To which the answer should always be no. Say it with me!
Even if your customer was qualified, they cannot be on both sides of the conversation. The PM is the necessary checks-and-balances between customer and team. They work for the customer’s interests, but also have an understanding and trust of the team. Plus, they’ve done this many times before – the customer may not have.
A good PM is your customer’s proxy, looking at the engineering output and being a sanity check. Does what we’ve built make sense? Does it satisfy the intent of the customer, not just the literal requirement?
HOW MUCH TO BUDGET FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
As a rough guide, start with budgeting 10% of total engineering hours to the PM role. Two full-time engineers == 8 hours PM per week. At 5 full-time engineers, your PM may be close to half-time themselves.
There are limits to this napkin math of course, depending on customer, project, engineering team, complexity, location, and more, so take this with a pinch of salt.
In fact, looking at our timesheets our actual PM time is closer to a 5% average. But we continue to use 10% in estimates so that we set expectations at the kickoff of the project when PM percentage is slightly higher. No-one minds the invoices being lower than expected.
BUT BEWARE OF VERY SMALL PROJECTS..
If you are ever tempted to offer extremely small projects to customers, perhaps a follow-on ‘maintenance’ project where a small retainer covers a few hours of engineering time each month (and I speak from experience!), you’ll notice an anomaly.
There is also a minimum number of PM hours/week when even that bare minimum of customer communication or engineering management becomes statistically significant.
In these circumstances it’s very easy for PM time to become 20-30% or more – and be left with insufficient engineering hours in the budget. For this reason you should set realistic minimum project sizes or you’ll risk your PM’s using more budget than the engineers the customers wanted!
There are many factors that control what your minimum project size may be, but don’t be afraid to have a frank conversation with your customer if they have too small a budget to engage with you. Better to tell them before they engage and become unhappy.