Project Managers

Each project has its typical phases, and every agency tries to get through them as smoothly as possible. It's the project manager's responsibility to control the whole project process and make sure they stay within budget, scope, and deadline while keeping a high level of quality. Teamwork and task management are at the center of their solar system, communication is their forte, and organization is what they live and breathe for.

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Introduction to project management

Project management has its core elements, but details vary from industry to industry. In the introductory video we will skip construction, engineering, and architectural project managers and focus on those who work in the digital and IT world.

Management functions

Managers and management students could recite what POLC is in the middle of the night. These functions describe a manager's job best, and they also include all the phases every project goes through.

Planning — Unless the project at hand is a routine operation for the company, project managers need to take several steps before drawing up a detailed project plan. First of all, it's necessary to analyze all the critical factors that could affect a project's outcome. One of the best ways to include all the internal and external aspects is to outline a SWOT analysis. The "Strength" and "Weakness" elements look inwards while "Opportunities" and "Threats" scan the environment. Researching potential customers and competitors is crucial for a project's success. When PMs have all the necessary information, they can proceed to create a timeline with important milestones, deadlines, and dependencies.

Organizing — Deadlines go hand in hand with the available resources, and a manager needs to allocate people and activities optimally. Often, one person has to work on multiple projects simultaneously and be part of at least two teams. PMs assess everyone's availability and ability before forming new teams and rearranging resources. This responsibility includes deciding whether it's necessary to employ new people or not, for how long, and choosing between freelancers and in-house employment. It's also common to make decisions about job descriptions and how specialized they are. Some PMs may notice that employees who focus on one job type perform better in their industry and vice versa.

Leading — This phase is the meat and potatoes of a project manager's job. It takes more than technical knowledge and organizational skills to be a PM. Leading means motivating people to contribute to a project and providing them with all the necessary support in the process. Social intelligence is crucial because it can make or break entire teams and projects. Project managers must keep a close eye on personalities, relationships, conflicts, motivation levels, processes, and results. They use tools and methodologies to help them finish a project within time, scope, and budget while maintaining quality.

Controlling — Constant control of processes and results is what prevents projects from failing. To do that, one must know first what to control. This is where KPIs play a crucial role. Project managers define performance indicators and compare them with reality on a regular basis. If there are performance issues, they take corrective actions and step in as soon as it's necessary to avoid major disasters. It's very important to set both macro and micro KPIs and allocate them to specific teams or team members because some vague goals such as "increase profit" is not achievable, and it's not necessarily correlated to someone's performance. Corrective actions take PMs back to planning and organizing.

Tools

Project managers need all the help they can get to successfully pull all the strings and complete a project within deadline and budget. In the early days, various blackboards were used, paired with methods that stemmed from factory practice. One of these methodologies is the Gantt chart which is still primarily used in production. In the 1950s, project management became recognized as a discipline, and new methods and tools were invented, such as CPM and PERT. The early 2000s birthed another chart: Kanban.

The process of searching for the right tool can be tiresome but also rewarding. The tricky part is convincing the entire team to use the app regularly and adequately. PMs often choose one tool and then have to give it up because their team doesn't know how to operate it or it's not user-friendly. It's a process that requires patience, daily encouragement, and control.

When picking a project management tool, PMs scrutinize three factors: features, price, and ease of use. Essential features could include integrated time tracking, assigning tasks, to-do lists, invoicing, etc. It all depends on what the company focuses on.

As technology progressed, so did the instruments project managers had at their disposal. The past 15 years saw the invention and rise of powerful project management tools, and today they are indispensable. PMs usually adopt the project management tool already in use within the company. If they're lucky enough, they get to choose the tool they prefer.

Some projects are charged by the hour, making time tracking important, while others have a fixed price, and the amount of billable hours isn't that crucial. There are clients who insist on regular detailed reports, so project managers must also find a good reporting system.

We mentioned the Gantt chart and Kanban board earlier as one of the earliest forms of project management tools. Today's apps usually integrate them, so PMs can choose how they visualize and organize the projects they're managing.

Different types of Project Managers

Depending on the project, different types of designers will be needed to do a good job.

Digital Project Managers

Digital projects include websites, videos, written content, ebooks, games, social media, advertising, etc. Digital project managers lead projects from conception to completion just as they would in any other industry, and they get familiar with the market they're working in. They usually have some background in marketing, communication, PR, or data science, which allows them to better understand the client's needs and lead the team more efficiently. Digital PMs have an obligation to keep up with technology and the latest trends to stay competitive.

IT Project Managers

Humans aren't machines. However, developers are the closest link between man and devices and therefore have a specific mindset. Project managers must learn various methodologies to flawlessly lead projects and people in the IT industry. They also need to be tech-savvy to perform the difficult task of being a messenger between their team and the clients. The IT PMs' set of skills include impeccable time management, translating technical features to everyday language and vice versa, flexibility, and planning.

A project manager’s typical day

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Project managers start their day before everyone else. Think of party hosts—they must arrive first to arrange everything and everyone perfectly. Project management isn't about bossing people around. It's about finding the balance between the client's requests and the team's capabilities and keeping it every day while staying within the budget, deadline, and scope frames.

