I get this question all the time: what does a good project manager do on a day-to-day basis, and what tasks should I be focusing on to be proactive and avoid landing my project in a ditch?
Okay, I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but you get what I’m saying.
The reality is that project managers handle thousands of tasks throughout their project to keep things moving, but the most effective project managers I know have created their own personal system or rhythm that helps them stay organized and focused on the right things at the right time.
In this article, I’ll take a look at what tasks a project manager is responsible for and then explore ways that you can start building your own systems and approaches to productivity so that you’re always seeing the forest for the trees. Along the way, we’ll talk a bit about general project management skills and best practices for effective task management.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
What Do We Mean By Project Management Tasks?
First of all, what the heck do I mean by “project management tasks?”
For argument’s sake, let’s define a task as a step in a multistep process with a specific deadline. A project manager deals with project tasks all the time—in fact, a big chunk of our project plan or product backlogs consist of tasks and subtasks that the team needs to complete to finish the project.
But what we really want to focus on today are the tasks that you as a project manager are solely responsible for and how those tasks will help you stay proactive and keep your projects on the rails.
Your role as a project manager is to own the delivery of the project in a way that drives business outcomes and value for the end user. That includes controlling costs, scope, schedule, and quality—but it also includes the overall management of the collaborative effort between the project team, internal and external stakeholders, vendors, suppliers, regulatory bodies, and more.
Because of this, your project management tasks will inevitably be a blend of documentation updates and analysis in tandem with communication, collaboration, and strategic planning tasks. Not only that, but the tasks you’re focused on will be different depending on the phase your project is in.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve divided these tasks into the following categories:
- Project Initiation & Setup Tasks
- Ongoing Project Management Tasks
- Project Close-Out Tasks
If you’d like a summary of these tasks that you can keep on your desk as a reference, check out our Ultimate Project Management Checklist, which you can get by subscribing to our newsletter.
Project Initiation & Setup Tasks
Before your project even gets going, your focus should be on getting the project set up for success. Some of the things you should be thinking about are:
Validating Project Viability & Getting Approvals
Is what is being asked for feasible? Smart organizations will give their project management team an opportunity to create or vet the scope, budget, and timeline during the sales or shaping phase.
If this is the case, you’ll be discussing the brief with the project sponsors, articulating the project goal and supporting objectives, discussing the project with delivery leads, creating a high-level estimate and timeline, and reviewing the plan with key stakeholders to secure approvals.
Setting Up The Project
As the high-level project parameters are agreed to, you should be swiftly moving on to project setup tasks so that your team can hit the ground running.
This includes setting up your project management tool and file folders, creating an updated project brief, securing the team you need, kicking off the project internally, and working with your team to build a detailed Statement of Work with a more defined timeline, budget, and requirements for the parts of the project that are within your planning horizon.
Kicking Off The Project
Once the first Statement of Work is approved, work can begin. Generally speaking, your first tasks are going to be about getting everyone aligned while also setting up the project’s ways of working.
That likely includes an external kickoff meeting with key stakeholders and the project sponsor as well as creating the foundational assets you’ll be using to monitor and communicate expectations around the project.
Some examples of these assets could be:
Ongoing Project Management Tasks
After your project gets going, the tasks on your plate shift dramatically from casting a vision and driving alignment to overseeing the tactical execution of that vision.
Staying on top of things then becomes a delicate balance of daily tasks and longer-term tasks that will recur throughout your project. The important thing here is to stay proactive so that you stay in control, versus only being reactive when problems happen.
Daily Project Management Tasks
The things you’re doing almost every day are in some ways the easiest to define, but the trick is to create a system that is sustainable. Over-committing yourself to a daily cadence will limit your ability to execute the longer-term project management tasks and handle unplanned issues or escalations.
Some of the most important day-to-day project management tasks include:
Checking In With The Project Team
In my opinion, this is one of the most important daily tasks. Not only do check-ins allow you to understand how work is progressing, but it’s also an opportunity to solidify rapport, maintain transparency and accountability, and help the team understand how each of their efforts feed into the project’s bigger picture.
These check-ins could be a daily stand-up with the team, 1:1 meetings with the individuals doing the work, or asynchronous check-ins using a combination of your chosen task management tool and messaging tool such as Slack, Teams, or even just email. Just remember: it’s best framed as a conversation, not an interrogation.
