Project Practitioners > 7 Things a Project Manager Should NOT Be Doing

7 Things a Project Manager Should NOT Be Doing

By Brian Irwin

There is no shortage of information on the activity, processes, and tasks that project managers should be performing.  It is more difficult to find information on those activities project managers should not be doing.  Whether I am teaching, mentoring, or just speaking to a group of project managers about how to manage a project or what they should be doing on a daily and/or weekly basis, the most over-used excuse that I hear is, "But I/we don't have time to do these things."

If a project manager has little or no time to do the things required in the managing of a project, on what is time being spent?  Perhaps the time is being spent on things that a project manager should not be doing.  Why does this happen?  In my experience, there are myriad reasons.  However, there are two causes that I most frequently encounter.  First, management simply does not understand project management practice or fails to appreciate, or is skeptical of, the true value of project management.  Secondly, the project manager simply does not understand what is expected of them in a project management role.  Sometimes the latter is a result of the former.

While I would like to say that it's mostly inexperienced project managers that struggle; sadly, it is not.  Actually, inexperienced project managers often times do not struggle with this because they've had formal project management training and understand the framework of project management practice.  The typical victims (of themselves) have been working in a project management role (usually at the same organization) for a long period of time and have progressed through the technical ranks.  They often times fail to spend their effort performing project management; rather, they fall back on what they know and have always done when they were project team members which was not project management.

Below are seven activities where I typically witness project managers spending their time - time that might be better spent on those project management activities they never seem to have time to perform.

Project Managers SHOULD NOT be:

1. Performing Development Work
In most cases, the management of a project does not offer spare time to do things like develop software.  This is especially true on large and/or complex projects.  A project manager can easily focus on a single tree while failing to ignore the forest burning.  If you want to be a developer, stop being a project manager - or pursue it on your own time.

2. Spending All Day on Email
Project managers need to get out from behind the desk.  It is easy to get managed by email, most of which is an annoyance and unrelated to the project.  If working in a virtual environment, get on the phone and build relationships with the project team.  Speaking with people can help you identify risks and uncover those issues that are smoldering fires before they become forest-engulfing blazes.  And yes, they are people...NOT just resources.  Think of, and treat them, as such.

3. Letting Interruptions Drive the Day
While issues do arise that must be addressed, I've seen project managers who allow their entire day to get out of hand by playing victim to interruption.  At the onset of the day they may have plans or lists of what needs to get accomplished.  An email here, a phone call there, perhaps a hallway conversation, and before you realize it the entire day is gone and your to-do list becomes tomorrow's to-do list.  Yes, address things that need addressed but don't fall victim to them.  Remember, there is no such thing as time management.  Each day is finite...manage your priorities.

4. Spending the Majority of Their Time in Meetings
Meetings are necessary, yes.  But, they are also one of the biggest issues we face as project managers.  Author Jason Fried gave a very compelling presentation at a TED event titled Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work.  He cites two primary causes, what he refers to as the "M&M" factor - Managers and Meetings.  Avoid the temptation to attend every meeting you're invited to.  Ensure there is a clear objective and outcome to the meeting.  And be aware that some of the most wasteful meetings are those that are deemed "informational".  In my experience, more than 80% of the information will not even pertain to, or be pertinent to you.

5. Attending Code Reviews
As a project manager, yes you definitely need to understand your project.  But this type of meeting is far too low-level for a project manager to attend.  You have other work to tend building stakeholder confidence and relationships.  If you were previously a techie (which I was also), understand it's no longer your role.  Leave this to your project team members.

6. Trying to Please Everyone
It is an impossibility to please everyone all the time.  Understand the key project constituents and stakeholders.  Focus your attention on them.  A tool to help identify who these individuals and groups are may be found here.  If you are trying to please the entire stakeholder community it will drain and deflate you.

7. Procrastinating
Yes, I said it...procrastinating.  You procrastinate; I procrastinate; we all procrastinate.  This is one of the most wasteful activities (or should I say anti-activities?) that you can do.  A lot of project managers that I know, and I'm no exception, do not have the time to do the things they should be doing simply because they DO NOT make the time to do them or simply FAIL TO DO THEM. 

There are a number of ways that project managers spend their time, only 7 of which I've called out.  Understand what activities bring value to your organization and to your project; by the way, I'll bet that proper project management is one of them.  Prioritize and start doing it!

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