This remarkable transformation was made possible thanks to a coach that I employed when I entered the position of CEO. My intention was to become a better CEO, but as I looked at my life I understood that happiness was elsewhere. Working around the clock, making more profit was not going to make me a happier man. This awakening transformed my life for the better, much better. Later I understood that if I could help others find their own path for a better quality of life then I would have a better sense of purpose and a more fulfilling life. That’s how I became a coach, and I enjoy the best of both worlds - project management and coaching.
What kind of resistance have you experienced from people with regards to working part time?
As an employee, I always managed projects part time. In the remaining time I was either managing other projects in parallel, or fulfilling a role as team member on my project, or performing other managerial duties in the firm. It wasn’t easy, but it required me to become very efficient. So I was working full time for my employer but was never a full time PM on any single project. Pure project management does not require full time, if you do it right.
Resistance appeared when I offered my services as a freelance PM working part time on a contract basis. The number one concern of the clients was that I would not be fully dedicated to their project and that I would have other priorities. Some clients were skeptical about managing a project part time. Others just didn’t want the anomaly of having someone working part time. For them it was unprecedented and they preferred to keep it that way. By default, clients prefer full time. It is something that always requires convincing and negotiation.
The critical thing to understand is that as a PM I give my commitment and dedication to the project’s success. I assure the client that I’ll lead him through the journey and that I will do whatever it takes to get there. I also assure my customer that I only take one client and one program/project at a time. How I do it, and how many hours I need to work is my problem, not the client’s. I have a proven track record, reputation and references so I don’t need to prove it..
How do you make it work practically and how do you split your time?
I usually come on site 2 or 2.5 days per week. When I’m off-site I check my e-mail / messenger regularly and make phone calls whenever needed. When I initiate the project I make sure that all repetitive meetings such as PMO, team meetings and steering committees are scheduled in advance for my on-site days. I also use collaborative project management tools to minimize administrative tasks and keep status meetings to the bare minimum.
Many project managers feel they have to be visible and available all the time and it drains them. Is there anything you would like to say to them?
I have been there too. It’s something to learn as you progress to the next level. A good manager is an enabler, your job is to create the infrastructure and the processes for people to flourish. If you recruit the right people and put the right infrastructure in place, then you don’t need to be around all the time. People don’t need you to micromanage them and follow up on them. Not every problem is a crisis that needs immediate attention. Let people do their jobs, let people make mistakes and learn to trust them. It will pay back very quickly. If it’s not working for you, the best way to find out why is to look inwards - the answers lie within.
Which tools and techniques are helping you to make the most of your time on the project?
I am very methodological in my work. You have to be methodological and consistent for people to be independent. Otherwise people will require constant guidance. I make sure that people have a very clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and delegate within that framework. I have a detailed rolling plan for 2-3 weeks ahead, not more than that. No need to waste time on details further than that (With the exception of long lead time tasks that are on the critical path). As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. Avoid status meetings, they are a complete waste of everybody's time, instead use collaborative project management tools and let people report through the tool. Always keep all communication channels open and Keep It Simple!!
You say that you have team meetings but that status meetings are a waste of time. It would be great to hear how you distinguish between the two and how you make sure your team meetings are effective.
Status meetings are team gatherings where the PM asks people to report on progress. People report what they are working on, what progress they made, when are the tasks expected to complete, explain why some tasks are running behind etc. While one person reports, all the rest are bored to death, and drift away to their e-mails, facebook and such...There is little added value to these meetings apart from the PM becoming better informed on status. After the meeting the PM spends considerable time consolidating and summarising the information in a report, usually Power Point. Then the PM attends another status meeting where he, along with other managers, go through a similar cycle with the boss. This is not project management. It’s a registrar, and I’ve seen organizations where people attend such meetings day in, day out.
In my team meetings I don’t go through a status reporting cycle. It is assumed that progress is reported continuously and directly to the project management tool. I review the tool regularly and I ask questions where applicable, without calling for status meetings. In team meetings we discuss matters that are applicable to the entire forum and add value. Matters such as alignment and integration between teams, issues that require brainstorming and such. If there are no such issues I may cancel the meeting and let people do their work.
In the past this was not possible, but with the advance of SaaS based collaborative project management tools, you have the potential to abolish status meetings. I find that many PMOs find this new concept hard to adapt to because they often perceive status tracking as the essence of project management.
Effective project management is about leadership. The aspects of administration, follow-up and reporting are secondary.
How can other projects managers build the case for working part time to their managers?
Do you think your boss would object if you volunteer to manage two projects for the price of one? Probably not. If they think it’s doable they’d be happy to let you do more work and manage each project part time. So the question is usually not about agreeing to manage part time, it’s about what you will do with the rest of your time….will you stay committed? Will the project continue to be a priority for you? Can you be trusted with the project?
The key is in relationships - build a relationship based on trust so that your boss will know he/she can trust you to get the job done.
If you would like to know more about Arnon's journey, you can read his blog here.
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