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What I’ve Learned From My Time in Traditional and Agile Project Management and Operations Roles

  |  Raya Wakil

In December 2019, I was offered the opportunity to join Dashlane as an agile project manager. It was an exciting challenge that thrilled me just as much as it made me nervous. I had spent the first 10 years of my professional life working mostly as a “traditional” project manager in the construction industry, so the extent of my tech industry knowledge and how projects were built and delivered was limited to my online research.

How traditional and agile project management compare

My new role made me realize how many of my agile project manager responsibilities were similar to those in my role as a traditional project manager in construction. Both require:

  • Building a project delivery plan
  • Tracking progress, dependencies, and risks
  • Holding contributors accountable
  • Communicating the project status to stakeholders

However, there were two areas where the project management roles were distinct:

  1. The financial aspect of the project

In the construction industry, I was responsible for the project’s budget: approving contractors’ requests for payments based on progress, reviewing and approving change orders, and preparing customers’ requests for payments.

In tech, or at least at Dashlane, project managers aren’t involved in project finances.

  1. Accountability and relationships between project contributors

In the construction industry, responsibilities, scope, and ties between contributors are well documented in the contractual agreements and signed by all parties involved.

At many tech companies, projects are composed of contributors employed by the same company. They aren’t bound by contractual agreements, and they work toward the same objective: making the customer happy and the company successful.

While that objective also applies to the construction industry, in my experience, it’s the secondary objective when an issue occurs. The primary objective for each party involved in the relevant contracted project is for them to avoid damaging consequences, particularly financial ones.

In the tech industry, in my experience, when an issue happens, the primary objective is still to make customers happy and the company successful. Once this is accomplished, the team retrospects to figure out what went wrong and how we can improve our ways of working together in the future.

As a project manager in both construction and tech, our responsibilities include holding contributors accountable to the project and each other. Considering the above, the approach varies depending on the industry and circumstances.

Managing and optimizing operations

Now that I’ve shared my view on traditional and agile project management, you’re probably wondering where the operations manager fits in.

In November 2022, Dashlane created our engineering operations group, which included project managers. Since project managers have solid experience managing product and engineering teams, they’re the glue that keeps those teams together, leading the delivery of their projects, identifying sources of waste in their processes, and helping them continuously improve.

A natural project manager path progression was to begin coaching and enabling engineering and product managers to lead their teams so that project managers could focus on managing operations and internal projects. An example is our work management tool migration from Jira to GitLab, which impacted all the delivery teams' ways of working and our internal tracking and reporting capabilities. It also improved automation and tooling.  

By focusing on operational excellence, we improve our customers' experience and release new and updated features more frequently.

Bringing it all together

In the end, the skills required to be successful in traditional project management, agile project management, and operations roles are very similar, regardless of the industry and type of project. They require you to:

  • Stay agile and adapt to the circumstances and needs.
  • Learn about the product, plan, and deliver the outcomes of your projects. 
  • Keep contributors accountable and continuously retrospect and improve.

I’ve learned a lot on my journey from leading construction projects to empowering agile teams and now to obsessing over operational waste. I look forward to the future at Dashlane as we continue to improve and learn together.

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