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How should a Project Manager spend his/her time?

Where should a Project Manager spend his/her time? First and foremost you need to be good at self time management as, despite what the team may think, you can normally fill your day a number of times over. This post cover my thoughts on where you should spend your time.

"Technical" work within the plan

Let us start with what isn't your priority - that is doing "technical" work within the plan. By all means lend a land if you can offer some help on technical activities but this should be ancillary to your main role as Project Manager. There is an old saying that if the plan has the Project Manager scheduled on the critical path, it is going to slip (or quality will suffer) as ensuring other activities are on track will suffer.

Monitoring and making things happen plus consider RAIDs

Once you have initiated the project and it is up and running your primary focus is making things happen as planned and ensuring that RAIDs (Risks, Issues, Assumptions, Dependencies) don't trip you up. So...
  • monitoring and controlling should take up a large part of your day. This may result in the need to chase things down and sometimes you may need to apply the PM size 9 boots! There are formal ways and informal ways of monitoring, see next section
  • there are likely to be issues or conflicts to resolve and you will need to spend part of your day here. But don't become a consistent ambulance chaser and want to have the "excitement" of helping resolve every problem! Get a handle on it and delegate where possible. Use your strategic thinking to "press the right buttons" where necessary with stakeholders and team alike
  • keep a watchful eye on Risk Management activities and the status of Risks because people can easily ignore this and as I always say, Attack the Risks before the Risks Attack you!
  • don't forget Dependency management checks and closing down any Assumptions that may have been made during Initiation

Monitoring - Management by walking about (MBWA)

I recommend getting out of your seat and doing a bit of wandering and chatting (or have a chat when you bump into folk). Showing your face to the team is good, showing interest in people is good and it is amazing what you find out by such an approach. Hopefully you can mix work and pleasure a little - learning a bit more about your team mates in an informal way can aid bonding as a team (read this post for more on the human side of teams). 

Of course MBWA is somewhat tricky when you have teams spread geographically. In such circumstances, you have to work particularly hard when you are face to face so that you can continue to dialogue (informally as well as formally) when remote.

So MBWA is useful but you will still need your formal update meetings with team leads etc which enable a structured approach to updates from the team to you and from you to the team. Get these scheduled as regular meetings in the calendar. Have a read of various posts on Monitoring & Control such as this one.

Reviewing the plan / looking ahead

You need to spend some time each week looking ahead on the plan (and then reminding the team as necessary). Due to Planner's Droop there is likely to detailed planning to be undertaken from time to time and you need to ensure that there no blockers which might cause a delay moving into the next key part of the plan. 

Note that many of the team won't be looking ahead much more than the current week, some may struggle to look ahead other than the task that is currently occupying them, maybe the next few hours ;-)

Whereas I have been suggesting getting close to your team for monitoring and control, this is a time where it is ideal to be away from the team and interruptions - see my post on comparisons to military generals

Other things which are still important but take less of your day

Other things which need to be considered across your weekly time planning

Things getting tight? - use of "daily prayers" meetings

Daily Prayers meetings are useful for focusing team members on what needs to be achieved in the particular day. These can be useful at any stage in the project lifecycle but I will certainly use them if things are tight and you need special focus to get across the line.

The form of the meeting is a short session with a team (maybe people standing to focus on short communication) where you go round everyone briefly discussing if necessary but more importantly, gaining commitment for what each team member will achieve in that day. If someone raises a blocker then you may need to discuss briefly or take offline to keep the meeting crisp, ideally 15 minutes maximum.


As a Project Manager you will have pressures on your time and need good time management skills to ensure that you cover a number of key activities within each week of the Project. So stop and think about what you have spent time so far in the week and what you still need to achieve in the remainder and react accordingly. 

If I was to leave you with one thought it is to spend your time on things which have the highest probability of tripping up the plan, not on things that you like doing or find easy!!

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