Project management – Knowing when to dig in and when to step back

I just began my first ever project manager position a couple of weeks ago. So how is it going? Well, I really like it. It is somewhat what I thought it would be. It is either a great deal busier than what I initially thought, or I have to just learn a few things first in this new role in order to get better at time management.


In my last position I was not pushed to meet hard deadlines. Honestly, I just didn’t have them.  Awesome, right? Well this new job of mine is nothing like the old job. It is go, go, go; and I love it! However, I am learning to prioritize on the fly – almost every day since I have been given 2 projects to start off with. One is big and is very important to the whole organization, and the other is important but a lot smaller in comparison. I also have other ad-hoc tasks that I complete that take time from my projects. My problem with all of this so far is that I have been a very involved worker throughout my whole career. I want to know everything about everything. I also want to do everything since then I will know that I got it done and there is no risk with someone else doing it. Well that’s a problem when you are a project manager and you a ton of stuff to do all the time and you stay in the “dig in” mentality. Well this type of problem then led me to look around online and I found a great blog with some ideas:

Everything is not important important!

  • Sit down with the boss to have them set you straight or be prioritized directly from them
  • Listen to all stakeholders, including your family to find out what items you are responsible for are holding them up
  • Document all arrangements of work to be completed for people and from people. (CYA)
  • Look backwards from the process diagram to find out your backward times which will give you deadlines you have to meet.

Become Organized (If you are not already)

  • Don’t waste time trying to figure out what you should be doing, let a system deal with that while you actually do something.

Cost, Scope, Time

  • Work backwards from when your deadlines are and how long your tasks will take. Creating a list for this will automatically give you priorities on what should be done.
  • Spend money when necessary to help get you back up above water again in your project’s progress.
  • Communicate with your stakeholders if things just aren’t going to plan and be honest so that they will see that you are working with them to get them everything they need

Delegate as much as possible

  • There may be people who can help you finish a task

Do any of you struggle with some of these problems in your PM roles? Or do you know people who do?


The Wisdom of Project Management Maxims and the Importance of Balance

In reading the project management maxims from Chapter 10, I was reminded of the importance of finding balance when serving as a project manager.

Maxim One: You can’t do it all and get it all done – projects usually involve a vast web of relationships.

When managing a project, equally important as the question of what has to get done is the question of who is going to do it. Project managers who focus on the list of tasks at the expense of the resources needed to complete those tasks often find themselves behind schedule and over budget. Without the cooperation of all stakeholders, projects are likely to fail. Even if a resource is assigned to a project, you will not likely get their best effort unless relationships are established centered on common goals. I have seen project managers attempt to use position power rather than influence to disastrous effect.  Recognizing you cannot do it alone will help you focus on balancing the “what” along with the “who” of a project, leading to better project results.  Establishing clear expectations of how a project will be managed will help maintain balance. In the article “10 Best Practices for Successful Project Management”, Tom Mochal notes the importance of ensuring “the project team and all stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed”.

Maxim Two: Hands-on work is not the same as leading – more pressure and involvement can reduce your effectiveness as a leader.

This too is a matter of finding balance. Project managers who simply direct from on high are less effective than those who know enough about the project and the work being done to speak from a position of credibility. Making requests without understanding the impact of the request on those expected to do the work leads to resistance amongst the project team.   On the other hand, if project managers become daily contributors, they lose the vantage point necessary to enable them to effectively manage the project. Project managers who are willing to contribute at critical moments in a project earn the respect of the team and help ensure the success of a project. Going beyond that makes a project manager one of the team and not a leader, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the position.

What’s important to you likely isn’t as important to someone else – different groups have different stakes (responsibilities, agendas, and priorities) in the outcome of a project.

You have to balance the needs of all stakeholders; those you report to regarding the project, those who will benefit from the project, and those you need to get the work done.  I have seen project managers focus the majority of their attention on their project sponsor while ignoring the other stakeholders.  In the short run, their close relationship with the sponsor is viewed as positive. However, as other stakeholders became disconnected and the quality of effort and work product suffers, the attention paid to the project sponsor did not outweigh the lack of project results.  Communicating with all stakeholders at each stage of the project helps ensure all stakeholders’ needs are recognized and leads to engagement in project outcomes.