Product Growth at Codegiant
From the desk of brilliant weirdo #1: “What does a project manager really do?” Maybe that’s a question you’ve been asking yourself or others if you have been considering a PM career for a while. To be honest, it’s gonna be quite hard to put all the PM roles under one roof as project managers in one industry can differ from PMs in another. But I’ll do my best to give you a clear image of what it looks like to be a project manager.
Full disclosure: I work in Product Growth at CodeGiant, which is one of the many project management tools mentioned in this article.
Without further ado:
Project managers symbolise the connection between upper management and the working staff (programmers, designers, writers, etc).
More often than not, they operate on various projects, rarely overseeing just one project. Their job is to make sure that the project’s goals are met without over exceeding the set time and budget estimates.
A project manager is someone who communicates with stakeholders involved in the project and working staff to ensure projects are moving smoothly towards the goal line. He manages the team by assigning tasks and prioritising issues.
As a project manager, you’ll be multitasking a lot. Your time and work will be severely interrupted by emails, check-ins, meetings, complaints, help requests, calls, to name a few.
Juggling several different projects at the same time might be rough but that’s why project managers are sought after and can command higher salaries with a few years of experience in their pockets, especially in the IT sector.
You have to be able to communicate deadlines, user stories, requirements, in a clear and cogent way that your team members will have no trouble understanding.
“Every project manager spends a lot of time communicating e.g. preparing status reports, reading and responding to emails, participating in telecoms, attending meetings, etc. It is said that “90% of project managers time goes into project communication.” -Ashwini Rao, Founder of PMexperto.
Whenever it’s crunch time, you need to act tough — push your team but don’t be harsh. They need to know that you are on their side, not against them. They need to feel like you are putting even more effort than they do so the team can stay encouraged and go out of its way to ensure the success of the project.
Whenever you notice a slight problem and say to yourself “Nah, not a big deal,” you are probably making a big mistake.
The thing you neglected earlier will come full circle and bite you in the ass when you least expect it. You should mitigate risks, big or small — and always have a plan B when things don’t go the way you planned.
A good project manager doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be able to preserve their productivity or avoid getting pissed off; it means that a good project manager will keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances.
If there’s work that requires your undivided attention, you should figure out time before or after work hours when you aren’t expecting any interruptions.
What makes a good PM is that good PMs are team players. They don’t take credit for their team’s work. Instead, they focus on transforming the project’s goals into implementable tasks with precise instructions the team can follow and execute easily.
“The essence of a project manager’s role is to ensure that all items (including stakeholders) in the project are aligned. Depending on the methodology being used, this could be on a daily basis (for AGILE projects) or weekly basis. Ultimately, it is their job to ensure that those working on the project have full clarity on what is required from them, including briefing, timeframes and communication.” — Simon Ensor, Founder of Catchworks.
Good project managers are also relentless in their pursuit of solutions to difficult problems. You should always be looking for other solutions, different approaches, options for solving a particular problem. Good projects managers should be the main force that drives the team forward.
Here is quite a thrilling definition of being a project manager by Scott Berkun:
“As skeptical as project managers need to be, they are simultaneously optimistic that all problems can be solved if enough intensity and focus are applied. For reasons they themselves cannot fully explain, PMs continually hold a torch up against ambiguity and doubt, and refuse to quit until every possible alternative has been explored. They believe that good thinking wins, and that it takes work to find good thoughts.”
The role of the project manager is like the role of an orchestra conductor. Everyone is looking at you, waiting for your instructions. You are acting as a role model in a way.
“A project manager is the cornerstone of both external and internal communication; the gateway of interaction with the customers and with the teams.” — Giulio ZeccaPMP, Founder of innovAchievers.
So, here are the 5 stages of managing a project:
Initiating — During this stage you need to ask heaps of questions in order to get a better understanding of the project you’re developing and how to make it successful.
Planning — During this phase, you should map out the tasks and milestones for finishing the project. The document you create in this phase should evolve along with the project.
Executing — Once every step is mapped out, the project manager should proceed forward by assigning tasks to the appropriate team members.
Those tasks should be prioritized by importance in case you start running out of time.
You should also restrict the team’s access to any distractions and provide help whenever needed.
