It is 2:14 AM and I have just left the office. It was a long day to onboard a new project.
Sitting in the car, I wonder, will it be like that all the time now?
Next day, I had one meeting. Nothing really happened.
Next week, five days in a row we had meetings after meetings. But only eight hours of work sharp…
Have you ever wondered what does a day of a project manager look like?
For sure, every industry and company is different.
Moreover, different stages of a project have a different focus.
So, here are typical days of a PM during these periods:
- A Day of a PM During Project Initiation.
- A Typical Day of a Project Manager During Project Planning.
- What Does a Project Manager do the Whole Day During Project Execution?
- What do Project Managers do During Project Closure?
How Long is a Typical Day of a Project Manager?
Here is how I see it:
If a project manager does his job well, it takes seven-eight hours per day to manage a serious project.
The less inexperienced or less diligent a PM is the more extra hours he has to put.
It’s getting more complicated when you manage several projects at once. But it gets you back to the point of “doing the job well.” It includes saying “NO” when you already have too much on your plate.
Nevertheless, shit happens. To make amends, you have to work more.
Sixteen hours days happened to me as well.
But it should be an extraordinary thing — not the usual way of managing a project.
If you are interested in learning an efficient way to get out of the project management crisis – check this article:
How to Survive Project Management Crisis
A Day of a PM During Project Initiation
During project initiation, a day is less structured for a project manager.
In my case, it is usually a mix of meetings with customers, with my management, and subject matter experts.
It takes about one to seven days to initiate a small to medium project.
On a larger project, I’ve been through months-long initiation periods.
They included a lot of POCs (Proof of Concept), investigation, feasibility check, high-level estimations, etc.
I can separate main themes during the day. They heavily depend on the time zone your clients.
Meetings With Clients
Usually, we have video conferences.
One or two hours during their morning.
I try to keep it to one or two iterations. We are not planning the project. We are collecting high-level information and getting acquainted.
So, in these meetings, we collect information required to compile a simple draft of a Project Charter.
On smaller projects, you may not see a formal document. But it doesn’t mean you don’t need to know the project goal, main constraints, or assumptions.
Meetings With Subject Matter Experts and Management
So, after the meeting with the client, I need to compile the collected information.
But before sending it raw to the clients, I do a check with SME and management.
- Sanity check
- Feasibility from our side
- Resources and experts availability
- Additional technical risks
- Agreements with clients they forgot to tell me about
- Special provisions for this client
- Check my assumptions
- Get their input and buy-in
These are just the main ones.
Just to make it clear. While I try to keep the monopoly on decision making on the project, I do consult with experts.
I do take their input. Moreover, I keep management informed and reassured that everything is under control.
If you don’t have a team at this point – you will need to start acquiring it.
During initiation, you may spend quite a lot of time negotiating the internal (in-house) resources.
It means more meetings for you with department managers, other project managers, and the HR department.
Work with the Project Team During Initiation
For many years, I have been working with Time, and Materials contracts in outsource companies. So, the main part of the team is usually on-boarded.
Therefore, I manage their preparation work here.
Sometimes POCs and investigations are in fact mini-projects.
So, to some extent, my day here looks quite close as a day during Execution.
(And, yes, I try to make it structured as I describe below.)
In any case, I prefer in-person communications here.
Several Iteration of the Same Day
So, usually, the same process fits into one day.
We repeat it several times focusing on the most critical aspects. We are getting clarifications for the high-level requirements, expectations, and risks.
A Typical Day of a Project Manager During Project Planning
Project planning may take from one to several days on a smaller project. It can be about a month for a bigger one.
There are distinct phases with work different in nature.
Keep in mind that you need to communicate here a lot. There’s a considerable information exchange between clients, experts, and project team.
It happens in small chunks.
TIP: And I don’t recommend you to change that.
So, in each phase imagine meetings, discussions, and brainstorming. It can be in-person or via virtual conference.
It’s a rapid back and forth communications.
Also, before phase one, you may need to select a project management approach. But it’s usually a silent brainstorming with your self.
