For project managers, every day can be a new adventure. This is the story of a day in the life of a project manager named Mitch, and the strategies and tools that he (and other project managers) use to get through a typical day on the job. Submitted for your approval…

Mitch rolled through the security gate at TeleroCorp and gave the overnight guard his customary nod as the barrier gate lifted. The sun was still just a grapefruit-tinted haze on the horizon, but the guard hardly looked up as he packed his coffee thermos into his backpack. If anything, it would’ve been unusual to not see Mitch arrive during the early morning shift change.

As a software project manager, Mitch liked to get into the office before everyone else so that he could address any outstanding issues before the day’s first meeting. He found that responding to a few emails and making a phone call or two before small problems became big problems went a long way toward making things run smoother the rest of the day.

Some of his project management colleagues called this “eating the frogs,” but he found the phrase repulsive, so he just called it “drinking the coffee” instead.

With a cup of black java in hand (no sugar), he fired up his laptop and asked Alexa to read him the day’s news. After about 30 seconds he thought better of it and asked his virtual assistant to play smooth jazz, instead. Doom and gloom is no way to start a Wednesday.

Another day, another project

Mitch hoped for brighter news as he checked his emails and voicemails, and was pleased to see that there were no major fires to put out. That is to say that the building was still standing and nothing was literally on fire.

Of course, there were a few minor issues uncovered during software bug testing, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed during the morning standup meeting, which was still two hours away.

Mitch’s current project was an accounting software package designed specifically for professional sports teams, called Drive XL. As the project manager, it was Mitch’s responsibility to make sure that Drive XL was completed on time and on budget by giving the development team everything they need to do their work, and communicating with the stakeholders to ensure that the final product meets their expectations.

A former athlete himself—he played right wing for a short-lived, semi-professional water polo team called the Kissimmee Mermen—Mitch also helped choose the name for Drive XL.

Drive XL was having some issues with its user interface, so lately Mitch had been spending a lot of time working with the lead programmer, Daryl, to make sure that the development team had all the staff they needed. Mitch also had to determine what effect, if any, the issues would have on the project’s schedule and budget, so that he could make the stakeholders aware.

If that wasn’t enough, he also had an email from Ronnette, the product owner, asking about adding augmented reality functionality to Drive XL.

Mitch prioritized the UI issues, and marked the email from Ronnette for a follow-up meeting.

“Why would accounting software need augmented reality, anyway? So that users could manipulate numbers on a spreadsheet like Tom Cruise in Minority Report?” Mitch wondered as he paced around his office tossing a tennis ball from one hand to the other.

As other employees started to file into the office, Mitch sat back down at his desk and logged into TeleroCorp’s project management software.

A secret weapon for project management

The first thing Mitch checked out was the Gantt chart for the Drive XL project.

A sample Gantt chart, if you want to complicate a peanut butter sandwich

It quickly showed him which tasks needed to be worked on today in order for the project to move forward and stay on schedule, and which tasks could be worked on simultaneously by separate teams, including TeleroCorp’s South American development team in Bogota.

Next, Mitch pulled up a progress report to see how the Drive XL project was doing in terms of deadline, budget, and scope. He was pleased with what he saw, though he was definitely going to have to have a talk with Ronnette about that augmented reality request, so he sent her a meeting request for later that afternoon.

So that he had some evidence to support his position, he ran some numbers and determined how much time and money that feature would extend the project by.

After that, Mitch used the software to assign Daryl’s team to fix the bugs in the user interface as soon as possible so that they could move forward on Drive XL’s chatbot help system.

Finally, he checked his meeting schedule for the day and realized that he had just enough time to freshen up before the daily scrum.

The scrum meeting

At the scrum meeting, Mitch stood in a circle with Daryl, Ronnette, and the rest of the development team to have a quick 15-minute huddle.

An example of a scrum meeting, as depicted by these stock photo models

There were a few jokes and chuckles at the beginning of the meeting, but chitchat was kept to a minimum so everyone could get back to work on their assigned tasks quickly.

Fred, the Scrum Master, got the session started by outlining:

  • What the team had finished yesterday
  • What they intended to accomplish today
  • What issues they were having

It was no surprise to Mitch that the bugs in the user interface were the hot topic of today’s scrum. It turned out that the development team was still behind from yesterday’s efforts to clean things up, and it didn’t help that two programmers were on PTO: Jane was on maternity leave and Daniel was on vacation in the Bahamas.

Without some outside help, the team was in danger of running up against the end of their current two-week sprint with their UI still on the fritz. If this sprint, or iteration, ended with a busted UI, the next sprint would be delayed and the repercussions could throw the entire project off target.

Not to mention Ronnette’s fantastical feature requests. He decided that it was best not to confront her about the augmented reality feature in front of the rest of the team, as it would not be productive and might even cause an uproar.

The buggy user interface was a separate issue, but Mitch had an idea for that.

Dealing with distributed teams

Heading back to his office, Mitch grabbed an iced tea and a grilled chicken salad from the lunch counter, because TeleroCorp was one of those offices.

Lunch styles of the rich and famous

As he ate, he checked his emails and voicemails, then pulled up the video conferencing tool to request a call with Isabella, his counterpart in Bogota.

“Hey Izzy, does your team have any time to help us with some debugging on the Drive XL user interface? It’s giving us headaches,” Mitch asked as he wiped his mouth with a paper towel.

“Sure!” she said. “We’d love to help, but we’ll have to move some people off of that calendar feature we’ve been working on.”

“No problem,” Mitch replied. “The calendar feature is low-priority, so I’ll update your assigned tasks in the system. Thanks, and go Los Cardenales!”

Project management is people management

With the biggest issue addressed, for now, Mitch rewarded himself with a light jog around the office park.

When jogging near a tech park, do beware of robotic spheres

He listened to a podcast about urban exploring and thought ahead to his conversation with Ronnette about the augmented reality request. As unnecessary as the feature sounded to him, he knew that he would have to approach the discussion with tact to avoid alienating one of his most valuable team members.

For every wild idea that Ronnette had, she had a dozen winning ideas that had helped make TeleroCorp a major player in the software development industry.

Maybe 20 years from now augmented reality would be a regular feature in accounting software, but trying to implement something like that now was simply way out of the project scope for Drive XL.

Back at his office, Mitch pulled up the reports in his project management tool showing the potential impact on time and budget that the augmented reality feature would have on the project before asking Ronnette to talk.

“Ronnie, I love the way you’re thinking with this augmented reality feature for Drive XL, but with the UI issues we’re having and our people on leave, it’s simply not possible without completely blowing our schedule and budget,” he said as he showed her the reports. “Can we table it for a future project?”

“I suppose we’ll have to,” she replied, slightly dejected. “I thought that it would be really cool and user friendly, but I guess we’re just not ready for it, yet.”

“We will be, Ronnie. It’ll just take some time before the world catches up to your imagination,” he said. “Have a nice evening and say hi to the kids. I hope Bobby hits another home run tonight.”

Mitch took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. All that was left was to check the email inbox one last time and then update the task list for tomorrow before calling it a day.

He even had time for a pick-up water polo game on the way home with some old Mermen teammates. It was a good day.

Tell me about your experience as a project manager

If you’re a project manager, does this sound like a familiar day to you? If not, what did I miss? Are there any tools or strategies you use on a daily basis that I didn’t mention?