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Journey of a delivery manager

Marie Ferreira, Dec. 14, 2022

I spoke to a junior delivery manager recently who asked me how I’d ended up in my role. As one of our clients, she'd joined one of our delivery management community meet ups. It got me thinking, how did I end up as a delivery manager? What are the skills that make me good at this job? And what advice would I give someone starting out on their DM journey?

I hadn’t experienced a moment of knowing when I wanted to be a delivery manager. It was an organic process. The skills, life and career experiences that I amassed along the way were perfect for a role in delivery management. However, the journey wasn’t linear.

I’ve asked my team members (see below) to share their experience too. You’ll see a similar pattern. We have all come from very different career backgrounds, but the skills we’ve acquired are in perfect alignment with what is needed to be a successful delivery manager.

The term ‘delivery manager’ is mostly used within the public sector. It isn’t the same as a scrum master, a role often used within the private sector. Experience as a scrum master is a good path into delivery management, however, it is not a prerequisite. The role of a delivery manager is a lot broader - you need the understanding of a variety of agile frameworks (not just scrum) it to help teams deliver incremental value.

From a language degree to agile delivery

My journey started with a degree in Applied Languages from Bournemouth University. I left with a major in French, Spanish and Business (hence the ‘Applied’). My fluency in French helped me secure a role at Hachette Filipacchi Presse for the international editions of Elle magazine. I ended up supporting the sales manager. I worked in sales for a number of years, managing sales teams. I started to enjoy the project management side of my role and then transitioned into project management.

By 2015 I was working at a news publisher. As the market shifted into more agile delivery, so too did my interest. At this point I still wasn’t really thinking about delivery management as it wasn’t really a thing in the private sector. After a restructure at the news publisher, I decided to set up my own company and start contract work.

I realised there was a huge demand for delivery managers in the public sector as they moved away from legacy software. I had already gathered experience in project management, so I was familiar with working in waterfall, but as I started working with clients who were new to agile I was able to support them into agile ways of working. I contracted for a few years before my role at Unboxed. I continue to grow in my skill set and help clients along that journey of change.

Delivery managers love people

My advice to anyone with an interest in delivery management is to be open about your career choice. My skills have not necessarily come from delivery management roles, rather life experiences - being a mother and a wife, having the opportunity to travel, living in other countries, speaking languages (I can now add Portuguese to my repertoire). I’ve also worked with different types of people and teams globally, not just in the UK.

Fundamentally, to be successful in delivery management you need to love people, understand what motivates and inspires them so you can support them to do their best work possible. You can’t master this skill in a 2 day course. You need to nurture this throughout your journey.

Marie Ferreira pointing at post it notes on a white board

The perspective from my colleagues

I spoke to Unboxed’s other delivery managers, Rosanna Alam and Shaneek Glispie.

Q: What were you doing before you became a delivery manager?

Rosanna: I have a very varied background but a lot of experience in digital services. I started my career at a newspaper as a journalist and a freelancer. I then worked in communications and marketing which led to me working on digital projects. During this time I worked on the redesign of a new website/ content migration project using agile methodology. I eventually became a content designer, using both my writing and project management skills. Given my experience of managing digital projects I then worked on various products in government as a product manager.

Shaneek: Most of my career has been in the Civil Service, starting off in customer facing operational roles and then moving into project support roles. My first project role on Universal Credit opened my eyes to this world of ‘Agile.’ I then moved on to becoming a project management officer on a waterfall project but taking opportunities to introduce agile ways of working to the team.

How did you end up in delivery management?

Rosanna: I had transferable skills as a product manager and an ability to lead teams. It felt natural for me to take up delivery manager roles. I really enjoy working with teams and building relationships, it’s a skill I developed early on as a journalist and found that I am able to use this on a day to day basis as a delivery manager.

Shaneek: From the moment I was introduced to digital project delivery and the different roles available I wanted to become a delivery manager. I applied for an associate position and was successful - my role as a project management officer gave me the transferable skills I needed.

What is the most fundamental skill that you need to be a successful delivery manager?

Rosanna: It’s important to have a high level of emotional intelligence and active listening skills for working with teams. You need an ability to lead people and to galvanise. You have to be very adaptable, organised and have a passion for problem solving.

Shaneek: You also need to be a people person. Have the ability to bring people together, build trust and rapport quickly.

A few words of advice for people starting their journey?

Rosanna: You need to have a lot of patience. You are often the catalyst to make things happen behind the scenes. If you are starting out it’s important to learn to develop close relationships with your team, product manager and stakeholders to see how you can best support them to work towards a common goal.

Shaneek: Take every opportunity to learn the theory. There are many free agile training courses, books, blogs - make use of them. Get a mentor, an experienced delivery manager. They can help you understand how to apply theory in practice.

Set clear goals for yourself and be proactive in getting opportunities to practise what you have learned even if you are not working in a digital environment or team. Last, but not least, always ask for feedback. This will help you identify areas for improvement.