Most days for project managers can be fairly similar. But each day can also bring a new level of excitement depending on numerous factors. Constraints to your project plan often pop up, creating chaos that keeps you on your toes. And if you like to lead initiatives, there is plenty of room for that when managing complex projects. The daily life of a project manager can vary greatly for many reasons, such as:
- Project managers may manage competing priorities when there is poor alignment across the organization.
- Outside industry factors such as intense competition could shift priorities and projects drastically from the original plan.
- Sometimes team members fall behind schedule, causing delays to the timeline and affecting other projects across the portfolio.
- Teams and project managers can be overbooked and overwhelmed with their workload, juggling too many priorities to finish tasks in time.
- Project managers may waste time checking in on progress when updates aren’t shared or easily available.
These constraints are what cause a project manager’s day to be more chaotic than expected. But these constraints are pretty typical for project managers, even if they cause our days to be more exciting than originally expected. So how can project managers set themselves up for success every day? How can project managers wrangle these tricky scenarios with less chaos? Let’s review some best practices for making the most of the day every day.
Analyze the day
First, project managers should consider the landscape of their day each morning. You may be leading multiple projects right now, all with competing priorities. Start your day by understanding which ones are at critical points requiring immediate attention. Do any projects need key decisions or an information exchange to keep things on track? In other words, is anyone on the project blocked? If so, focus on unblocking them to keep progress moving forward. Are any projects close to being over budget or at risk of being delivered late? It’s important first to identify the most important work to triage and understand who you need to collaborate with to get the right work done.
Keep a pulse on each project
Now that you have prioritized your projects, you know which ones require immediate attention and which ones can be tackled later in the day. Start with the immediate priorities and continue down the list in short bursts. This method allows you to ensure you pay attention to all your priorities daily. With this methodology, you’ll rarely feel behind or work in panic mode unless a new constraint arises because you’ll be on top of each project daily. It is imperative to keep an eye on each project when managing numerous long-term projects. Focusing on your immediate priorities or fires each day instead of spending a little time getting a pulse on all your projects could lead you to discover problems in the budget or timeline too late in the process.
Prepare for meetings
The day in the life of a project manager typically involves many meetings, and often, the project manager is the meeting leader or facilitator. Preparation is key for a successful meeting. You must come prepared with an up-to-date status report and be ready to discuss any pressing items that need attention. An important goal should always be to remove any blockers impacting the team. It’s also important to ensure the decision-makers are in the meeting to keep projects moving forward. Bringing the right information to make the meeting as productive as possible will reduce the number of follow-up tasks and meetings. Good preparation lets all the players know what is expected of them. They too, can come prepared, and you can have productive and well-attended meetings to keep the project team engaged and focused.
Keep track of the status with timely updates
The project manager should be monitoring the status of healthy projects throughout the week and taking a deep look daily for projects at risk. Transparency is critical for accountability, keeping everyone on the same page, and working towards the project goals. Many companies send out a daily status report via email and ask for input from the key players. The project manager doesn’t always know the latest status of the functional teams and, therefore, may not have the latest and greatest information always available at their fingertips. An even better solution would be to use project management software to streamline status sharing. Software like LiquidPlanner can help give project managers and leadership a bird’s eye view of all the projects across the portfolio without a single status meeting. Good communication is a critical factor in project success, but teams can communicate most updates through software rather than a standing status meeting.
Closeout the day
Before you close your laptop for the day, look back on your progress. Did you accomplish what you intended to achieve when the day started? Did you fight the right fires? Are there any loose ends hanging around before you close your laptop? Are there any final status emails that need to go out? While it’s all fresh in your mind, finish those final emails or take notes on how you need to start your day tomorrow. It’s better to work ahead if you have the capacity or take notes on priorities for tomorrow to immediately get started on the things you didn’t get around to today.
From my experience, this is a fairly typical day for me. What about our project manager readers? Does this cover it for you? What would you add to the list? What other activities do you regularly perform in your PM roles? Please share and discuss.
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. He has been named the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, ebooks, white papers and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.