forward by tracking backlogs and task assignments, scheduling team calls, and communicating status reports with product owners/ stakeholders. PMs can work all hours of the day, especially if they’re managing resources across time zones. More often than not, PMs take the blame when a project goes over budget or is off schedule, even when such events are beyond their direct control.

The one role that PMs often have, though, that’s critically important for larger, multi-vendor projects is playing the scrum master, the person in charge of running sprint planning and review meetings. In short, scrum is a particular framework for agile development that can be applied to many projects involving code, from websites to video ingest and deployment systems to smartphone apps.

When I worked full time with interactive agencies as a solutions architect, contracts were not signed unless a qualified scrum master was assigned either by the client or by our team— and for good reason. Using a scrum framework is your single best bet for defining your minimum viable product and roadmap, keeping an up-to-date backlog of outstanding tasks, and, perhaps most importantly, managing the expectations of the product owner and stakeholders in the organization. The stakeholders ultimately make top-level decisions for software and IT development during sprint planning and reviewing, while the product owner(s) represent stakeholder interests on a day-to-day basis.

So what happens when a qualified scrum master/PM is not on a software development project? To quote Bill Murray’s character Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” OK, it might not be that bad, but it can feel that way at its worst.

What are the signs or symptoms that your project isn’t being well managed under a tidy framework like scrum? From a stakeholder’s point of view, you’ll feel that you’re more often than not in the dark about real progress on the project, and that the project is taking longer and is more expensive than initially estimated. From a developer’s point of view, priorities may not be well defined—a true backlog may not exist, and there’s no consistent “single source of truth” that the team can look to for direction. Sprints might end up just being calendar dates assigned for deliverables rather than being true goal posts within which to complete assignments. (Estimating the time and effort to build out various components of a software-based project can be overlooked by managers new to scrum.) Instead of positive momentum building from one sprint to the next, the mission turns into one of damage control where the team is spending more time putting out fires than progressing with milestones on the project.

Because proper management is so critical to the success of a project, I’ve now embraced the same policy as my previous employers: There must be a qualified scrum master assigned on a project in order for the team to thrive. As part of my discovery process, my client questionnaires ask if there’s an existing project manager resource that has qualified experience in scrum-based production. If they do not, I make sure to include a line item in my budget proposals to cover it, either by subcontracting on my end by the client to hiring one.

[This article appears in the April/May 2019 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Managing Your Video Development Project"]

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