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I have just been put in charge of a brand new team of a developer and designer, the first of each for our company. I've never had this role before, but I do have some design, development, and management experience.

This company has a been selling its product for over a year now. The development was outsourced and as such, the development process is a new concept to this company. In addition, the design that did exist in the company prior was only graphically focused as opposed to user focused. There is a long list of outstanding bugs and technical debt on the backlog and there is no real design or researched foundation for the product that exists today.

I have a limited amount of time to turn this product into something usable by the clients we have been trying to sell to. What should be the first thing I tackle? How do I handle this role while still trying to figure out this role. How do I facilitate a brand new team in working together?

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The first thing to do is to get a prioritised backlog of work for the team. That way you ensure they are focusing on the most import work.

Prioritisation is usually based on two factors: the value of the work item and how long it will take to do. For example, a high value work item that is quick to do is an easy win and so would be high priority.

If possible, talk with the users/clients to work out the value of the bug fixes. Talk to the team about the technical debt and try and evaluate it. For example, if they can clear a bit of technical debt that will speed up future development, it could potentially be high value.

Once you have the backlog sorted the next focus would be on the effectiveness of the team. The best way to tackle this is to get the team together frequently to talk about what is going well and what is going badly. A lot of improvements may come from the team themselves. Other things may be outside of the team's control (e.g. maybe they don't have a server to test their work on). The items outside of their control could be something you might try to help them with.

  • Thanks so much for this. Do you have advice on balancing clearing technical debt and feature building? From the perspective of justifying and explaining it to upper management? – benortiz Sep 27 '15 at 20:39
  • Try and think in terms of the business case for technical debt. For example, time it will save in the future (which then saves on development team cost). Also, cost of not doing the work e.g. if we don't fix this technical debt there is a chance the application will be vulnerable to a security attack. – Barnaby Golden Sep 28 '15 at 3:35
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There is no silver bullet.

Project management processes, controls, and practices are subjects which take up entire books. Re-engineering your business processes in short order is not a reasonable expectation, and setting more appropriate expectations for your organization is probably the very first thing you should tackle.

The role of a project manager is to provide structure, including formal processes and controls, to the projects in their portfolio. Therefore, once you have reasonable expectations in place, the second thing you should tackle is the lack of structured processes and practices within your organization.

  • This is great, very helpful. Can you elaborate on setting appropriate expectations? Would I, for example, tell them that setting up our process is going to take X time, so please be patient? – benortiz Sep 27 '15 at 20:35
  • Unless you plan project to do the business process re-engineering, you likely have no idea how long it will take. All you really know is that changing your processes and practices is likely to exceed your "limited amount of time." You need to get buy-in for the necessary changes, and then estimate the schedule to implement the agreed-upon changes. You're trying to communicate that things will take more time than you have, but I wouldn't make firm commitments about anything until you have a plan that everyone has agreed to, including both senior management and task performers. – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 28 '15 at 1:14

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