3 min read

I Juggle. Do You?

I was once asked, by a person I respected, "What do you do?" Of course, my response was, "I'm a project manager." In a disgusted huff, that person said, "I have never worked with a good PM. They always get in the way. What do you actually do? " I wasn't shocked by the response, because I've heard this before. And I've seen other project managers who don't understand the role and get in the way of good work. My reply was, "Well, there is a lot that a good PM should do. A good PM should help his or her team. If I can help out on a project and offer some expertise, I will. But the focus of my role is to keep the team communicating, the client happy, and the work good." Juggling daily tasks and requests alone can make the job difficult. Throwing an extra ball to the repertoire can ruin the act.  

It's true: many project managers have experience in the industry. Chances are, a PM you've worked with has dabbled in Photoshop, built a site map, written some copy, or (gasp!) coded some HTML. That doesn't mean that you should rely on your PM for any of these things, especially if you want to make sure that your projects are on time and on budget. If a project can offer expertise on a deliverable, loop them in for brainstorming or reviews. What your project manager does for the project as a whole is on the same level as a concrete deliverable, like a site map or content inventory. They help the project progress and make clients small. Don't get me wrong: there's no reason you shouldn't fill gaps with your staff's experience in other disciplines, but project management as a focus makes sense.

What We Do
Project managers don't just manage project plans, tasks and budgets. Those things are only a piece of the puzzle.  On a day-to-day basis, a good PM juggles many, many tasks. We're talking to clients, providing status updates and having conversations with them about many things and gathering info that will inform the path of the project. We're reporting that info back to our teams and making sure that all conversations are accounted for in the work. We're thoughtfully reviewing our teams' work and making comments on things that may affect the outcome of a project. We're adjusting plans as needed, looking for (and planning around) project risks, and handling the day-to-day tasks that all well-run projects require. It's a lot to juggle, and sometimes additional tasks can get in the way and dilute the value of the role.

I'm Not Your Secretary (But I Take Good Notes)
The role is not always strategic, because it can't be. Project managers can end up doing a lot of administrative work. Who sends the invoices, checks time sheets for accuracy, makes sure the calendar is up to date, plans resource schedules so your team is not overworked and angry? That's right, many project managers do all of that. In many cases it's a thin line between "managing" and "administering" projects, but there is a line.

My very least favorite task that borders on administrative work is setting up meetings. The amount of time this can take with a larger client is insane, but meetings are needed on any project and I'm the one who knows my team's calendar and limitations on time.

Project managers should also attend all project-related meetings. If a PM is not an active participant in a meeting, he or she should attend as a recorder. At the end of the day, an undocumented meeting might as well not have even happened. So, any good PM needs to know how to take notes and effectively participate in a meeting. In my opinion, being a good note-taker might be what can make or break a stellar PM. Unless you have an amazing memory (I do not), you need to be able to take notes down and share them with your team and your clients. You also need to have the courage and wherewithal to participate in the meeting and provide your perspective in most project meetings. A PM who is quietly tucked in a corner behind a laptop will never positively affect a project.

Knowing the Role
Crossing the line between PM and Admin happens often. But there are just some things that a project manager should not do. Don't ask your PM to put a personal event on a calendar. Don't expect your PM to know when your birthday or wedding anniversary are without checking a calendar (or you're really tight). The moral of the story is: Know when to draw the line between project-specific tasks and info, and things that would fall to an admin. There are plenty of project-related tasks that can fill a project manager's day, and adding silly tasks that anyone could do diminish the value of the role (even if your PM is happy to get you coffee).

I Want Feedback
I do understand that the role is shaped differently in every single organization. Tell me about how project management works in your organization. Does it differ from what I explained above? I'd love to get feedback on how the role is shaped and how your organziation utilizes project managers.