The Three Layers of Management


We’ve always made project management an important and inseparable part of our development and design services. When Atomic Object was younger, we would tend to focus on the technical aspects of project management — story estimation and prioritization, velocity, burn charts, etc. This made us very good at the predictive or quantitative aspects of project management.

Over time we’ve learned that while delivering a product on time and on budget is important, it doesn’t guarantee the success of the product. We also care deeply (or “give a shit”) about the actual market success of the products we build. Because of that, we have expanded our responsibilities (while still using self-managed teams) to include other aspects of management that we think are crucial to making a product successful.

I’ve broken them down into the following three categories:

  • Product Management
  • High-Level Project Management
  • Technical Project Management

Product Management

Product management tends to set up the other categories of management and is especially important at the beginning of a project.

Upfront Responsibilities

  • Understanding the business ecosystem.
  • Discovering and validating the value proposition of the product.
    • Market Competitors
    • Personas (Who’s going to use it?)
  • Creating a product backbone.

Ongoing Responsibilities

  • Elevate technical or budget constraints to a product level.
    • Does the constraint negatively affect the product’s core value proposition?
    • Can we remove a feature to make room for a more important one?
    • Who will be affected?
  • Conduct usability testing.
  • Empathize with or participate in the marketing, sales, and distribution aspects of the product.
  • Be cognizant of changes in the market or new products that may impact the product you are creating.
  • Know who needs what and cares about what.

High-Level Project Management

High-level project management is crucially important in larger products that cross-cut different teams and vendors, and the success or failure of each directly impacts the product. Larger products tend to have a multitude of interdependent projects where understanding the overall timeline and reaching across teams is absolutely necessary.

These responsibilities may include:

  • Creating a high-level timeline for the product.
  • Reaching across teams and understanding their project, constraints, timeline, and road blocks.
  • Managing external vendors.
  • Working through road blocks that aren’t directly related to your project.
  • Thinking about the legal implications of using an external product (licensing, terms of service, etc.).
  • Empathizing with the higher-level budgetary constraints.
  • Being responsive and not becoming the bottleneck.

Technical Project Management

Excellent technical project management helps to ensure that features needed to make a successful product are delivered on-time and on-budget. Additionally, it should provide transparency and flexibility so that everyone knows where your team is in their schedule and can make changes to the product as necessary.

Responsibilities usually include:

  • Tracking and reporting budget to scope completion.
  • Holding weekly iteration meetings.
  • Creating burn charts.
  • Performing feature breakdown and story estimation.
  • Day-to-day team management.
  • Task management.


It is vital — but extremely difficult — to be vigilant in all areas of management. Use tools, practices, rituals, and process to stay organized and effective. Doing so will help to prevent burn-out and losing sight of your management responsibilities.

Lastly, feel empowered to share the worry and ownership of management responsibilities with your peers. Sharing responsibilities builds empathy and can also provide another layer of scrutiny on your project.