Phase One: Collecting Requirements
During planning, you need to decompose the high-level requirement into detailed ones. You need to create designs and specification (or user stories).
So, my day active phase of collecting requirements looks as follows.
We have a meeting with clients in the evening. We specify requirements with them. We ask questions and try to understand their needs.
Here you can find out how it happens in real-life:
Requirements Gathering Example (Real Software Project)
The next day we brainstorm and analyze the input. It goes from morning to the next evening call.
Business analyst explains all the details to the team.
- Discuss requirements
- Identify unclear moments
- Prepare the action plan for the day
- Draft out questions, concerns, ideas, risk
- Do preliminary “order of magnitude” estimates
In total, I keep such discussions with the whole team to about two hours in total.
After that, they continue investigating and researching on their own.
In parallel, I often need to communicate with people outside of the team.
- With designers
- With subject matter experts on other projects
- With my management
- With recruiters
- Other third-parties
Also, I need to stay open for any questions from the project team.
A Project Manager Must Be Vigilant
Here’s the catch:
There are many talented people on the team. They all have an opinion on the matter at hand. Quite often they get into a conflict on the technical approaches.
Here, I keep my ears open to ensure they collaborate productively.
Such conflicts left unattended my soon develop into personal conflicts. They are much harder to resolve.
Phase Two: Identifying Project Scope
At some point, you get enough requirements to understand the main deliverables.
So, the project team starts to identify the scope of work.
It’s tedious work. It requires a lot of concentration.
Here you can learn about my approach to scope management:
Project Scope Example: Baseline, Scope Statement, Templates
People feel the weight of responsibility.
So, they tend to drift away regularly. They fall into debates. In some way the procrastinate.
That’s where I put my best servant-leader hat on.
Most of the day, I roam around the space and answer all kinds of questions. I help with breaking down deliverables, naming tasks, explaining “elements of project management,” encouraging.
It’s not a prolonged period. Usually several days in total spread the whole project planning process.
Phase Three: Recruiting People
Usually, you have a rough idea of the resources you will need.
So, the recruiting process starts early on.
(In IT industry it looks like it never stops)
Besides, to everything above I get several interviews per week.
As you can see, for a bigger project it starts to pile up.
It’s getting worse with the next phase going to its peak.
Phase Four: Planning the Project
It all happens at once. Each deliverable is on its own stage of planning.
Some deliverables are sufficiently detailed.
Some are already in work.
(Yes, more often than not no one’s waiting for the sign off of the plan.)
Other deliverables are not decomposed or don’t have estimates.
Nevertheless, I develop a project management plan continuously — deliverable after deliverable.
It’s my solo work. I do it early in the morning before the team is in the office.
Later, when I have the first draft, I review it with the project team.
- I want to get buy-in from them.
- I try to ensure the timeline is adequate for them.
- We identify overall project risks.
Here’s the truth:
Planning process becomes intense. Clients want to kick-off ASAP. But there are still several iterations of going through the plan.
Speeding the process usually leads to risks.
So, it’s another overhead. I need to manage expectations and sell benefits of proper planing twice as hard.
So, these are the most intense days for a project manager.
Phase Five: Approving the Project Management Plan
Lately, it’s not even a separate event.
I try to collaborate with stakeholders during the whole process closely. So, they know the plan.
Nevertheless, there is a meeting where I reiterate the plan.
Surprisingly, a lot of unexpected details pop-up here. Customers remember that they have a workshop. So, they need something to show there.
New dependencies appear. Fears, concerns, etc.
And that’s good.
It’s better to address all of them early on before they transform into a hidden dissatisfaction.
We have a sign-off! We are starting execution.
Well, putting execution to the full speed. Because we already did quite a lot while we plan.
What Does a Project Manager do the Whole Day During Project Execution?
Here we will talk about a day of a PM during the execution phase of a project.
I try to make it as structured as possible.
Moreover, I try to structure the whole week. I batch meeting and regular activities.
For example, I try to put as many recurring weekly meetings as I can on Tuesday.
