Four Project Management Lessons You Can Learn From Software Engineers

Jan 31 2014, 8:32am CST | by

Four Project Management Lessons You Can Learn From Software Engineers

By Gideon Kimbrell, founder,

You’re probably familiar with Steve Jobs’ legendary vision and relentless management style. Some managers mistake his abrasive, difficult disposition for the key to his success, not a byproduct of it. They replicate the least important aspects of his management style because they were the most visible. Consequently, they miss the real reasons Apple succeeded under his control.

Part of what made Jobs so successful was his constant push to keep projects moving while communicating with his team to ensure they were working toward a shared vision. He didn’t want to just make a phone — he wanted to change the way people thought of phones. With such a lofty goal, it was important that everyone involved with the project was constantly working toward that end.

Using these cornerstones, managers can focus and motivate their team to get projects completed on schedule.

Create Structure

Apple has long utilized a schedule of annual product releases and software updates. This structure is fundamental to keeping projects moving forward and team members constantly innovating.

Specifically, regular meetings avoid wasting time with long email chains. They avoid the redundancy of having to address the same concerns multiple times. Ambitious deadlines push everyone beyond their comfort zones and compensate for unexpected delays.

Don’t Just Listen — Understand

There’s a big difference between listening and understanding, and mistaking the two can be the difference between an effective project manager and an inadequate one. Make sure you understand everyone on your team — and make sure they understand you.

Don’t just ask them if they understand — make them demonstrate it, and do the same yourself. If everyone is constantly showing they’re on the same page, they will keep moving forward.

Don’t Underestimate Inspiration

Often, managers will dismiss the importance of inspiration as a Hollywood cliché. They might say people should be intrinsically motivated and if they’re not, they should work on another project. But actively inspiring your team is vital for effective project management. This is particularly true when employees need to make unexpected changes on something they spent months developing. They need to understand why the change was made and how it will help make the product better.

The easiest way to inspire your team is perhaps the most obvious: Get to know each of them. Discover their goals and where they want to be in three years. Help them move toward that place, and never get in their way.


Structure, understanding, and inspiration depend on the one irreplaceable management skill: communication. No matter what type of project you’re working on or what industry you work in, communication is the only way to succeed. There are different methods for being an effective communicator, but if you aren’t reaching your team, you’re not going to succeed.

The best way to get through to your team is to be genuine. Don’t say things you don’t believe, and don’t do anything to undermine your message. If you stress accountability and a shared vision, don’t let anyone slide on those principles. Be someone your team can depend on and look to for guidance. Expressing phony enthusiasm or inconsistency will leave your team questioning you.

Ultimately, people will judge you on the project’s outcome. If you don’t reach your goals, it doesn’t matter how inspirational you were or how many meetings you had. The only thing that matters in the end is the result. As a leader, you need a team behind you that’s focused and reliable. Once you have that, it’s up to you to motivate them and drive the project through to completion.

Gideon Kimbrell is a Miami,FL software engineer and serial entrepreneur. His software engineering work has been praised by companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble and St Jude Children’s Hospital. Born in Montana in a log cabin, he entered university at age 15. By 16 he had programmed his first “hot or not” style website. He is the founder of InList curates the most exclusive international nightlife and charity events.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Source: Forbes Apple


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