IT project managers cover a lot of ground during the workday. From meetings with their team, business counterparts, stakeholders, and users, to prep work before and after meetings, to sending ad hoc communications as the project demands, PMs are birds in flight.

Let’s follow along a day in the life of a typical project manager to explore what needs to be done, why it’s important for the success of the project, and how to make each task more effective.

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6:00 AM Exercise, Breakfast, Commute

7:30 AM Prepare for the Day Ahead

Remind yourself to rise above the fray and look at the big picture. Meditate on what will make you a decision maker and not just task manager:

  • What can you expect today?
  • What are your goals for each meeting?
  • What information do you need to gather to make decisions?
  • How can you neutralize usual troublemakers, and reign in the endless talkers?

Daily preparations are an important practice to help you manage your days proactively, not reactively.

8:00 AM Daily Status Meeting

An early start mobilizes the whole team and clearly breaks the day into 2 almost equal parts. Starting early allows for time to complete tasks before noon and after lunch.

During the morning status meeting, continuously check if the goals are achieved. Review the critical path tasks for today. Discuss who is waiting on whom, and why. Expose delays and name names behind these delays. Can anyone in waiting mode be doing something constructive for the project in the meantime? Direct technical people to set up collaborative brainstorms to resolve issues. Pull in people from outside the team who can help resolve urgent problems. Record names and dates of commitments.

The daily status meeting is important because it eliminates invisible barriers between people. It is especially valuable for team members who spend most of their time in front of the computer.  Their worlds are filled with monotone, emotionless emails. For them, seeing and hearing others express concerns and opinions directly is revelatory. Regular, brief interactions during early morning status meetings achieve way more than email ever could.

Pro Tip: Make all team members plan and share their time off, their travel plans, their task list, and their progress. No guessing games. Complete transparency. Complete clarity.

9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Routine Meetings

Always have an agenda and advise your team members to do the same. Always ask why your presence at a meeting is required. Also ask: What are the objectives of the meeting? Who will drive the meeting? Are all the interested parties present?

Whoever called the meeting should email the minutes, action items, names, and dates. Better yet, the meeting leader can update a shared status document in real time while the meeting unfolds. Find a mechanism for incorporating the results of all these routine meetings into the daily status report so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

The goals of these routine meetings are to review progress, discuss challenges, and make adjustments.

Be sure to listen for this common refrain: “We are having some difficulties; we are working on it and hope to resolve the problem by next week.” If you keep hearing this week in and week out, address it head on. In these meetings, attendees should dive into the core of a problem, look at it from outside of a purely technical solution, engage additional experts, and take steps towards a resolution.

Pro Tip: Share the task list in a commonly accessible location especially for tasks that require an iterative approach. Only the document that is edited and maintained by many team members is the living representation of the actual picture of the project.

12:00 PM Lunch

Invite a team member who’s having a hard time, or a business counterpart who is willing to compare notes on how to work with certain internal critics. Breaking bread with a project stakeholder or influencer goes a long way toward securing buy-in when you need it down the road.

1:00 PM Meeting with Key Stakeholders

This event consumes most of your attention and preparation time—and is usually the most frustrating part of your day.

These meetings happen twice per week and are a critical opportunity to manage expectations. However, senior managers usually only want to know, “Are we on time and on budget?”

Your weapon against this simplification is a complete and clear picture of the latest status. To do this, gather information from all other meetings and documents, and present it in a vivid format. Your primary job is to translate a complicated and confusing state of a multitude of tasks into a clear, confident statement about the present status and expectations for the future.

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You’ll navigate between two extremes with stakeholders. On one hand, you might not get any feedback. They are so remote and uninvolved that no matter what you present, you will get the same silent reaction. It’s as if they aren’t listening. On the other hand, the hyperactive members of the steering committee will overreach and require more and more detail about every single hiccup. In doing so, they are diminishing your role and straining your resources.

The golden middle ground is usually achieved with a confident presentation of progress, with emphasis only on issues that really need help from top management.

2:30 PM Handle an Unexpected Announcement from Upper Management

This always happens at the most inopportune time.

First, evaluate the impact of the announcement on the team’s activities. Then, respond to these announcements as quickly as possible. Call an emergency meeting or send an email with only a few paragraphs. You need to emerge on the other side of this event ready to lead the project to a successful conclusion.

3:00 PM Periodic Status Meeting

This is a weekly meeting presenting to and getting feedback from users, department heads, or clients. These meetings are important for validating that what you are constructing is exactly what is expected and what is required.

With this wider audience, review the tasks that are completed and ready for sign off, what’s delayed, and why. Avoid turning this meeting into a rehashing of problems in front of the users. Be selective. Navigate the meeting toward items that require action or attention. Don’t go over the same issues every time.

4:45 PM Handle an Unexpected Delay

When a team member resigns, a test fails, or a process breaks down, the team will look to you for answers. Your task is to be a leader. Draw on your previous experiences in similar situations. Have a plan ready to define a workaround or replacement, or perform a root-cause analysis.

The most important questions are:

  1. Could this delay derail the project schedule?
  2. Who needs to know about the issue?

TWEETTweet: Gameplan for an unexpected delay: ask 1/will it derail the #project timeline & 2/who needs to know? #Abraic #pmot

Evaluate the impact in terms of dollars and cents. Communicate an immediate course of action to your team, and meanwhile, prepare a plan to make necessary long-term changes.

Pro Tip: Ask all team members to be reachable at all times either through personal phones, instants messaging, or email. It is very damaging to have mysterious lapses in productivity by one of team member when all others are heavily pitching in. Create and maintain a project communication and escalation process.

6:30 PM Commute, Dinner, Family Time

9:00 PM Plan Down

Make plans for your team. Document and communicate any decisions made today. Identify the weakest link or critical path and ponder how to prevent an imminent break. Remember, your job is not to manage tasks, but to anticipate problems and prevent team members from getting stuck.

9:15 PM Plan Up

Make plans for your superiors. Prepare a quick status update on progress and scheduled events. Prepare questions for major decision makers to whom you might not have direct access. Be prepared to reveal background information and a strong opinion about the desired outcome.

Get some rest. We do it all again tomorrow!