What is a project manager? The key to project success
The definition of a project manager is someone who plans, creates, executes, monitors, and evaluates plans across various industries. The role of a PM is, well, the key to ensuring a project's efficiency and quality. As PM, you're wearing many hats! You manage the goals, tasks, and deliverables for the project's scope while maintaining communication within your team and stakeholders.
How-to: Roles and Responsibilities
A project manager's responsibility and roles will vary depending on the project, but there is a general framework you can easily follow. A project's life cycle has four phases: the initiation of the project, planning, execution, and closure. Understanding the purpose of each stage is important for defining the functions of a project manager during each cycle, so you know you're meeting your team's – and stakeholders' – goals.
- Initiation: The initiation phase of a project starts, like many things, with an idea. Whether you're solving a business problem or identifying a need, this is your opportunity to brainstorm then map out your objectives. You'll define goals and deliverables for the project's scope, figure out stakeholders' interests, and think about who you need on the team. During the initiation phase, you're working out the main concerns that can affect the successful closure of your project. Part of the duty of a project manager is documenting the progress as you go, and that can begin in the initiation phase with a statement of work or project charter. What you report here will determine if your project is approved to go forward.
- Know why the project is valuable. What problem are you trying to solve, and what do you want the outcome to be?
- Know who you're working with: You want your project to make an impact.
Understanding your stakeholder's values and who your project will impact will guide you.
- Be pragmatic: A new project has so much room for potential! Budgeting keeps your feet on the ground. You need to know how to assess your limitations and requirements before moving ahead.
- Planning: After a project is approved, you and your team will get into the details of the project. As a PM, you will help identify goals that can be broken down into smaller tasks, establish roles within your team, and create a schedule in this phase. Think of the initiation phase as an outline and the planning phase as a summary of what you expect to happen. Here, the work of a project manager consists of making a project timeline, getting resources, like software, together, and constant documentation throughout the process. Overall, you're breaking down assignments into smaller parts for better oversight and finding possible hiccups before they become problems.
- You're approved! Now what? Planning sets your project in motion. Outline your deliverables, milestones, and what needs to be done to get there.
- Keep tabs: No plan is perfect, and you'll probably have to adapt. Your project plan is like a living document that you'll update and edit as you go.
- Execution: Let the games begin. The execution phase of the project lifecycle is when you get to watch your project development while maintaining control of the goals you set at the very beginning. The role of a project manager will lean on your management and communication skills. You advocate for your stakeholders to your team, and you advocate for your team with your stakeholders! This means briefing members on their tasks and monitoring the quality of work, making sure your team is not burnt out, and balancing the budget you established as the project progresses. For higher-ups within your company and the project stakeholders, you'll communicate updates and document the process.
- Leading the team: Keeping everyone on schedule, avoiding distractions, and resolving issues across the board is your goal.
- Ensuring success: In addition to conflict resolutions, you're ultimately in charge of reaching the project's goal. You'll need to reference your timeline and make sure you're still within scope.
- Closure: The closure phase puts the finishing touches on your project after the team has completed their work. The role of a PM in the closure phase is to provide final deliverables, return or release resources used on the project, and evaluate the project's outcomes. You'll get insight into the project's success by analyzing the project and team performances: Were the goals completed within the project's scope? Did team members complete their assignments on time without skimping on quality? You're still documenting here, too, and making sure nothing is left forgotten or unaccounted for before reporting to stakeholders. You may also conduct a final analysis of the project to see what you can learn going forward.
- Final touches: Before a project is officially completed, you need to work with your client to make sure the project meets their standards. Then, you'll release resources, sign off on invoices, and archive your documentation for the future.
You may have some of the skills you need without knowing it! If you ever coordinated an event for school or solved problems your last company didn't think they had, you're well on your way. To be a PM, though, means that you'll need to develop your skillset further. This means fine-tuning your talents in planning, budgeting, and documentation through your experience and certification Remember how we mentioned that the work of a PM is evolving as businesses are evolving? That comes into play here. The way we work is changing, which means PMs need to be on top of all the resources at their fingertips. There are plenty of apps, like Asana, that teams utilize every day to make sure things are moving along.
At a glance, some skills you're going to need for your work as a PM are:
- Best practices: When we say "best practices," in any field, we mean the time-tested, evidence-based methods and frameworks you can use to help team members work together. Have you heard of Scrum pillars and values? They'll help you manage meetings, team roles, and different tools. Are you familiar with the spheres of influence? Understanding them will help you use your direct and indirect leadership skills to communicate. Do you know when you should go with traditional development methods or follow Agile's process? It might sound intimidating, but best practices are called "practices" for a reason. You learn from experience.
- Planning: Even with all of these tools in your toolkit, you'll need to know what goes into planning, and it's more than checking off boxes on a to-do list. The work of a PM is dynamic, especially when it comes to how you plan. You'll need to map out timelines, assess potential risks, run diagnostics and understand why something is or isn't a good call.
- Communication: While learning how to use a certain app is straightforward, communication and relationship-building are key to fulfilling your duties for everyone you answer to about the project. You're spending a good bit of your time researching and reporting back, but you're also avoiding conflicts, solving problems, and reporting the project's progress to your bosses and stakeholders. Soft skills like empathy will show your human side, and you never know what you can learn from listening to someone else while you collaborate. You want to come across as authoritative but flexible, friendly but not a pushover – it's a balancing act.
- Tech literacy: Without getting too "tech"-nical, you're going to need to learn more than how to come across well. With the rise of remote work, corporations and businesses are using streaming services, digital distribution platforms, and other means of communication to take the busy work out of managing. You need to know how to use an app like Asana to organize and oversee your team's work.
A Different Kind of Career
Project management is not the sort of career you get into in a traditional way because it isn't a traditional job. While it's specialized in terms of certifications or areas of expertise, there is no set background you have to have to become one. And for a good reason: just about every industry sector in the world needs project managers with different backgrounds. Hospitals, construction sites, real estate firms, marketing firms, manufacturers, aviation, technology, insurance, education, and government entities are seeking more people to fill a PM role.
A project manager will save a company from mistakes that can cause long-term consequences, and businesses are taking notice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that project management is projected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030 — faster than the average of all occupations. According to Northeastern University, employers will need 87.7 million individuals working in project management by 2027.
While the responsibility of the project will be on your shoulders, you'll be well compensated for your hard work. According to CIO, the average salary of a project manager in the U.S. is $108,200. Someone with less than one year of experience will earn about $95,000, but after 20 years, they're projected to make $133,000.
Project management has a bright future in every major industry. You won't have to worry about job security either: your opportunities as a PM are only expected to grow in the coming years. As a PM, you will learn how to use the most up-to-date technology to facilitate all kinds of challenging, dynamic projects in whatever field you want to work in. So if you love learning, problem-solving and are the ambitious type, this is the career for you.