The Cheesecake Labs approach to project management
Opinion Business

The Cheesecake Labs approach to project management

It’s safe to say that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it is that project managers do. Project management is just filling out kanban boards and watching your budget, right?

Wrong!

At Cheesecake Labs, we believe that a project manager is vital to successful project workflow and product development. They’re the connective tissue that makes everything else possible. 

In this post, we’re going to pull back the curtain on Cheesecake Labs’s methodology, revealing how and why we prioritize project managers. 

Let’s start with the why!

Why we take project management seriously at Cheesecake Labs

It’s no secret that project management is critical when developing software. And one of the core ingredients to successful project management is a strong project manager. Below are a few of the ways a project manager can help your team achieve success. 

Setting the scope—and sticking to it

At the start of a product development cycle, we work with you to build out the Statement of Work (or SOW) together. An SOW encompasses your timeline, budget, goals, motivations, milestones, and more. This is the groundwork that guides the rest of the development cycle. 

To successfully guide your cycle, though, someone needs to convert the SOW into an actionable plan. That’s where a project manager comes in. 

Experienced project managers can take all of your notes, requirements, and expectations and turn them into a clear point-by-point plan. This begins by establishing what you want to accomplish each week, breaking that down into daily tasks, and assigning these daily tasks and weekly goals to your team. 

By outlining the project in this level of detail, your project manager can translate your initial expectations into a realizable goal. 

A good project manager can help you mitigate risk

Your project manager isn’t just a meeting scheduler. They work to ensure that your entire project is in sync, preventing disruptions, delays, and unexpected obstacles. 

This helps ensure that your workflow stays on track. The right people are brought on at the right times, maintaining a steady stream of work and progress on your project. 

A reliable project manager can balance all of this work because they’re the central point in your project. They know everything that needs to occur, how it needs to happen, and when. This allows them to orchestrate everything with precision, preventing issues and reducing stress. 

Protecting the health and happiness of your team

Lastly, a project manager is key to protecting the health and happiness of your team. They’re a constant touchpoint for your team members, someone to check in with for support, advice, and guidance. 

Don’t underestimate this benefit. Keeping morale high is crucial to your project’s success. Team members that feel supported and passionate are more productive and efficient. 

Project managers understand this and can manage all of the minutiae of a development cycle without losing sight of your team’s needs. 

Plus, clients want to work with happy teams! Keeping your team happy will also help you keep clients happy. What’s good for morale is good for your books!

So how does our project management methodology meet these goals?

Of course, the benefits of a project manager listed above don’t amount to much if you can’t realize them. So how does Cheesecake Labs ensure that we set our project managers up for success?

Unsurprisingly, we do rely on Kanban tools like Atlassian Jira, and Microsoft Azure. These are great platforms that make all of the work we’ve listed above possible. It makes it easy to create a timeline of tasks and to match these tasks to team members. 

But managing a board is just step one. Once everything has been outlined for your project, a manager can act on the benefits we described. They can keep track of everyone’s progress, spot potential risks, solve issues, fill in, and capitalize on opportunities. 

Ceremonies are an opportunity for a project manager to shine

One of the best opportunities a project manager has is setting up ceremonies. Ceremonies are important to creating a project management process that feels consistent and engaging. 

These ceremonies are a space to collect information, build relationships with team members, and ensure that everyone is on track and motivated. 

Here are the types of ceremonies we use at Cheesecake Labs which are flexible and can be tailored to your needs.

Daily meetings with the internal team

Daily meetings are short check-ins that take place at the beginning or end of a workday. During these meetings, project management will see how each person feels, what they’re working on, and check if they’ve encountered any obstacles. 

In addition to providing emotional support, this is an excellent space for a project manager to determine if someone is falling behind or needs help overcoming a challenging problem. Without these meetings, it’s easy for a person to quietly fall behind, leading to unexpected slow-downs later on. 

Weekly review meetings with clients

Cheesecake Labs project managers also conduct weekly review meetings. These face-to-face progress reports occur at the end of each week and serve to keep clients in the loop on how the project is being executed against initial expectations. 

These meetings provide opportunities to show off demos, development progress, and any other tangible progress that’s available. These meetings also establish what the client can expect to see at the next meeting. 

Project meetings with the client every two weeks

We also make sure to hold meetings where project management and clients or sponsors can discuss the big picture of your development cycle. Topics can include budget burndown vs. progress, opportunities, potential risks, limitations, requirements, and goals. 

Project meetings will, of course, occur at the beginning of a development cycle, but it’s also good to have follow-up project meetings with clients whenever you reach a significant milestone. 

These meetings usually occur roughly every two weeks and are a space to cover changes in scope and goals that naturally occur as a project takes shape. 

Staying on track with retrospectives

Every month, our project managers meet with internal team members to hold a retrospective. In retrospectives, we reflect on what has and hasn’t been accomplished, how effective each member has been, what we can improve and learn from, and so on. 

These meetings are great because they allow you to rework your project’s workflow without changing the scope or timeline. By acknowledging and analyzing “learnings and insights”, you can avoid repeating them. Likewise, you can see what went well and take steps to expand on this. The entire team must be present during a retrospective. 

One-on-one mentoring when needed

At Cheesecake Labs, we like to stick to around ten people per team at the most. This balances productivity with the bandwidth of our project manager. 

Once a month, a project manager will meet with each member of their team for one-on-one mentoring. This mentoring can be related to the progress this team member is making on the current project, but the meeting often addresses deeper goals. 

In one-on-one meetings, our project manager will discuss things like career goals, growth, and productivity. It’s a space for deep support and guidance to take place, building stronger team relationships while also encouraging productivity. 

Adapting to project management changes with ease and experience

When you invest in your project management, you see that ROI pays off in spades. You build talent that can roll with the punches, embrace change management, and foster similar talent in your team. 

At Cheesecake Labs, we employ these strategies in each of our projects. We set ourselves apart by staying hands-on every step of the way, leading to success for every client, manager, and team member.

About the author

Daniel Menezes

VP of Project Management at Cheesecake Labs

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