I had the opportunity to interview a project manager and ask several questions in order to give more insight into what it takes to be a project manager. In this interview I wanted to identify tools used to help with solving complex processes, personality traits that are good to have in order to take a deep dive into the mind of a PM, as well as understanding a PM’s perspective and how coworkers generally view the role PM’s play on a team. Throughout this interview I will refer to the interviewee as PM for purposes of confidentially.
Jeremy: How would you describe a day in the life of a project manager?
PM: “Honestly the day in the life of a project manager varies from day to day. I can have nothing on my calendar for the day but end up having no time to do anything I planned for that day. This is for a number of reasons, the most important of them being not only are you there to make sure the projects you manage run smoothly but more importantly you are there to quell any issues that arise. There are issues which you can account for and then those which make up probably the majority of issues are ones which you do not even see coming. I would say if we are talking about a prototypical day depending on where you are on the project it is a lot of following up with individuals assessing status of your projects and making sure there are no issues at hand.”
Jeremy: PM’s answer reminded me of the Projectifiedwith PMI podcast “Innovation – Changing the Game” in this podcast posted on July 11th, 2018, Tegan Jones explains “Yeah, there’s definitely a need for being more flexible, being more reactive, working in real time, but a lot of that requires a lot more collaboration. You can’t stay stuck in your silo. You have to understand how what you’re doing impacts the other teams and the other projects in your organization. And you have to be willing to have conversations and make decisions kind of on the fly as needed” (Projectified). PM explains how each day varies as the various projects he manages develop. These projects are best approached with an agile mentality to help assist with the constant growing and evolving nature of our high-tech environment.
Jeremy: What are some qualities (personality or learned traits) that help you on a day to day basis as a PM?
PM: “Organization is one of the most important factors when being a PM. You have so many different things to juggle you have to have an efficient and accurate way which works for you to organize everything that is going on. Another thing I have learned is you have to be malleable, you deal with so many different personalities on a day to day basis, some of them easy some of them difficult. Let’s not also forget people have different work styles as well, some people you know you can tell them something and you know they will remember to accomplish said task or thing you requested of them. Others you will have to follow up multiple times to get the task, item or information requested or completed. So, all that is to say being malleable and able to change at a moment’s notice is an important skill.”
Jeremy: I felt this was an important question to ask. Some skills are ingrained in a person’s personality and not taught. From PM’s response we can see how some of his personality traits have worked to his advantage in his position as a project manager. It seems that it is crucial to be entirely flexible when it comes to different people you are managing; everyone works differently. So not only are project managers required to be agile and flexible for the project, but they, as people, have to be flexible and adjust to the various different personalities they work with on a daily basis.
Jeremy: What are some helpful tools you use to make your job more productive?
PM: “Documentation, planning and routine. I try to plan my day I have a set of tasks I want to complete for that day and set out on that plan as the day begins. This is coupled with a routine that I have to maximize productivity, I know through constant testing that If I do certain things through my day starting from early in the morning it gives me the best percentage chance for a productive day. The only way you can figure this out is through testing different things to see what works for you. For example, I wake up at 5am in the morning and go to the gym, this helps me get my day started on the right foot and I find that my mornings become much more productive, another tool I use is a task list. I write down my tasks for the day and or the week then check off what I have and have not completed.”
Jeremy: In another podcast from Projectified with PMI, titled Agile Way – An Ongoing Journey, the guest Lauri Bingham explains that although the agile method is great and works really well for some teams and organizations, it is not always the best solution for every team. Sometime a team would work better with a hybrid model between waterfall and agile, sometime a team could benefit from a Kanban. These tools have to be used in the right circumstances and it is up to project mangers to find the best tool for the team and project. “It’s like you gotta find the right tool for the right team for the right project” (Projectified).
Jeremy: What is the hardest part about being a project manager? How can you attempt to fix this?
PM: “Really the hardest part of being a PM is dealing with all of the different personalities. People really tend to do what they want to do, it is your job to try and create some order. Sometimes people won’t listen to you but you have to remember that your job is to deal with people and get the project done. I tend to put aside my feelings in situations even if they are frustrating because the goal of the project is to get the project completed.”
“Unfortunately, you can’t really fix the way people act, you can however adapt and try to find the best way to get the person you are working with or for to get what you need them to get done completed.”
Jeremy: Jim Vaughan, in the article “How Far Should Project Managers Breakdown a Project?” explains how savvy project managers know who they can trust and who they need to watch closely when trying to account for deliverables and deadlines. He goes on to explain that “Not everyone can be trusted 100%. I might go as far as to say that no one can be trusted 100%” (Vaughan, J.). This reiterates PM’s key challenge in his role. This also highlights how inconsistent people are, and why many companies are moving towards AI in every area they possibly can.
Jeremy: If you could describe how others view project managers what would it be? How does this compare to what it is actually like being a PM?
PM: “This is a funny question because other people when I say I am a project manager they have no idea what I do. Others view project managers as this unknown job which you walk around and tell people what to do. I would think for the most part the average person thinks that a project manager helps get projects done and that is the best most basic way I can explain it.”
“How this compares to what project managers actually do, we do a little bit of everything. It is not uncommon for a project manager not only to make sure that the work gets done but sometimes the project manager has to take up the mantle and help get the project done themselves. This is not the most ideal case, but it would be a lie to say that this never happens.”
Jeremy: What are some specific process problems you have encountered and what tools did you use to help in that scenario to solve the problems?
PM: “I will give a couple, one process problem I have had is one where I am working with the client we have identified all of the requirements. Everything seems to be ok but then another stakeholder who was not in the project previously jumps into the project. At that point it is almost like you have to restart the project because you have to assess where you are in the project, how where you are in the project effects the new stakeholder in the project. Then you have to see what the requirements are for that stakeholder and how it would be best to pivot incorporating the new requirements while pushing the project forward at the same time.”
“What I did specifically is I decided to treat the new stakeholder as a new client get their requirements. Understand how their requirements effects the project timeline, incorporate it and them into the projects timeline then move forward from there.”
Jeremy: This type of flexibility and agile development further proves how, for the most part, the Waterfall model is outdated and does not work in high tech, and rapidly growing environments. PM did not specify what specific models are his go to, or which he used to help in these scenarios but from his explanation they were methods that allow for constantly going back in processes to adjust, adapt, and grow. Although PM is not necessarily building around software development, the many agile models explained to assist with these projects overlap in how PM explains he solves the above issues. Being agile allows for changing requirements, usually works better with a smaller team, is designed to be flexible, allows for qualitative control, promotes collaboration from knowledgeable customers and stakeholders, and low-cost refactoring. However, it also opens the project up for some unknown risks but these can be addressed with flexibility and collaboration.
Jeremy: Anything else you would like to add?
PM: “Being a project Manager is a much more involved process than people think. You really have to have a tolerable personality as you are dealing with people 24/7. It is really interesting because people have a very hard time seeing outside themselves they can’t see if they are being difficult, non-responsive, lazy etc. as the project manager you can see all of those things. The most important thing is it is not your job to judge them reprimand or complain about those things it is your job to find the best way to get the best out of that employee so the project can be completed.”
Jeremy: PM has provided some great insight into what it is like to be a project manager and what is required. The biggest take away from this interview is to be organized, agile, possess high-end adaptability and have both flexibility on projects as well as personal flexibility to work with many different personalities on a day to day basis. The role of a project manager is evolving along with our high-tech environment, and it is crucial to adapt to new methods and approaches to accommodate for this evolution.