Monitoring — During this stage, the project manager should keep a close eye on the team’s performance, time and cost estimates.
Has there been a deterioration, the PM should take precautions and neutralize all present issues.
Closing — Here, you release any leftover resources no longer needed.
Once you review the work done during project development, you can archive project files for future reference and move forward.
To give you a more conventional view of the responsibilities of a PM, here are some of the most common requirements based on project management job descriptions:
“Basically, I have a job because many leaders are disorganized, can’t work technology, and don’t know how to communicate with other humans. I’m the one who makes sure the deliverables leave the brains, laptops, and desks of employees, and reach the hands of the client.” — Ariadne, Project Manager at Mermaid Consulting.
Project managers should possess a prowess of impressive social skills.
As someone who is in constant communication with a number of people, project management roles are predominantly occupied by extroverts.
By no means you should decline a PM role as an introvert, especially if you have a passion for the job.
According to Scott Berkun, project managers should have the ability to think critically.
Diagrams and flowcharts can be quite useful when it comes to assessing the project’s state. Such charts and diagrams consist of work items and shows where bottlenecks might appear. “For example, if features A, B, and C can’t be completed until D is done, then D is on the critical path for that part of the project. This is important because if D is delayed or done poorly, it will seriously impact the completion of work items A, B, and C.” — says Scott.
Here are some project management traits:
“The best project managers are leaders in their own right — regardless of their title or where they sit in the org chart. In fact, leadership is so essential to successful project management that I believe we should change the job title to ‘Project Leader.’” — Annmarie, Founder/Consultant at Newgrange IT Consulting.
To be able to qualify as a project manager, you’ll need to have passed some kind of formal project management training.
Experience as a project management intern would add bonus points to your resume.
Generally, most companies are looking for PMs who have 3 years of experience in the role.
But as a starter, you probably won’t have years of experience. Therefore, having a PMP certification is highly valued among recruiters when scouting for project managers. A certified project manager will, obviously, rank higher than a project manager without a degree.
One of the best ways of getting into project management is by getting a mentor.
Finding someone who is in the place you want to be 10 years from now and modelling their steps is perhaps the best thing you can do to ensure you become a master at the craft. A good place you can search for a mentor is LinkedIn.
We should note that being a project manager isn’t meant for everybody.
“We’re always the ones who come under heat if things fall apart, but that’s because we’re also the ones holding it together in terms of the bigger picture.” — Rex, CEO of Gadget Review.
It’s a profession suited for those who are accountable, can easily adapt to changing circumstances, think strategically, are decisive, and have a stress-proof personality that allows them to thrive even in chaotic environments.
When things go shitty, as Birmingham people like to say, you have to start considering the time and cost-effective options for saving the project.
Start looking at what an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) would look like, especially when deadlines are approaching.
In such a situation, go back to the backlog and check whether the most important tasks are completed for the project to at least run on life support.
“Walk the walk, if you want people to deliver on time, you need to do the same thing. Don’t use bromides, or sloganeering to encourage the team, when the situation looks bad, recognize that, don’t resort to management speak softening the situation to the point where nobody knows what is happening.” — Jon M Quigley, Value Transformation.
After the project ends, conduct a retrospective meeting, and try to figure out what went to hell and how you can avoid it from happening again.
Be careful when using the word “minimum” when communicating with stakeholders tho. It can sometimes scare them.
As a project manager, you also ought to convince your team why the work they’re doing is important and prioritised the way it is.
Otherwise, some team members might think something else is crucial than the work you are providing which results in team disparity. You have to provide facts and hard evidence to your team so that everybody is on the same page, synchronised, seeing clearly what’s the next step ahead of them.
Don’t try to act as an authority figure because you’ll ruin the relationship with your team and they will more or less deplore you.
A good tactic to build a relationship with your team is to be a listener and ask questions while keeping the attitude of a student. If something doesn’t make sense, questions you may ask are: “I hear you. Can you elaborate a bit more on what caused this problem to happen and if there is anything we can do to fix it?”
According to developers and other working staff, the PMs who impress them most are the ones who ask enough questions to figure out why things aren’t progressing according to plan and what reasonable actions the team can take in order to fix that.
Most importantly, a PM should be able to express empathy and understanding towards their team.
