A day in the life of a project manager
- PRINCE2 Agile
May 30, 2023 |
7 min read
- PRINCE2 Agile
Here is a typical day in the life of a project manager, with key insights on how to manage your responsibilities and keep a project on track.
My working days usually start at 8am. I call it my focus time. A chance to set what the outcomes of the day should be. The days within a specific project phase will be similar, even though different phases bring different priorities.
I’ll prepare for meetings and the daily stand-up at 9am. This is when we get everyone together (sometimes in person, more usually online) and run through a structured agenda.
Running a stand-up
On my current project, the stand-up is a blend of waterfall and semi-agile practices, where we track progress against the weekly/monthly plan. On Monday and Tuesday emphasis is focused on what we need to achieve by the end of the week. By Friday we are running a ‘wash-up’ and checking we have achieved the short-term goal.
The main purpose of the stand-up is to act as an early-warning system, in effect raising a flag on anything that is impeding progress. It’s my role to help unblock the path and coordinate the problem-solving. By the end of the session, I should be clear about whether everyone is still aligned and working to time, budget, and resource according to the project’s key governance, or in a position to mark a concern on the risk and Issues log.
Working with different teams according to the project phases
The people attending the stand-up are determined by the project phase. We might have business representatives, subject experts and IT specialists at the start who are helping to ensure the project definition is well-defined, and the closing documentation is properly scoped. This period tends to be less intense.
The intensity changes as the project progresses and there are more actions to complete. We’ll include more developers, testers, and data quality expertise and, as is the nature of IT projects, we’ll be raising more escalations and reviewing estimates on time and budgets for completion.
Later in the day, I might attend a programme board meeting or there might be a requirement to file a status report on a specific day of the week or month. All the information gathered and updated at the stand-up informs these meetings and controls.
Work packages and tracking progress
To help the team track tasks and progress, I often use the Kanban boards on Microsoft Teams. This ensures that work packages will be delivered on time, as it is a good way to spot where a delay in one task is holding up other tasks.
It’s also good for catching time-sensitive aspects of the project. For instance, some projects have definite cycles that need to be observed such as a dependency on finance to make a payment. In these cases, it’s critical to know when the payment run is done otherwise, if you miss it, you may need to wait a month to get another slot. There’s often a similar cycle to follow for IT change requests.
I use Microsoft Project to guide me through these checkpoints and ensure alignment. It's a great tool to predict the impact any delay or change will have on the overall project timeline and controls.
I’ll also do a considerable amount of relationship building in the day. Often with the project sponsor and primary stakeholders early in the project and then with the teams delivering the different aspects.
This helps in several ways. Firstly, it helps me ensure the project dependencies are high on the priority list, but it also helps with delivering any bad news or tipping people off about a potential risk.
I always attend these meetings with the governance log and my project plan as that’s a factual representation of the project. It removes any emotion and helps to share what mitigation is already underway, so you present an interim plan rather than just a problem.
However, there are times when the risk is greater than the project tolerances and keeping stakeholders informed sooner than the governance cycle dictates does help to alleviate any pressure. Having the project progress in black and white also helps stakeholders better understand aspects that are out of a project manager’s control.
Closing the day
Governance is my best friend and, no matter what, I will always carve out time in the day to ensure it remains so. I will always end the day by ensuring I’m as up to date as I can be on project status and can start the following morning with relative ease. Of course, things can and do happen overnight; another reason for making sure you’ve documented the latest progress.
Enacting a diligent and structured approach to your day will help you meet project targets through each phase, while mitigating the turbulence caused by short-notice changes.