Why I’ve Lost My Way As A Project Manager

This blog post was originally a newsletter article. I scheduled it to send out recently (I do automate sending emails, otherwise you’d get 3 at a time at 11pm one day and then nothing for months) and forgot about it.

Then the responses started coming in… and didn’t stop.

I had over 40 emails in response (in just a few days). Many of them were as long as this article; each of them sharing their own struggles, perspective and tips for coping with the challenges I talked about.

Ironically those responses hit my inbox during a week where I struggled to get more than 3 hours sleep at a time because there are two little people in the house who don’t sleep either. I really needed those emails and I stayed up way later than I should have done on a Thursday night reading them all.

I’m grateful for all your messages and I tried to reply to everyone in person. As it seemed to touch a very personal chord with so many people I thought I’d share it here on the blog too.

It feels like there’s a difference between emailing “my gang” (do you want in? Join the inner circle here) and putting my thoughts on the internet, so I’ll take a big breath and let’s go…

Elizabeth writing at desk

Since maternity leave I’ve been in a more operational job. For a while I had staff management responsibilities (although I’ve lost those very recently). It’s strategic. It involves offering advice, acting in an internal consultancy role some of the time. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

It has meant juggling lots of different projects, each with different stakeholders. Managing multiple smaller projects is not what I was used to before the boys were born. On top of work I’ve got the stresses and mummy guilt of being a working parent too.

Taking stock of the year it has not been great. Some of my projects are running late. The one that did complete had a messy go live and plenty of bugs. There have been some successes and high points. But not enough.

I’m not really a ‘pure’ PM any longer and I’m not doing PM properly on the things I should be PM’ing. I’ve lost my way a bit.

What I’m Doing About It

A colleague of mine is known for her strong approach to delivery and successful projects.

I called her and we had tea recently. She took me through the things that make her teams successful:

  • Active executive sponsorship and a clear business case
  • A kick off meeting
  • Weekly team meetings and a monthly face-to-face team meeting
  • Agendas and minutes and holding the team accountable for their actions
  • The expectation of success and a mindset where failure is not an option.

I was waiting for something radical: the nugget of gold that I could put into play with my project team. It didn’t come.

As I drained the last of my tea I realized that it wouldn’t come. She’s leading successful projects using project management best practice, not magic. There’s nothing there I couldn’t do, or haven’t done in the past.

All I need to do is buck up my ideas (and get a bit more sleep).

Elizabeth Harrin sitting at a table with a vase of daffodils

What’s Going To Change

That’s a misleading heading, as I don’t know. I can change my attitude, I hope. But it is hard to ditch the working parent guilt. I won’t get more sleep or more hours in the day. Instead I need to find ways to prioritize to do more of the stuff that works – the stuff from my colleague’s list.

The other thing that helps are the two mantras that got me through the early months of becoming a mother: “This too will pass,” and “Suck it up”.

I know I’m a good project manager (and a good parent). But it doesn’t feel like it much of the time right now. Ironically, I’ve mentored people in a similar situation to this, and it’s a lot easier to give out advice than to take it myself!

I’d be telling myself: The boys are small. Work is getting done. Stakeholders are happy. Be kind to yourself. Head down, crack on.

elizabeth at desk