“As a project manager myself, what makes me highly effective is when proper coordination is managed. I introduced a process called time audit. It involves my staff writing down their intentions and views on how they’ve spent their time in the office and then tracking how they actually work. We notice that there’s a significant difference between what they intend to do and the real actions they’ve taken.” — Michael Hammelburger, CEO @ Expense Reduction Group.
Becoming a project manager starts with educating yourself.
“If you’re looking to break into project management, you first want to pursue a certification based on your career goals. The most common certifications include PMI PMP, PMI ACP, Prince2, Agile Scrum Master, and Scrum Product Owner. I recommend acquiring more than one certification to improve your hireability chances and rise above the competition.” — Bart Turczynski, Editor-in-Chief at ResumeLab.
Obtaining a PMP certificate would be best for impressing companies. Or, if you have the time, you can get yourself a Bachelor’s in project management.
For improving your skills and putting yourself ahead of the competition, a good book to make your library is “Making Things Happen” by Scott Berkun.
Or you can also apply for a project management internship. If you are lucky, the company may provide you with internal project management programs/courses and offer you a long-term contract.
You’ll probably start as a junior project manager or some kind of an associate PMs mainly assisting the senior project manager. You’ll be able to learn a great deal about the job from the senior PM you are closely working with, and thus be able to dive into the profession immediately.
Of course, your salary as a junior project management will be quite lower than a senior but at this stage you should aim to absorb as much knowledge as you can rather than shouting for a short-term pay boost.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a project manager in the US sums up to $66,137/yr. The estimate is based on 133,345 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by Project Managers.
Additional cash compensation is also available and it can make somewhere from $1,500 to $20,000.
“Are project managers going to be in demand in a couple of years?” — this question has probably crossed your mind more than once if you have been considering a PM career.
According to the Project Management Institute, 22 million new PM jobs will be opened by 2027 (growing nearly 33% from 2017).
As a project manager you’ll be spoilt for choice being able to join a variety of industries.
Project managers are most known to inhabit roles in the IT space, but you can also immerse yourself in other industries such as finance, insurance, construction, engineering, manufacturing, and others.
Here are different types of project managers:
Construction project managers are in the top 3 sought after project managers. ]
They can be responsible for managing the construction of shopping centres or overseeing the execution of new downtown infrastructure.
Construction managers work closely with clients, architects, engineers, and other 3rd party vendors to complete their projects successfully.
The average salary of a construction manager in the US is about $76,892/yr.
Variety of companies use engineers for the development of new products in a faster, safer, and hopefully, cheaper way.
It’s the engineering project manager’s job to keep close communication with the engineers and manage the project resources efficiently.
Just like any other project manager, engineering PMs keep track of deadlines and guide the team whenever help is needed so the project can be completed successfully.
The average salary for an engineering project manager in the US is about $93,530/yr.
As a software project manager it’s highly preferred to have a technical background.
Once you get to understand the client’s desires, you can then create a robust plan and a list of tasks/user stories for the team to strictly follow.
Software project managers also keep track of time and budget estimates.
The average salary for a software project manager in the US is about $89,256/yr.
Information Technology (IT)
It’s a nice extra for IT PMs to have technical experience but what’s more essential is to possess the business acumen to make better time and budget-related decisions.
Except for managing their team, IT project managers also work closely with other departments and 3rd party vendors to ensure the project’s success.
IT project managers command an average salary of $88,822/yr.
Healthcare is another growing industry that’s welcoming more and more new project management roles.
The average salary of a healthcare project manager in the US is about $66,137/yr.
Project managers in this field can be responsible for overseeing the opening of a new hospital facility or wing.
They also collaborate closely with doctors, donors, board members, other departments, and 3rd party vendors.
When it comes to marketing project management, you can be responsible for anything from SEO and organic traffic to paid ads, etc.
You’ll have to manage a team of copywriters, designers, and other working staff while keeping upper management involved in the process at the same time to ensure your projects end with success.
The average salary of a marketing project manager in the US is about $62,225/yr.
Sometimes, organizations need extra help with managing and developing a project. That’s where consulting project managers come in hand.
They are valuable because they bring a set of business and social skills to the table.
Consulting project managers can serve a variety of industries and their job is quite similar to the typical project manager — come up with a plan and document it, oversee implementation of tasks, monitor and track progress, etc.
