Have you ever heard an orchestra play without a conductor? The answer is most likely no, and for good reason. If the maestro goes MIA the show simply won't go off without a hitch. The orchestra will struggle to stay in time and play responsively, resulting in a shoddy performance and a disappointed audience. It has in fact been mathematically proven that orchestras perform worse without a conductor.
The role of the Project Manager can be thought of in the same way. A designer or developer has their particular skill-set, but without a Project Manager keeping the team members working harmoniously in time with each other, the project will descend into a discordant mess.
Project Managers are often the ones shouldering the stress and solving the problems behind the scenes, keeping delivery teams out of the weeds so that they can focus on delivering their best work. And yet, despite the difficulty and crucial importance of their role, PMs regularly go unthanked.
International Project Management Day
International Project Management Day, which this year falls on 4th November, shines a spotlight on the Project Management profession. It encourages us all to show our appreciation for the hardworking Project Managers who are instrumental in the delivery of so much that makes up our day-to-day lives, from the buildings that we live and work in, to the shops where we buy our groceries, to the TV and movies we enjoy.
At Forecast, we don’t need to be told twice that Project Managers work tirelessly to help make the world go round. Indeed, making the lives of PMs easier is one mission that is very close to our hearts.
In honor of International Project Management Day, we are holding a webinar on Change Management: a deceptively tricky responsibility that often finds its way onto the plate of already overworked Project Managers!
Co-hosting the webinar is Joanne Reid, Delivery Director for Graphite Digital and seasoned project management professional. With over ten years of experience in project management for digital agencies, Joanne is a wonderful ambassador for the profession.
We caught up with Joanne ahead of the webinar to hear her perspective on project management. Read on to learn what Project Managers do in a typical day, what kinds of people make great Project Managers, and what advice Joanne would give to a PM early in their career.
- A Day in the Life of a Project Manager
- Who do you work with as a Project Manager?
What are the best kinds of projects to work on? And the most challenging?
What work habits help you succeed as a Project Manager?
- What kind of person does well in project management?
- Is being a Project Manager stressful?
- What's your verdict on being a Project Manager?
Hi Joanne, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about what it’s like being a Project Manager! Can you tell us, what does a typical day in the life of a Project Manager look like?
“It varies! But essentially you’ve got to love planning, love problem-solving, love data - that’s your day, every day!
Project managers are normally the first ones in the office and the last ones out. At the start of the day, the focus is really around setting the team up for the day. Normally the first thing is to take a look at schedules and assess whether there’s any impact on our resourcing or scheduling - if someone is on sick leave, for instance, and if this might impact the turnaround of client work.
The PM role is responsible for a lot of the daily problem solving that needs to happen. You run the standup meeting, which helps to identify anything that might be blocking project progress. If there is a blocker, you have to act to remove that super quickly because if you wait on something, the resource won’t have anything to do. But throughout the day, you take time to check in with the team - for instance, reviewing work for quality before it goes to an Account Manager or to the client.
If your organization uses the Agile project management method, your day will look a bit different. You’ll have Scrum meetings, but you may also have Sprint planning meetings, Sprint refinement, or a Sprint retrospective.
Updating the project management platform also falls under the Project Manager’s responsibilities. You need a way to oversee and make sure that things are getting done, so this can involve keeping any kanban boards updated and keeping an overview of all of the tasks.
Agencies work at a fast pace; you can’t afford to sit on something. If something is just a small task - like sending an email - I do it then and there rather than putting it on a list and it staying on my mind.”
Besides the Project team, who do you typically work with?
“Typically project management has been quite an internal role, so most often you’re interfacing with internal stakeholders. If you need to report to the business about, for instance, project profitability and progress, you will meet with those stakeholders.
We work very closely with Account Managers, who take on the bulk of the client-facing responsibilities. If you have client meetings, you need to prepare so you can really make sure you’re giving value to the client every time you interact with them. You need to assess risks and bring them up ahead of time. It’s no good being reactive - you’ve got to anticipate.
When you are talking to the client as a Project Manager, the conversation is generally based around data and the value you can bring. This can make the conversations easier, especially if you’re having to step in and be the realist in the situation. You do always have the support of the Account Managers, whose role it is to really build that relationship with the client. But the Project Manager is there to say, “This is what is going to happen; this is how we’re going to plan against it.”
What are the best kinds of projects to work on? And what are the most challenging?
“I love working on the end-to-end projects, like the rebuild or creation of a site or an application, and seeing the concept or idea being created, built, and then put into use. I love seeing the end product come to life.
The most challenging types of projects, I would say, are the ones that are quite tech-driven. For instance, you’re not just building a site, but you’re pulling through multiple APIs from other softwares. As part of this, managing multiple work streams concurrently including providers to support the delivery plan.
There’s lots of different risks around this, especially in the larger, enterprise-level projects. You might be looking at a project that’s going to take one or two years, and then not only do you have to handle the tech complications, but also manage multiple third parties and stakeholders.”
What work habits have helped you succeed as a Project Manager?
“The first thing I would say is about making sure that I’m in the right mindset. As the Project Manager, you are really seen as the ‘rock’ within your team. So if you’re flustered, and if you look stressed, other people will take on stress. So, for me, having the right mindset each day is really key.
Health is really important. I like to exercise in the morning so that when I get to work, I feel alert and in a good frame of mind.
I also tend to focus on a day-by-day view. I’ve worked with a lot of people that start a ‘To Do’ list, but these seem to grow until there are 80 or 90 items on it, and then you risk feeling stressed and overwhelmed. So I keep my lists short, focusing on what key things I need to get done that day, rather than becoming overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done.
One of the habits I’ve developed as a Project Manager is to plan the evening before what you want to achieve the next day so you can just get in and hit the ground running.”
What kind of person does well in project management?
“I don’t think anyone is a born Project Manager: there are skills that you develop and learn over time. But you do have to have the right mindset. It’s all about being open to learning and adapting. Ask a lot of questions, be open to growing from feedback. That’s the kind of person that will succeed in project management.”
Is being a Project Manager stressful?
“Having been in project management for over ten years, what I’ve learnt is to accept that projects never go to plan. When I was a Junior Project Manager, I would become fixated on the plan I’d made - and when you’re like that, anything that gets thrown at you has the potential to make you quite stressed. But once you accept that there are things you can’t control, and instead consider how you respond to change, the rest falls into place.
If I could give any advice to my younger self when I was more junior in my career, it would be that. That, and not to dwell on things. As a Project Manager you may tend to dwell on things that don’t go the way you expect them to. But it’s better to work towards just taking it on board and moving on.”
So, let’s have the verdict: what do you think about working in project management?
“I absolutely love project management. I love the fact that you get a brief, and you get to figure out how to deliver against it - you plan the work, problem solve, pivot, change your direction. You get thrown curveballs, but I love being challenged every day.
I think either you love or you hate project management. Some people think of it and imagine that they could never deal with all that multitasking and forward planning for risk. You’ve got to be a particular kind of person to enjoy it. But I find that it just matches my personality perfectly.”
Being a Project Manager
We are grateful to Joanne Reid for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us, and to co-host our webinar this International Project Management Day!
As Joanne highlighted, Project Managers often end up working long hours, starting early and finishing late in order to make other people's working lives simpler. But that doesn't mean that Project Managers don't need any support themselves. Implementing the right platform can streamline admin, provide clearer insight into schedule and resourcing difficulties, and help Project Managers assess risks accurately and in good time.
Set Project Managers up for success with intelligent tools and keep your projects where you need them to be: on time and on budget. Try Forecast today, for free.