It frees up other days of the week from big meetings.
I don’t take work to home
Quite often companies require a project manager to be online all day long.
It doesn’t mean that you are available 24/7. But if something goes wrong, you will need to jump into it.
I don’t do that.
When I’m not at work the only way to contact me is via phone.
I don’t check emails. I don’t have work-related chats active.
So, it should be a real disaster for someone to reach out to me.
It wasn’t this way all the time. But it is now.
10:00–11:00 The Most Important Task of a Day
There are many reasons we start to work that later. So, don’t bother too much about it.
In any case, I try to come an hour earlier than the bulk of the team.
I don’t check emails. I don’t look into the task tracker.
I do turn them off at the end of the previous day.
And I do have a planned task to do.
It’s one of the Big Three tasks of the day.
It can be an important email, a presentation, or a report.
Sometimes the big task is to make a thorough review of the systems and workflow.
Sometimes I need to review the requirement for the future Sprint.
So, there are no limitations or restrictions here. Moreover, the Big Task is not defined by the required efforts.
Quite often, it might be a 15 minutes effort. But it needs to be done and done correctly.
11:00 – 12:00 The Morning Routine
That is where I dive into my Inbox.
I review all the emails. All the chats and notifications.
During this period I prioritize and plan what to do with all those messages.
I practice a two minutes rule:
“If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.” (LifeHacker)
Therefore, if I can answer quickly – I do it right away.
It includes delegating the answer to another person.
The second part of the routine is the progress tracking.
I review the overall progress of the project.
For each project, I have a set of dashboards that allow me to do it at a glance.
I ensure that all team members logged their progress for the previous day.
It’s just a few minutes a day for me. But it saves so much time when you need to extract the data for reports and statuses.
Additionally, I look for the tasks that are stuck in the workflow for too long.
Again, if I can resolve an issue at the spot, I do it, if not – it’s a topic for the sync up meeting at 12:30.
12:00 – 12:30 Socialization
Usually, it’s a coffee break. Sometimes it’s just small talk with team members.
It is not random.
I try to communicate with key team members regularly.
So, I do plan this to some extent. At least I try to ensure I speak with different people.
It’s one way to collect information about issues or conflicts in the team that I missed.
Also, it’s a way to measure the level of motivation for different people.
There are way too many applications and benefits here. I never ignore this activity.
Just talk to your people more.
12:30 – 13:00 Sync Up Meeting
It is such an essential part of a day. I have been running these meetings for years.
And the methodology we use doesn’t matter.
The agenda of the meeting can be different depending on the team.
Nevertheless, the idea is still the same:
- What I did yesterday.
- What I’m going to do today.
- What impediments I face.
I also add general information on the project from my side.
That’s the only meeting I have to organize the team for a day.
Sometimes there are action points for everybody.
Sometimes there are actions for specific persons.
It doesn’t matter. During this meeting, I need to ensure that the team can efficiently work until the next Sync Up Meeting.
13:00 – 14:00 Urgent Tasks
Yes, these are * urgent *, not important ones.
After the daily meeting, there are actions we need to take at once. So, I try to do it right at the spot.
Write an email.
Send a link to the task I mentioned.
Setup a meeting.
If there are no urgent tasks here, I usually answer emails during this period. I try to clean up the inbox.
Also, if there is a need for a meeting to discuss pressing issues – that is the time as well.
14:00 – 15:00 Lunch Time + Nap
There were times when I neglected the power of lunch. However, for the last three years, it’s a ritual I don’t violate.
It’s a midday restoration period.
I don’t read emails or IMs during this time.
I eat my lunch and have 15 to 20 minutes of a nap.
Yes, I can do it in the office as well.
I can use a couch, a formless-pillow-chair or whatever it’s called. Likewise, I can take a nap in my car.
Napping got such a serious effect on my that optimized it to perfection.
Here is how it looks today.
- Drink a coffee. I prefer espresso. (Caffeine starts to work with a 20-minute delay.)
