Working on a Project Team

What is a Project Manager?

The responsibility of the project manager is to ensure that a project finishes on time and within budget.  Also, the product produced from the project must be of high quality to the stakeholders/customers of the project.

There are many functions on a project team and the project manager is the “head coach” for everyone.  If you use an analogy of a Basketball team, the head coach provides a plan which puts the team in the best position to win.  Likewise, the project manager puts his team in the best position to complete the project on time and manage any issues that come along during the project.

The project manager is NOT a secretary.  Yes, there are many similar functions between PM’s and secretaries such as taking meeting minutes and typing up documentation or emails to support what happened during meetings.  However, the project manager is also responsible for any of the following:

  • Developing a project schedule with the input of the team.
  • Managing resources.  If not enough resources are available for the project, the project manager must secure more resources as the project wears on.
  • Managing conflict.  If teammates are having disagreements, the PM must step in and manage the conflict.
  • Managing project execution.  Ultimately, the project manager is responsible for the project.  If the project falters, the blame comes down to the project manager.

The project manager is not, technically, your boss.  However, don’t have the attitude of “Who the hell does this guy think he is?  He’s not my boss!”  Although, the PM is not your direct manager, he may have input to your performance reviews.  If you have a bad attitude during the project, you might see this reflected on your review.

The Project Plan

The Project Manager does not develop project plans for his health.  Once the project plan is developed you need to look at tasks assigned to you and make sure you don’t have a problem.

“If you see something, say something.”  Don’t wait until the team meeting to voice your concerns over your assignments.  Contact the project manager to inform them of any issues.  If the project manager turns out to be difficult to work with, inform your manager.  Together, you and your manager can work with the PM to have your concerns alleviated.  Always remember that bad news doesn’t age well.

When providing estimates on how long you will take for a task, use your past experience to be the judge.  Keep in mind that you need to consider how long it will take to complete your task as well as how long it will take to verify that you did the task correctly.  If you’re still stuck, reach out to a teammate who has worked on a similar task to yours to see how long they took to complete it.

There will be times where a project manager may attempt to push you into a corner to provide an aggressive estimate.  Don’t fall to the pressure.  If you feel the estimate is not long enough for you to complete your work, push back.  Again, if you are being treated unfairly, make sure that your manager is aware of the situation.

Providing Your Progress to the Team

During the execution of the project, you will be called upon to provide an estimate of how much work you’ve completed.  Usually, this will be in the form of percentages done.  It’s almost impossible to put an exact number as to your progress so I’ve provided a chart below as a guide:

  • 0-20% complete = Work has commenced but not too much progress made. This also may apply if you still don’t funny understand what work is involved. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you understand.
  • 21-40% complete = Work is in progress and you are on-course to meet your deadline. You understand perfectly what work is involved.  It is at this point that you need to voice your concerns if you are doubtful about your deadline.
  • 41-60% complete = you’re halfway done with your work. At this point, you have confirmed that there are no ambiguities regarding the work you need to accomplish.
  • 61-80% complete = Work is done but needs to be verified. You should always verify your work before declaring it done.  If you don’t you will expose yourself to the team as mistake-prone.  Also, PM’s do not appreciate doing re-work based on inaccurate status percentages.
  • 81-100% complete = Auditing of your work is almost complete with absolutely no trouble ahead.

Speaking in Meetings

When providing status, only provide and update for what you were working on since last week.  Don’t repeat any previous statuses as you will be wasting everyone’s time with the same information.

If you have not made any progress since the last meeting you’d better have a good reason as to why not.  Were there any obstacles since the last meeting?  Describe those as well as how you will get around those obstacles.  When describing a resolution to the obstacles, provide a task-by-task breakdown of how you will overcome your situation.

Generally, when you are providing status at a meeting you should follow the following general guideline:

  • What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
  • Are there any obstacles in your way of accomplishing your tasks?  What is your plan of action to get back on track?  Note:  If a situation arises where your efforts will be delayed DO NOT wait until the next meeting to give the project manager a heads up about your problems.  Contact them immediately.
  • What will you accomplish by the next meeting?

It may feel like a status meeting is an absolute waste of your time.  However, it is critical for the following reasons:

  1. It provides your project manager with accurate information as to the current state of affairs for the project.
  2. The project manager will report the project’s status to their senior management who will also report on other projects going on in the organization.
  3. Senior management will eventually provide a status to executive management as to the status of the overall program (a portfolio of projects going on in the organization).
  4. Based on the progress of the projects, executive management will maintain current course or reprioritize projects.  They also have the authority to terminate projects or to provide extra funding if necessary.  This is where your job security comes in.  If they decide to terminate projects you were assigned to, look out!

Bad News Doesn’t Age Well

If you encounter a problem, contact your project manager immediately.  Let them know of your situation and the steps you will take to resolve the issue.  Do not wait until status meetings to provide bad news to the project manager.

The reason behind this is that if you have Monday status meetings and your problems come up on the previous Wednesday, you would’ve lost 2 business days to report your issues to your project manager (Thursday and Friday).  That’s 2 days they could’ve helped you to resolve your issues.

Project Manager Personalities

Many project managers will have different personalities.  They will be assertive, friendly, serious, proactive, etc.  The one thing that project managers cannot be is abusive.

There is no reason for cursing, insulting, and put-downs.  If you feel that your project manager is abusive, approach them privately to discuss.  Document when you had this discussion and what was talked about (almost like meeting minutes).  If the behavior doesn’t stop, report the project manager to your manager with the notes you previously took.  Hopefully, they will intervene on your behalf to ensure proper behavior by the project manager.

Don’t take it personal if the project manager is sounding upset or is angry.  It is critical that you’re paying attention to what’s being said and not get shaken by someone shouting.  Usually, people who are short-tempered live dissatisfactory lives so they are always angry.  Take comfort in the fact that their lives are miserable and not yours.