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A Day in the Life of a Project Manager

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Maybe you’ve always been curious about project management and the career opportunities it opens up, but you don’t know exactly what the role entails. We sat down with CBT Nuggets project manager Zeb Grady to find out what project management looks like for him, why he loves it, and his advice for those looking to get into the field.

To borrow a phrase, “What would you say ‘ya do here?” Seriously though, what’s your average day look like?

It’s funny, I get asked this question by friends and family all the time — and the short answer that I always provide is, “There is no average day.”

Which is why I absolutely love my job and the company that I work for, because every day brings new challenges and opportunities to grow and improve, both for the business and for me professionally.

I think that’s true of project management no matter what development methodology your company utilizes, from Agile to traditional waterfall to Kanban. Each method brings about unique opportunities, and day-to-day challenges.

At the core my typical day looks like this:

Morning: 8-10 a.m.
Run Development Standups. For me, these are key. This is where I’m brought up to speed on what has been accomplished, what will be accomplished, and most importantly, the blockers prohibiting productivity. One of the most critical things I do day to day is ensure team efficiency and cohesiveness.

Uninterrupted “Quiet Time.” This is my most valued part of the day. I use it to to assess “to-dos” for the day and prioritize, review my issue-tracking software tool to see if any fire drills need to be tackled, and briefly dive into the development team’s sprint to analyze velocity.

10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Meetings. On average, I spend 2-3 hours per day in meetings with large groups, or touching base with various team leads. Typically, we’re discussing prioritization, project requirements, design-dev reviews, and project statuses. Often, we have numerous projects launching, or close to launching, at the same time, so it’s important to get the “next wave” of projects requirements and designs settled, so we are preemptively mitigating blockers and loss of momentum. When we are midstream in the project/development life cycle, my goal is to minimize distractions for the developers.

Afternoon: 1-3 p.m.
“Meat and Potatoes.” Here’s where we get into the real hefty parts of project management: Analyzing our process and preparing to increasing efficiency. This means I’m diving into each of the team’s sprint retrospectives.

For those not aware of what a retrospective is or what it does, in short, it’s a record of what went well and what could be improved in the last development sprint. For me, it’s a sanity check on development velocity where I come to understand the challenges the team faced in the sprint, see if there is anything we can do to mitigate those challenges, and analyze possible process improvements. What does that entail?

  • Building new sprint retrospectives to stay ahead of the game;
  • Making modifications and edits to the status reports;
  • Analyzing backlog, and resolving development blockers; and
  • Researching and clarifying business requirements.

3-5 p.m.
Loose Ends/Next Day Prep. I might be doing many different things based on how the day went. But you can expect this period of time to include:

  • Cleaning up notes from prior meetings.
  • Scheduling any necessary meetings for the coming days.
  • Answering one-off questions and emails.
  • Catch up with business owners, to answer questions and report statuses.

6-??? p.m.
Leftover Tasks. It never fails. There are always things to do that I didn’t get done during the workday. A project manager’s work is never done.

What drew you to project management?
My honest answer? A happy accident. My educational background, and the first part of my career, was in business analytics and finance. I thoroughly enjoyed what I did, but I have a curious mind and drive for continual learning. So when I got an opportunity to help test an e-commerce implementation, I took it. I was instantly intrigued by the IT side of the implementation and how the “frame of the house/foundation” was built. This led to a future business analytics/QA role, during which I was the liaison between the business owners and developers. This eventually led to project management for me, the perfect mix between my passion for business and constant educational enlightenment on the development side.

Q: What did you think project management was about before you entered the profession? What would you say it’s about now that you’re an experienced PM?
Early on I considered project management as a leadership role, that I might even say was dictator-like. Now that I’ve done it for awhile, I know that couldn’t be further than the truth. A PM is a small piece of the puzzle. Most importantly, they are a voice, a supporter, and a listener who makes the workplace more efficient and less stressful day to day.

Q: What advice would you give to folks who are thinking about becoming project managers?
In my experience, good PMs are have a mix of business and IT/technical knowledge. To tie this back to background, I would say if you are more technical and have interest in project management, I would encourage you to learn about the business side and vice versa.

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