The salary of a consulting project manager depends on the project they are hired for.
Communicating with team members: Well, project managers are around the clock communicating with their team and other departments and stakeholders.
They are constantly shuffling through emails, chats, calls, daily stand ups, and other team meetings.
Honestly, on the outside, their work schedule might seem quite hectic. But that’s the beauty of it — project managers are still able to manage their projects even though their world might look upside down to the other people.
“I absolutely adore my job, team, and the clients I work with. As a part of my day-to-day activities, I do standups for multiple teams (separately for marketing and 2 development teams), communicate with clients by phone, chat, email and in-person, and keep track of the scheduled tasks.” — Olha Putintseva, Project Manager at BlastSourcing.
Issue identification and resolution: It’s quite common for project managers to stumble upon various issues during project development.
Some of these problems come in the shape of budget, resource allocation, and miscellaneous issues, to name a few.
The job of the project manager, obviously, is to discover cost-effective and time-efficient solutions to the present problem.
Budgeting: Cost estimations can also be involved in the daily activities of a project manager, especially when it comes down to large-scale projects.
Larger budgets require your undivided attention so you don’t make any mistakes that may cost your organization dearly.
Budget daily activities include reviewing, processing, and approving internal and external invoices when it comes to 3-rd party partnerships.
Time management and approval: Many project managers use useful apps like timesheets to manage how they spend their own and team’s time.
Team-building: A project manager should keep its team happy and motivated daily so everybody can be productive 24/7.
Team-building exercises are a great way to keep your team motivated, stimulated, and ready to rock n’ roll when new challenges appear.
“As a project manager, in addition to planning, assigning, and scheduling tasks needed to get a project finished, one of my top tasks is just checking in on everyone involved in the projects to make sure they are on track to meet their due dates.” — Jesse Silkoff, founder of MyRoofingPal.
Seeking new information and ideas by discussing the project with others can also be included in your daily checklist.
Once the ordered list of tasks is perfected you can proceed further to assigning tasks to your teammates. From there on, you have to make sure every single individual on your team follows their tasks as described to ensure the project is moving smoothly towards the goal line.
It’d be really detrimental to the project’s success if you provide your teammates with a chaotic backlog lacking any order whatsoever.
Putting aside that it’ll baffle your team, everybody will start working on tasks they think are most important meaning nobody will be on the same page.
And when you’re running out of time, your team won’t be able to produce an MVP.
It’s essential to prioritize tasks.
No matter what happens, you’ll have done the most essential work first and thus be able to make slight alterations and adjustments moving forward. You won’t have to go back and revise things you’ve already done.
There are also ways that allow you to manage your tasks in your ordered list.
For example, you can have items in Priority 1 list. Those are the items your project will die without. These items aren’t simply things that would be nice to have.
Here’s an example with car construction:
The priority 1 items would include the engine, tires, transmission, brakes, steering wheel, and pedals. The car can’t run without these.
And then you have Priority 2 items such as the doors, windshield, AC, and radio, to name a few.
Even though it may seem incredibly inconvenient to drive a car without some of the Priority 2 items, the car can still run only with Priority 1 items.
That’s the approach you need to have when managing projects. If you are running out of time but have completed all Priority 1 items, you can still ship the product although in a minimal condition. Otherwise, you won’t be able to ship at all.
And as we are speaking of prioritizing lists, if you can’t so NO, you can’t really manage a project.
“That’s one side effect of having priorities” — according to Scott Berkun.
You’ll probably be bombarded with ideas from your team and others. You should probably reject most of them. Remember, if you can’t so NO (without shouting of course), you can’t really call yourself a PM.
Credits to Scott Berkun and his book “How To Make Things Happen.” https://scottberkun.com/2012/how-to-make-things-happen/
“I recently designed and oversaw the launch of more than 200 resume examples that I posted on the Zipjob blog! My team of professional resume writers wrote how to guides for the most popular job titles…including project management specialists. We included top skills, work experience samples, and tons of tips” — Caitlin, Project Manager at Zipjob.
To put it simply, a program manager is responsible for all projects in a certain department, whereas a project manager oversees just one or a few.
Let’s get down to brass tacks.