Correspondence — Project managers keep the conversation flowing with future, present, and past clients. They also lead more than one project at a time, amounting to a lot of emails and messages. Every morning usually begins with reading through every message that arrived since the day before, replying where possible, and noting down which information is needed.

Meetings — Working with people is the core of project management, and meetings are the place where most information is shared. PMs need to sit down regularly with their team to check how their tasks are progressing and find the answers to the clients' questions. From time to time, it's necessary to organize a rendezvous with all the stakeholders to make sure the project is on the right track.

Delegating tasks — For a project to be completed correctly and on time, it's paramount that the tasks are assigned to the right people and that everyone's workload is more-less equal. It's up to the project managers to assess who's responsible for what, determine co-dependencies, set milestones, and ensure no one has too much or too little on their plate.

Budget tracking — Every project has a certain budget frame or limit, and it's something the team shouldn't concern itself with. PMs keep a close eye on the budget throughout all project phases because any stepping out of the intended lines must be approved by the client. It's not an everyday activity for smaller projects, but it definitely takes up lots of hours when working on more expensive and complex projects.

Timeline supervision — Project managers consult their team before agreeing on any deadlines with clients. The more complex a project is the more milestones and detailed planning it requires. Not only do PMs outline a project's timeline, but they also keep track of everyone's activities and delays. It's their job to make sure the team doesn't miss any deadlines.

Reports — Clients don't take part in the team's day-to-day, so they need to be informed about their activities. Project managers regularly collect important data then create and update reports that they send to clients. These reports may include weekly task lists, tracked time, budget spent, etc.

Average salary

Being a project manager is a stressful job that requires many talents, but it does have its rewards. It's a well-paid job in most companies, and the level of responsibility and financial bonuses is tied to the project size and importance.

According to popular data websites, the annual salary of PMs in the US gravitates around $80,000 (Glassdoor: $83,894, Payscale: $75,892).

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Becoming a project manager: get started

Do you need a college degree to become a project manager? No. Does it help? Yes. There are management courses in almost every major city's university, covering a wide range of subjects. From human behavior to macroeconomics through organizational theories and consumer trends, managers are trained to tackle any industry they land a job in. Naturally, they'll need time to learn about the company and adapt their knowledge. Still, their broad education makes them extremely versatile because the foundations of human psychology and management can be applied everywhere.

The great part about this job is that people with any kind of background can perform it. Designers, developers, marketing experts, you name it; with a little additional reading and exceptional leadership skills, professionals can step up and become great project managers.

Bookshops have an endless list of specialized literature in this area, and they're a good source of knowledge for both beginners and experienced project managers. We compiled a list of eight PM books that you must read.

Your first job as a project manager

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Most people start working as project managers by accident. They usually work in their specialized field, their ability to manage people and projects shines through, and they get promoted internally to a position that deals with project management by all accounts. Such positions could be named head of marketing, management consultant, sometimes even the role of an account executive could be mixed with a project manager. So, if you're already working in a company that deals with projects, no matter how big or small, you could work your way up to the desired role. If you're a natural leader and organizer, it won't take long before others notice your skills. Try to take on smaller projects, assist your managers, and if you gain their trust, you might land a project to manage yourself. Get that done properly, and you might get the opportunity to ask to be a project manager permanently.

Becoming a PM right after finishing your studies isn't as easy as you might think at first. You may know all the theories in the world, but practice is crucial in this business because project management involves people. This is why it's helpful to look for an internship while you're still studying. You could see the process closely and learn a lot about human behavior. If the company sees you as a good fit, you might even land an entry-level job as an assistant manager.

Starting out a career as a project manager without any previous experience in any field isn't just difficult because no serious company would hire such a profile, but it's also not recommendable for an inexperienced person to take on the responsibility of managing a project.

A project manager's career path

As we already said, PMs usually start out in seemingly unrelated fields such as design, marketing, software development, HR, etc. Experience and organizational skills take them to a higher level of managing entire projects instead of just contributing to their piece of the puzzle.

Many project managers teach and write specialized books, applying theory to practice and vice versa. Their experience is of great value to those who want to become even better PMs and to those who are academically exploring this topic.

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Hiring a project manager

As an employer, you'll need a project manager who will take on any challenge and stay for the long run. The last thing you need is a person who will walk out in the middle of a project, putting you in a compromised position facing clients.

Define what you're looking for

If you're running a software developing company, you'll need an IT project manager. Unlike regular PMs, they have technical skills that can't be learned as quickly as you might need. You should also think carefully about the personal characteristics your new employee should possess. Personal traits should reflect the team and the type of project that need to be managed.

Publish an accurate job ad

Include all your requirements straight away. This way, you'll waste less time weeding out unsuitable candidates. Don't haste when putting together the job posting!

Review the resume carefully

Pay special attention to someone's employment history, note down questionable time spans and gaps, don't give up on someone if they haven't worked exclusively as project managers because specialized knowledge in other areas can often be beneficial.

Put together a list of questions

Prepare for the interview by compiling a set of questions for all candidates, but make sure to include individualized queries as well.

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