How Do I Work With a Project Manager, and What Can I Expect?

If you’re facing ambitious projects with many moving parts and tight turnarounds, a freelance project manager can keep things on track. They’re pros at planning and coordinating, and they’re already dialed into the remote-first mindset, which makes them an ideal partner for the nuances of remote work.

Here are a few tips from top project management freelancers on Upwork.

Have a vision and a goal—and plenty of background

A brief can be a powerful tool to get everyone on the same page, but what project management consultant Christy Armitage says is most important is a compelling vision. “It’s the client’s job to articulate their vision for a project; it’s the project manager’s job to bring that vision to life.”

Armitage says, “I look for clients who have a pretty good grasp on what goals they want to achieve. That said, it’s equally important to work with clients who are flexible enough to readjust expectations based on the facts at hand.”

For example, one Fortune 500 client was still using an outdated paper-based system. Their goal was to transition to a fully electronic system within 10 months. Armitage defined the scope and budget, built the team, and managed stakeholders so they were able to get the project completed under budget and within the timeline.

Use your job post to ask questions and provide context

Finding a project manager will be a bit different than sourcing other talent because the project itself will depend on their input and expertise. You’re still looking for experience and expertise, but you’ll also want to hear about the ways they might approach your project in their proposal. This can help to give you a better idea of who’s going to be the best fit before you commit.

Being open-minded can also help you attract top PMs who are looking for interesting opportunities. Small business consultant and project manager Marcy Carl says “I love working on projects that are novel and unique. Projects that heavily involve innovative approaches and require process documentation are extremely intriguing to me because I enjoy evaluating a situation from all aspects and creating protocols and procedural guidelines.”

And be sure to give provide context. Carl says “It’s helpful when a client provides as much background material for me as possible. Whether it’s PowerPoint material, sales materials, or project plans, the more information I have for background, the better.”

But don’t overplan before a project manager can weigh in

“Clients sometimes feel pressured to have all their ducks in a row prior to meeting with and choosing a PM,” Armitage says, “but too much prep at the beginning can impede the potential energy of the project. It’s better to come to the table with a huge wish list and then work with the PM to determine what’s doable within the defined scope.”

If you’re too invested, you might miss out on a project manager’s valuable perspective. “From my experience, some clients are so caught up in the details that they aren’t able to step back and see other opportunities to streamline things or utilize platforms for automation, and this is where a fresh pair of eyes is most beneficial,” Carl suggests.

Your best bet is to ask what they need to get started. You might find a more experienced project manager will be more comfortable taking the helm while a less experienced project manager may prefer more guidance from you.

Start with a discovery and planning session before you hand over the reins

You’re probably used to freelancers hitting the ground running, but Armitage has some advice for clients working with a project manager for the first time: “If you’re willing to spend 3 to 5 hours at the start of your project working one-on-one with your PM, you’ll end up with a real, actionable plan that you can get excited about.”

Carl says that for her most complicated projects, the first thing she does is “document all aspects of the project, organize documents carefully, so I understand all the stakeholders and their roles. Then, I break the project down into smaller more digestible pieces with accompanying steps, timelines, and deliverables. This way, all players have a solid understanding of their responsibilities and estimated timelines.”

Don’t forget to communicate

Resist the urge to throw it over the fence and stay involved until your PM gets the hang of your organization. Armitage says, “Most clients won’t enter a business relationship with full trust in their PM. That’s okay! Trust building takes time, and clients should feel completely free to work with their PM more closely at the start of a project, until they’re comfortable with the process.”

And stay in touch. “Communication is a must, even if it’s just a short progress call at the beginning and end of the day.” Armitage notes, “My most successful client relationships have been those where expectations are managed, conflict resolution is respectful, and the PM is supported as the captain of the project. Make sure there is a clear delineation of roles.”

Get on board with a project management tool

Carl says, “I prefer to utilize a project management tool but a good old fashioned excel sheet can accomplish the same goals. I also prefer to set up frequent touch-base meetings to keep everyone on task initially and then cut back as the team becomes more comfortable with their roles, deliverables, and understanding of the project.”

Ready to get the hands-on support of a project manager to help your next endeavor be a success?

Read More: 4 Signs It’s Time for a New IT Project Manager