I’ve worked with excellent project managers (PM’s) over the years. Many of them are sophisticated and technical (TPM's); here are my top appreciated attributes.
Shepherds process evolution with predictability. They will find ways to keep projects on schedule by filling the gaps for the team. They are necessary meta engineers for the groups they partner with. By negotiating between engineering, product, and stakeholders, they formulate the vertical slices for delivery. Evolution is achieved by iterating processes, improving the environment, and finding clear ways to prioritize.
PM’s understand how to deliver. They work with management and peers to eliminate what is not valuable from a product perspective and form plans to mitigate risks. They are the reality check, while actively listening, being able to reflect the priorities.
They are managers and understand their teams. As much as engineers and product managers partner closely with individuals, so do project managers. They conduct frequent 1:1’s and build trust with their stakeholders as much as delivering the products.
Visualize artifacts that inspire action. Clearly defining and iterating the roadmap to project completion is essential, and they envision together with business. These artifacts can change behaviors into actions by showing the way clearly.
Have clarity on the technical feasibility. PM’s are there to help communicate sophisticated technical feasibility or business viability to those non-technical stakeholders by “fisher-pricing” -- making concepts easy to understand. They can inform, consult, or act on that information with the team.
PMs lead revelations about risks through discoveries. Just as product managers help teams reveal solutions to business opportunities, project managers unearth solutions from risks. They seek to uncover uncertainty and reduce the feeling of “hope.” They resolve team blockers to meet delivery on time.
Know how to partner on the four levers of all software projects. Whether it be negotiating time with stakeholders, working with management to adjust talent, improve quality, or work effectively with business to adjust the scope by dialing in priority. They are experts on these levers.
Also, know that any project can optimize on only three attributes. Projects that are good, fast, and cheap are not done. And for those projects that are good, fast, and done are never cheap. By laying tracks, they work closely with the team to optimize what matters most, depending on the team's needs.
Are aware of the meta properties of any project. That adding engineers to a late project only makes it later. If the team has more time to complete a project than necessary, they adequately fill it. Project managers challenge and inspire those engineers with the partnership by asking for more.
Ask the right questions at the right time. Project managers form powerful questioning to inspire team ownership of feasibility, deployment, testing, and business value. They are skillful at invoking provocative operations, asking thoughtful questions, so others think and act productively.
Underappreciated, they get to know what matters. Whether it be reality setting, capturing risks, time slicing, or adjusting planning bias, they go unnoticed as the project is excelling. It’s a delicate balancing act, matching the priority from all sides. They make the sawdust edible as much as the inspirational commonplace.