Hiring a Freelancer? Hire a Project Manager

Who is reading your project’s pace notes?  Why it’s best to have a project manager on every build.

Custom application and website development is a creative, complex process with lots of twists and turns. While it’s easy to imagine that one wouldn’t hire a handyman to build a skyscraper, it sometimes feels like a technical project could be a one man job. The tendency is to see things through the lens that we are familiar with - the interface is really simple, so it shouldn’t be that hard to build - forgetting all the hidden details and decisions that go into truly great products

However, a product’s scope if much more than its end result. A product scope typically includes some kind of budget, timeline and set of features.  To stay on track throughout the build, it’s best to create a plan of action. For optimal execution and performance most project management methodologies requires some kind of monitoring or measuring of progress during development.

On a tight budget, it can be very tempting to try and optimize the available hours by attempting to cut out non-coding tasks like research and testing, or even having one person wearing multiple hats, such as asking a developer to manage the project tasks and forgoing an official project manager.

Penny wise, pound foolish.

Imagine the drivers in a rally race - there is always a guy with a map and a plan (the pace notes) who tells the guy concentrating on driving the car where the turns are and how fast to take them for optimal speed and performance.

Why Developers Need a PM

A project manager serves as a kind of co-driver. It’s his or her responsibility to keep an eye on the horizon for upcoming milestones, monitor and gather feedback about progress and identify any issues that could affect performance. A good PM will empower their team-mates to work without distraction, so they can really put their pedal to the metal.

Another great comparison to rally is the practice of creating pre-event pace notes with the reconnaissance or “recce”. Akin to a project plan, the team will drive the course carefully and create a set of notes together based on what they feel the best approach will be at speed.

Some solitary freelance developers, unfamiliar with working as part of a larger team, can feel like a PM is merely an additional ‘supervisor’, rather than a performance enhancing tool so it’s important to find a team that works well together.

In rally, the co-driver’s pace notes come from information gathered from the driver: the speed at which he feels a turn can be taken, the radius of the wheel - gauged by driver. All this information is recorded by the co-driver and then read back at the appropriate time to encourage top performance and mental agility at 145 miles per hour through a complex course. It's all about delivering the right information at the right time.

Why Clients Need a PM

The metaphor also hold true for clients. Having a good project manager on board will help you navigate the new, tricky or unfamiliar parts of a website build:

Point of Contact

There is always someone for all parties to ask who should be able to find out…the details of a particular feature, where an asset is, the specifications required on a third party integration, when the content is due…

Time Management

Because project stakeholders often have other responsibilities, managing turn-around times can be a challenge. A project manager manages deadlines by setting a schedule at the inception of the project and outlining where decisions need to be made.


The project manager plays an important role in ensuring all the team members have the information they need to work on their assigned activities in the appropriate order. The project manager helps members calculate the time a task takes and resolves any blockers so they can successfully meet their deadlines.

Scope Control

Every project is made up of interconnected activities, each of which has its own set of checks and balances. Project scope details the work and activities required to deliver the completed product or service. A good PM keeps an eye out for “scope creep,” which refers to changes to the initial idea of the project.

Budget Control

Delivering on time and on budget are two constraints of any project. A project manager keeps tabs on how feature requests affect the bottom line and should act as a careful gatekeeper to any change request.

Risk Planning

No matter how well documented, there are risks in every project. A project manager anticipates and identifies risks and creates a risk management plan to track their status. It’s important to make risk prevention part of the initial planning phase.

Strategic Flow

When development and launch is complete, a PM can help organize and plan important ongoing strategic work for a variety of other multi-disciplinary groups: SEO/SEM, video production, copywriting, A/B or user testing, and social media.

“Co-driver is the term given to the navigator of rally car in the sport of rallying, who sits in the front passenger seat. The co-driver's job is to navigate, by reading off a set of pacenotes to the driver, often over a radio headset, due to the high level of noise in the car. The co-driver tells the driver what lies ahead, where to turn, the severity of the turn, and what obstacles to look out for.”
~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-driver

In Conclusion...

Your project will be more successful if you have at minimum, both a heads up and a heads down person. This means, an inward facing role (who is focused on code, best practices during development, and technical problem solving), and an outward facing role who can help organize stakeholders, assets and focus on removing roadblocks, preparing what is needed for up-coming work, and has his eyes peeled for any potential risks to timeline and budget.

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