My friend and project management writer, Mike Ramm, from Bulgaria, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work and his ideas on project management.
- Could you please give an introduction to yourself and your online work for our readers?
I started my career twenty years ago as a software developer and my heart still belongs there. I am a consultant, a management coach and a lecturer in different areas: software development, project management, career development and public speaking. I have several websites and blogs (mostly in Bulgarian) where I share my thoughts and ideas with my readers trying to make them adherents, customers, partners or friends. I have two blogs in English – PM Stories (http://pmstories.com/) which is devoted to project management and software engineering, and Stop and Think! (http://mikeramm.com/) which is devoted to business, entrepreneurship, internet marketing and blogging and it is a little bit more personal.
- How is the software industry in Bulgaria in particular and Eastern Europe, in general?Well, although we’ve been living for 20 years in the post-communist era, we still have many economical challenges in all industries and the software industry is not an exception. The software companies in Bulgaria can be divided in several categories:
- The major international players – IBM, Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Siemens – all they have their representatives here and they sell their products as well as undertake the biggest projects in the public administration. They bring management know-how and good organizational practices but they work for big money and this lays the ground for more corruption among the administration.
- Outsourcing companies – sometimes they are Bulgarian companies, sometimes – divisions of foreign companies. They do mostly coding – most of the other activities are done by the Western companies who order the product. This makes our software industry more coding-oriented. Very few companies have business analysis, testers or project managers and these roles are considered not important. Coding is religion. Unfortunately, these companies face very tough competition among Asian companies which offer significantly smaller rates and it is becoming more and more difficult to win outsourcing contracts for simple coding.
- Product-development companies oriented to the local market. These companies produce mostly financial or accounting software that fulfills the requirements of the Bulgarian legislation. Their problem is that the local market is very small and they cannot make big money developing software only for Bulgarian customers. Therefore they cannot attract the best developers and their technical level is lower than the others. Another threat comes form the harmonization of the European legislation and I suppose that in very short time all the European software companies will become potential competitors to those Bulgarian companies.
I have no direct observations on the situation in the other Eastern European countries but I suppose it is not much different.
- What is “PM Stories”?Reading my answer to the previous question one may assume that I have a very bad opinion of the software industry in Bulgaria . Well, it is not like that. We have very talented developers and the Bulgarian software companies are technically savvy but we lack good management and organizational practices and thus the Bulgarian companies are not very efficient. Our productivity is relatively small and this makes our products more expensive, which makes it much harder to compete with the foreign companies.
So, PM Stories (http://pmstories.com) is my answer to this problem. I wanted to build a place where to share my experience and knowledge about software project management and to help software teams in Bulgaria establish a better management in order to improve their efficiency. This is the reason why I write there mostly in Bulgarian. The English version of the blog is intended to share some ideas with the international community of project managers to see if I am still on the right path.
- What are the most important items that project managers should learn about?In two words – taking responsibility and sharing responsibility.
Taking responsibility means that you have to know your abilities and your team’s strengths and weaknesses; to actively undertake tasks that you can do and to firmly say “No” to suicidal projects. There are companies where the project manager is just a funnel – the top managers make all the decisions and the PM’s job is just to inform the team. What I urge them to do is to ask for their part of the decision-making, which comes with the respective part of the responsibility.
Sharing responsibility means to respect your team and to rely on them; to delegate them tasks which they can accomplish; to build trust and self-confidence as a team; to lead and motivate them. There are many cases when the PMs command their subordinates like an army squad and they are not a team anymore but just a group of people who have common tasks but not a common goal. I believe this is unproductive and inefficient. Even if you succeed to achieve some results, they are temporary and unstable.
- What personal qualities are most important for project managers?In order to be respected and trusted manager by your team and your managers, you have to be a true leader. It means that you have to be open and honest, to be able to communicate with different kinds of people, to be a good negotiator and motivator, to understand the business matter, and (maybe) to have a little charm.
- Do you see any difference in dealing with people from different nationalities and cultures?Yes. Since the project manager is primarily a communicator, it is very important to be aware of the cultural background of the people they deal with. When you criticize or joke, sometimes your critics or jokes can be considered as insults. It is imperative to know where the border that you shouldn’t cross is.
- What prompted you to come up with the idea for the title “Stop and Think!”?In my country we have a proverb: “There is no time to think – you have to work!” and I know a lot of people who live like that – jumping into the craziest projects without even give a single thought about the possible negative outcomes of that undertaking. They grab an idea and say: “This is great! Let’s do it and we’ll get a lot of money!” I know that some of the greatest inventions of the world came this way but I believe that there must be some balance and some critical thinking before taking a new challenge.
There are also people who ruin their lives living this way. They say “I hate my life but I have to go to work next morning again to earn my living” They destroy their relationships and live a miserable life. So, my advice is:
Stop doing stupid things and think about yourself! Take a break! Look at yourself and ask yourself the question: “Who am I and what are the most important things in my life?” And throw away everything that is not important and that distracts you from the things and the people you love.
This is what “Stop and Think!” means.