Secret Lives of Project Managers

Author: Tatiana Jaramillo

Project management is one of the most puzzling roles in a team, because we do not produce tangible outcomes as most of the other members do, well, except for the project plan and tons of reports. But we are not directly building the final product and therefore a lot of people have difficulties understanding what it is that we do.

However, this article will not unhide this mystery. Instead, I will share some aspects of the project management role that no one talks about, those “secrets” that are not revealed in books or Confluence pages, nor taught in the academy.

“The PM is always available”

Project managers’ availability is usually taken for granted by other teammates and this is particularly challenging when we need to write a complicated communication or even produce a report or a task that requires concentration. I tend to assume that when a team member writes to me, they need an input for continuing their work right away and I don’t like to make them wait. But at the same time, I get easily distracted from the task I was doing. To minimize these distractions, I have developed a strategy of sometimes shifting my schedule to early in the mornings or late at nights, when I know people are not online and I will have some space for deep concentration. However, this particular option wouldn’t go well if one has personal or family commitments. Switching your status in chats to ‘Away’ while you need to be immersed, may be helpful as well.

“Changing lenses”

The second aspect that I have found there are few or none specific training programs for a particular skill that throughout my career has been essential, is to be able to change lenses.

This skill is to have the ability to deeply understand the day-to-day project dynamics, how things are advancing piece by piece, how healthy the relationships are, how dependencies are being tackled and balance this detail orientation, with the understanding of the bigger picture, and accurately assess how each event impacts the project as a whole and its final outcome.

To improve on this, I have trained myself to listen carefully to all my peers, try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together with different approaches (tech view, creative view, client management view, etc) and always ask questions. Sometimes it may be perceived as a lot of consultation, but at the end of the day, this collaborative approach gives you the reliability for making the right decisions on the project.

Perceptions of the PM’s work

This is a tricky one because it has the factor of the ego involved. However, my concern is more related to how I make myself available and trustworthy when supporting the rest of the team members.

One way I have found to relieve this, is by not trying to solve everything myself. Rather, by knowing who to go to in different situations, facilitate a channel between the person that needs the support and the one that may provide it and very gently make follow-ups on how the situation is advancing. It is also very helpful to have tools that outline the roles and responsibilities within the team and share them with all the members, so it is clear for everyone what you as PM are accountable for and what aspects of the project are out of your scope. But then again, this last one can always be supported by proper communication.

I would advise you to not get offended when someone tells you something like: “PMs only make Excel sheets”. This is coming from a place of misinformation and maybe from bad experiences in the past. Instead, try to be available for the team, express your willingness to provide support and do not force the relations. Take it one day at a time, until you have authentically gained their trust and respect towards all the activities we perform.

Relationships within the Team

One of the biggest challenges for PMs, is to cope with different types of personalities, ways of work and communication styles and maintain good relationships with all team members. When troubles come knocking on the door, of course that also affects us, especially when things don’t go as planned and this may cause frustration in the team, among stakeholders and within oneself. But as a friend once told me, “PMs should be the grown-ups on the team”, so we need to have great resilience, patience, kindness and be creative on how to approach each person and each situation, to effectively be a proxy of interactions and achieve to orchestrate the dynamics of a project.

Hidden challenges of project management are those subtle aspects that are not clearly identified in a guide or a textbook. They require years of learning, listening, asking, sharing and caring, to overcome them with the best possible result for all and become a strategic ally for your colleagues.

My final takeaway would be this quote from Nelson Mandela: “It never hurts to think too highly of a person, often they become ennobled and act better because of it”.

Tatiana Jaramillo
Tatiana Jaramillo

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