- Go for a nap. You got it. It should be about 15 minutes. I usually use an eye band and Brain.fm music to eliminate distractions.
- The goal is to fall asleep at least for a second. Within 15 minutes you can do it multiple times.
- You wake up as if you were sleeping. Caffeine kicks in so you are fresh awake.
16:00 – 17:00 People Management Time
Here is a thing:
Leadership, motivation, and people management are essential parts of project management.
There is always a people management task for you in the Big Three for the day.
So, every day, I allocate an hour for:
- One-on-one talks.
- Coaching for team leaders.
- Performance reviews.
- Conflict resolution.
- Team’s education in project management.
Another PRO tip here:
Limit the number of people you communicate with.
You need to be 100% present during such talks. You need to dedicate this time to a person.
So, one or two team members is a good rule of thumb for me.
17:00 – 18:00 Inbox Clean Up #2, Big Three Clean Up
At some point, the activity of the project team slows down.
People discussed all that needs to be addressed. It’s clear what needs to be done.
And it’s the end of the day.
So, there is a point when everyone is busy, and no one needs your input.
It’s a floating period. I need to adjust to it.
However, it’s the second best period to work uninterrupted.
So, here I clean up the inbox and answer all emails I have again.
I finish up all important tasks (read Big Three tasks).
18:00 – 19:00 Meetings with Clients
There is a time zone gap between clients and the project team.
So, when we finish up. They are just starting the day.
Therefore, I need to provide input for them to work on. They need to solve our problems while we sleep.
Likewise, we need to get input from them for the next day.
It’s not the most convenient communications plan. So, it requires a lot of efficiency and planning.
You need to consider the available bandwidth. You need to communicate only the critical issues.
At the end of this communication, I usually already have the Big Three for the next day. If not, I take one or two from my to-do list.
What do Project Managers do All Day?
- Where are the countless meetings?
I eliminated meetings as much as possible. I participate only in the crucial meetings for the project or company in general.
In any case, such meetings are usually one of the Big Three tasks.
- Where are the ever-present distractions?
There are specific periods during the day when distractions are welcomed. Usually, it’s after the Sync Up meeting and after lunch.
In the morning and after lunch people try to work undisturbed. It’s an unwritten rule.
So, rather than fighting distractions we accept it at specific periods.
- Where are the stakeholders disturbing the work?
Stakeholders do not have direct access to the project team. They need to run their queries through me.
What do Project Managers do During Project Closure?
There is nothing special for me here.
Our projects are 100% digital.
So, archiving a project isn’t much of the process.
There are some retrospective meetings.
There are some performance reviews.
There is only one exciting activity:
Giving Away Team Members
At some point, I need to release team members from the project.
In my case, I need to find a suitable place for them in the company.
That’s where a lot of communications with other project managers happen.
They tell what they need. I try to decide who will fit better.
It’s a good retention strategy. The stress of switching teams is real. So, the next project – the next PM – should feel comfortable to them.
So, for several days I bring people together.
Then, it all starts from scratch.
Conclusion: A Typical Day In The Life of a Project Manager
OK, there is no such a thing as a typical day of a project manager.
Every day is different.
That’s the beauty of the profession: new people, new knowledge, new challenges.
Moreover, it takes lots of experience to make it that structured.
In the beginning, you will have a complete mess.
And that’s OK.
However, I adopted the concept of a “perfect week.”
It’s just a plan of a week as you want it to be. You allocate periods for specific tasks. You may allocate “free time” for any unknown errands.
Then, you try to keep to the perfect week. Distractions will come. But once addressed – you get back to the plan.
Does it look like your day? What the most significant difference you see. Please share your answer in the comments below.
Vaijayantee Kamat says
Such an in-depth blog this is. Yes, being a project manager there is n number of responsibilities coming our way. From handling client meetings to handling urgent tasks to socializing. These all are needed to be taken care of like a pro. The only thing that can come to an escape is planning your day well in advance and planning to do each task the appropriate amount of time beforehand.
Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy says
Thanks for your feedback!