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I work at a small company our development team is just me and a jr. developer. We just hired another intern.

I'm having a hard time justifying to my boss that we need a project manager. What are some valid monetary reasons for having one?

He insists that he cannot afford one full time and he rather do one himself. I know that this is a terrible mistake.

UPDATE: Thanks for the overwhelming responses!

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I've faced this conundrum many times in my career. Most pre "chasm" companies don't see a need for a project manager, seeing it as part of being a bigger company. The constant drive to be multi-task oriented can lead people down a slippery slope of effectiveness.

As Mark says, you may not need a PM right now. The problem is, by the time you need a PM, its almost too late. I've written two blogs on this subject "The Gorilla with too many hats" and "When do you add a project manager?". The two nutshells of these blogs are:

1- A good project manager makes the team around him more effective than another engineer. The law of diminishing returns say you can't throw more engineers at a project to have a pool built in a day. At a certain point it takes a fixed amount of time. A good team facilitator (project manager) can make a small team much more effective.

2- One hour of planning saves eight hours of work. It's an old adage, but a true one. The opposite of this is if you wait until your project is in trouble to hire your PM, then the PM will just be fighting fires. Still valuable, but not nearly as effective.

Again, as Mark suggests, you may not need a full time PM. Hire someone who also fills another need in the firm that has PM skills. Alternatively, plan for the future. You will need a dedicated PM if you suceed. Plan for success and make sure you can cross the Chasm.

I also recommend the book "Crossing the Chasm." All start ups should read this. Someday you won't be a start up. You'll either be a business or out of business.

Best- JBC

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Both Mark and Joel make good points. One of the biggest reasons is that PM's are looking at different things than those involved in either managing the company, or delivering the project. They're focused on making the 'project' successful, not the product, and not the client/sale.

A real-life example - my BIL and I have been friends since we were kids, and we spent a large portion of our early career in the same field of construction. He stayed focused on the field aspect, and I moved more towards management. Every so often we'd get together and he's ask me what a construction PM 'did'. I'd explain it to him, and he'd tell me that all of the things I mentioned should be done by the Superintendent, and he still didn't understand.

Fast forward a few years, and he'd started his own company. He was explaining an issue he was having with a client that he couldn't get resolved. I gave him my view and some ideas about how to resolve it (it was an issue I routinely ran up against), and they worked. But he didn't change anything and still didn't understand.

Fast forward two more years, and he's closed up shop. He couldn't keep up with trying to manage the field, AND make sure the pm side of things was done correctly. Projects were late, materials didn't show, prices were outrageous, etc. And when he told me what had happened, they were all things that a good PM would have focused on (maybe even part-time), allowing him to focus on installation and construction. Now he understands, but as Joel said, sadly it was too late.

So my advice - tell him that by hiring a competent PM (part-time) will allow the three of you to focus on the 'product', him to focus on securing more work, and if the PM's any good, they should be able to provide enough value to pay for themselves.

  • Great example, Trevor. One other tip I forgot is make it about them. "Do you like doing status reports? Do you want to put together the slide deck? Do you want to work with HR on the contractor time cards? You want to go talk to legal? The PM does the work you hate doing and we do it with a smile (on the outside at least). – Joel Bancroft-Connors May 17 '11 at 4:27
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You may not need a full time project manager, perhaps only a part-time manager with the right tools.

Project management practices are definitely valuable with three developers. You need to determine how you will organize the way you work. It is not just about juggling tasks.

A project manager is more than a task manager/traffic manager.

Someone needs to make sure requirements are gathered upfront or that there is engagement by the client on what they want throughout the process. This alone can save the company 10X the cost of what it takes to fix things later-on in the project (or if work is not organized well).

Projects need an objective eye to manage the project and make sure all stakeholder's goals are met (to the greatest extent possible).

Your boss may not have an objective eye when it comes time to pushing back on the client or making sure that the right work is worked on that advances the project.

A project manager can also identify risks that a boss or team member might not see. Or, on the other side, put risks into perspective that might otherwise be overblown.

If you can't justify it with arguments alone at this point, track your estimated vs actual time spent on tasks on the project and the deviation from the estimated start and end date on your projects. This data can be used to show the need for a project manager later on.

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This may be unpopular but...

For such a small team, you might need someone to focus on Project Management issues, but I find it hard to believe you need a Project Manager. I'm part of a very small startup company right now. We have two developers as well. I'm wearing the Project Manager hat, but I'm also wearing the Product Manager hat, oh, and the Functional Manager and the QA hat, and UI designer and and and... Bringing on anyone dedicated to those roles isn't practical. I would love to have a UI expert to rely on, or a Product Manager, but these are expensive roles.

You mention that it is a "terrible idea" for the boss to be the Project Manager. What have you noticed? Have you brought up (constructively) the gaps/issues you see? If there are specific things you and the team need, bring them up. If you need to identify/work on Risks (picking one of the PMBoK knowledge areas) then do so. Start identifying them and use your boss to help manage them.

You ask for monetary reasons to have a PM... with costs an issue in a small company, how much of your salaries would you give to have the PM role? Are you confident that there is enough inefficiency right now for a PM to recover that much money and pay you back?

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The only "good" monetary argument you could make is that your company is too small and has too little money to not spend it. If you want to succeed you may have to bite down and take the risk of running out of money sooner than expected. Depending on what the books look like this could range from relatively low risk to utterly stupid.

I think the suggestion for a part-time PM is probably the best solution for you.

Unfortunately my experience in a small biotech company is that it is probably more likely that either (a) a "senior" manager will be take the role or (b) it will get offloaded onto the technical team. Neither works. The manager is conflicted - trying to answer to shareholders in the short term is an incentive to ignore issues on a project that impact could have an impact later on, and is the source of any number of horror stories I have. And the technical team that you have is likely too inexperienced and too short-staffed to manage a project well.

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