The day in the life of a project manager is crazy – emails and calls, meetings and conferences, assigning tasks internally, marketing efforts, content production, strategy consultation, managing timelines and priorities – the list goes on and on and on. My bossman, Douglas Karr, always says that my job is literally “herding cats.” Trust me, he’s not far off.
While there is a lot to do on a day to day basis, I absolutely, positively, without a doubt love being a project manager for a number of reasons. You get to be involved with every aspect and individual within the business, you meet new people everyday, you get to become a “voice” for the company, and you are constantly challenged to learn more and be better at what you do. But being a project manager isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows. It’s actually very humbling.
Why Project Management is Like Serving Tables
When I was applying for jobs after I graduated from Butler, within my portfolio, I created a short article on why being a project manager is like being a server. Waiting tables for almost 4 years through college, I learned a thing or two about customer service and managing multiple projects at once, which I thought would help me in my quest for project management glory. Granted, serving tables is a shorter engagement and has more clear cut responsibilities, it has similar concepts. Think about it – if I have a section of 10 tables on a busy Friday night, I have to prioritize the tasks at those tables to make sure that my customers are happy and that, ultimately, I get a good tip. If I can’t do that efficiently, I’ll be left with 10 dirty tables and nothing to show for it.
Do all the tables have their drinks? If a drink takes time to make, does that patron have water in the mean time? Did I let a parton know if a specific dish takes longer to make than others? Did I ask them if they’d like their side salad with their meal or as an appetizer? Did I ask them if they’d like an appetizer? Did I try to up-sell with a desert or after-dinner coffee? If they had a problem with their food, did I fix the problem in a time efficient manner? These questions are not far off from what I have to ask myself on a daily basis with clients – just switch out food for project tasks.
Let’s compare scenarios, shall we?
- Theoretical Problem: Customer waits 10 minutes for their drink. Client waits a week for an email response. Outcome: Both are unhappy with the timing and expectations have not been met. Their trust has faltered.
- Theoretical Problem: Customer receives a dish that wasn’t made properly. Client receives a strategy document with recommendations that do not make sense for their business. Outcome: This shows incompetency and the incapacity to do one’s job.
- Theoretical Problem: Customer waits 40 minutes for a dish that takes 40 minutes to make, but was not told. Client requests a task that takes two weeks to complete, but wants it within an unrealistic timeline and was not notified. Outcome: Both are not aware that their expectations are not realistic from an internal timeframe and are dissatisfied with the timing.
Overall problem in these scenarios: lack of communication.
Overall outcome: opportunity loss of tips and a client account.
A business relationship should be mutually beneficial, but it cannot be if realistic goals and expectations aren’t communicated on behalf of both parties. A customer or client can’t respect you if you don’t tell them what to expect and when to expect it. Even if you are scared of upsetting you customer/client, letting them know that you can’t get a task done until X time is better than promising something you can’t deliver in their timeframe.
Being a project manager is not just about doing your job. It’s about being able to take the heat when things get messy. You’re the main point of contact for your clients, while you’re also the main point of contact for your internal team. You’re the middleman between the client and your colleagues. If I don’t gather enough information from my clients in order for my team to do their respective jobs, then I’m not going to be able to provide enough information for my team to get things done. And I’m going to feel the pressure. Just like I would if a customer’s sandwich came out with tomatoes when they specifically said “no tomatoes.”
But enough with the analogies. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Being a “Team” Project Manager
When you’re in an uncomfortable situation with a client, it’s tough to not get defensive and emotional, not taking the complaints personally, and the worst of all, blaming it on someone else. This is a team effort – we are all responsible for the outcomes. We all have to look at the bigger picture and make sure that things are communicated properly and look at where we can improve workflow.
<rant> And that is why, as a project manager, there is one underlying truth that I believe you have to respect in order to be successful:
Everyone on your team is your colleague and your equal. Treat them as such.
Just because you get face time with the clients doesn’t mean that you’re better than anyone else on your team. My developer, Stephen, is capable of things that I can’t even comprehend or ever be able to do. My designer, Nathan, creates beautiful designs that I could never come up from scratch or even begin to conceptualize. Marty, our social business strategist, understands the depths of how content and social play together in ways that blow my mind. Nikhil, our SEO analyst, provides these complicated and intricate SEO audits with findings about things I didn’t even know existed. And of course, my bossman, Dougie Fresh, has by far one of the most complex and best grasps on search engine optimization in the industry (and that’s an understatement). Respect, appreciate, and praise them for what they do on a regular basis. You are not capable of doing your job without them.
I don’t care if you’re the CEO or on the support team. Every position within your company is needed and viable. That’s why they exist. Fancy titles aside, respect the people you work with. We’re in this together! Your success is my success and vice versa.
When things get messy and heated, a project manager’s true colors come out. A project manager’s job is to handle the situation the best they can. A good project manager will do this by putting their emotions aside, finding the best possible solution for everyone, and fixing the problem as quickly as possible without placing blame. </rant>