Program managers keep things in a high-level view (defines time and budget for projects) whereas project managers adhere to the time and budget estimates set by the program manager.
Project managers then come up with a priority list that the team should follow when developing the project.
The program manager assembles a roadmap visualising all the projects that need to be completed across a set period of time.
The project manager, on the other hand, creates a project roadmap with all the tasks, user stories, and dependencies that need to be completed for the project to be finished successfully.
A project roadmap also allows the project manager to monitor the team progress, identify and prevent issues before they occur.
Areas of responsibility
The program manager is all about achieving the company’s goals whereas the project manager is about completing the project successfully.
A good program manager knows how to efficiently collaborate with their project managers to define best practices and streamline workflows.
A good program manager is familiar with how to effectively communicate with customers to find out what they really want.
A good project manager strives to deliver projects on time without exceeding the assigned budgets.
When it comes to KPIs and metrics, project managers track and document the ROI of their individual projects and report to the program manager.
A program manager then develops new time and cost estimates based on the performance of previous projects.
We’ve already mentioned the average pay of a project manager (about $67,000/yr). The program manager salary can vary, but all in all, the average is around $60,000/yr according to Glassdoor.
“Use a tool to organize and manage your projects. It would keep everything streamlined and help you stay on top of things.” — Hamna Amjad, Project Manager at Heart Water.
Codegiant is a specifically designed project management tool not to overwhelm you with heaps of features but delight you with its simplicity and intuitive interface.
For one, Codegiant allows you to create tasks within just a few clicks and assign them to your teammates quickly.
And for two, Codegiant features beautifully-designed roadmaps so you can see the progress being made, identify and prevent bottlenecks before they happen.
If you are either a fan of Scrum or Kanban, Codegiant comes with both.
NOTE: Codegiant also comes with git repositories and built-in CI/CD. It makes a good suite of development tools.
ClickUp, on the other side, brings tons of features to the table. That’s why it markets itself as “The one tool to rule them all.”
ClickUp recently raised $35 million in Series A meaning they’ll be further improving their product and adding new features as well.
ClickUp features an importer tool making the importing process fast & easy.
Moreover, it boasts over 1,000 integrations. You can connect ClickUp with your favourite tools to grease the skids for your workflow.
Founded by one of Facebook co-founders (Dustin Moskovitz) back in 2008, Asana boasts a straightforward UI/UX with enough features to move your project from “rough” to “finished” state without much hassle.
Boasting more than 100 integrations, Asana brings everything you need in one place — emails, files, tickets, and many more.
If you are a creative person then Asana is definitely the tool for you. Asana features fascinating rainbow unicorns appearing only after you complete a task.
What we like:
What we don’t like:
Trello helps you visualise your project progress clearly. It’s definitely one of the simplest PM tools out there.
Trello allows you to prioritise your tasks quickly so your team explicitly knows what’s the next step ahead of you. Trello is suitable for business and personal use as well.
Moreover, you can automate tedious tasks with Butler to soar your productivity levels. You can automate rule-based triggers, custom card & board buttons, calendar commands, and due date commands.
Basecamp is almost as old as I am. It’s one of the well-known tools in the PM industry.
Basecamp is definitely a bit different than other apps meaning it brings tons of personality to the table. You feel like you are talking to a human when reading through their website.
It’s quite a straightforward tool — you can break down tasks into smaller chunks, organize and prioritize your lists, and keep your team on the same page.
Initially built for developers, Jira is now the most popular project management tool among developers. However, due to its initial bug tracking design it can be hard for non-tech folks to comprehend Jira.
Jira’s features can be a bit frustrating at first, but once you get going, you’ll be able to bring your team on the same page and accelerate your development much faster than you would with other PM tools.
Jira is available in three versions — Jira Align, Jira Core, and Jira Software. Jira Align is mainly suited for enterprises, whereas Jira Core and Jira Software fit smaller businesses better.
Being a project manager is definitely not an easy task.
The best way to become one is to obtain a PMP certification and apply for entry level project management positions to get a few years of experience on your back, and command higher salaries as time goes on.
As a project manager, no day will be the same. You’ll be juggling several projects at a time. And your daily schedule might be quite hectic at times. But that’s the beauty of it. If you are dedicated, you’ll get there.