Monitoring Overall Task Progress
In addition to checking in on tasks that are in progress, you should also be monitoring the flow of work versus your project plan in your project management software.
In a more waterfall-style project, that might mean spending some time updating your Gantt chart to see if you are at risk of being off your critical path.
On a more agile project, that might mean assessing the team’s actual velocity versus planned and looking at your burndown chart to see if changes need to be made to the scope to accommodate the timeline (or vice versa).
Providing Status Updates To Stakeholders Or Clients
Depending on the nature of the project, you may want to be providing formal or informal status updates to your project sponsor or client on a daily basis to communicate progress and account for changes in the project scope or the project schedule as it moves forward. This is also a great opportunity to remind them of things they are responsible for as well!
Creating Task Briefs Before They’re Required
This is part of the proactive project manager mindset: instead of providing the details right before you assign tasks, take a look at the tasks coming up in the near future and create the briefs for those tasks in advance.
In a Scrum-style project, this could be an action from backlog grooming so that the user stories for the next sprint are ready to be worked on.
It’s also a great practice in a Kanban-style workflow: if you’re expecting a team to be self-managing enough to grab new work from the backlog as other tasks complete, the tasks need to have enough detail for them to start work!
Addressing Blockers And Issues Brought Up By The Project Team
This is one of the most misunderstood project management tasks: “What can a project manager do to help unblock a developer or designer or business analyst?”
The answer is: lots. You can request additional support or engage another SME to provide a second opinion. You can reprioritize the work to accommodate any delays. You can make sure the blocker is actually impactful in the grand scheme of the project and help the team work around it.
It’s not just lip service: project managers can address blockers and issues! In fact, it’s our job!
Monitoring For Changes To Scope And Socializing Change Requests
As work is executed and communicated, new requirements may be uncovered which were not part of the original project scope. Addressing scope changes swiftly will prevent delays to the project timeline, will set expectations upfront, and will build trust in your judgment as a project manager.
Creating A Paper Trail For Your Project
The last one on this list is a more general one: documenting decisions and key happenings on your project. This could include composing and distributing meeting minutes or updating a formal decision log. It’s important to get to this in a timely manner so that others can start on their action items and so that shared documentation always reflects reality.
Weekly Project Management Tasks
There are definitely things that probably don’t need to be done every day, but should probably be tackled within a weekly cadence. These tasks could include:
Creating Status Reports
In addition to more frequent updates to project sponsors or clients, it’s a good practice to create a formal point-in-time status report for your project. This could include progress to date, upcoming milestones in the project plan, the status of key risks and dependencies, and issues that need to be discussed. This is as much for you as it is for your client or sponsor: it’s a great way to assess your budget and timeline progress and re-plan where needed.
Vetting Time Cards
If you work in an organization where time is tracked to monitor the investment of effort on a given project, you’ll want to stay on top of analyzing and approving timesheets from the previous week, either in your task management software or your time tracking software. This helps you see areas of inefficiency, instances of overages, and overall burn rate so that you can address accordingly.
Resource Planning Updates
The companion to vetting time cards is planning resources for the following weeks. Whether you’re using resource management software or just a spreadsheet, you’ll need to continuously re-assess what team resources you’ll need based on your updated project schedule so that you don’t find out later that they’ve been booked on another project when you need them.
Longer-Term Project Management Tasks
There are also project management tasks that are longer term or that recur in such a way that they don’t truly fit into a daily or weekly cadence. These tasks may include:
Stakeholder Engagement & Communication
As part of your communication plan, you are likely on the hook to provide updates to the broader stakeholder ecosystem. This might include formal updates sent to end-users and departments impacted by the project as well as providing demos and presentations to security teams, compliance teams, and regulatory bodies.
The end goal here is to engage periodically throughout the project lifecycle to socialize updates, solicit feedback, and manage expectations for key stakeholder groups so that there are fewer shocks and unwelcome surprises as the project nears completion.
Risk Management Tasks
Risk management is a recurring task that is driven by the project manager, but that ultimately requires collaborative conversations with the project team, project stakeholders, subject matter experts, and the project sponsor.
You should be regularly identifying and prioritizing risks with your team, facilitating the creation of risk response plans, and following up with risk owners to continuously monitor risk probability and impact.
As your projects progress, you will want to keep the financial administration organized. This means understanding the payment terms for your vendors and remitting accordingly. If you are in a client services organization, this also means being proactive about invoicing your client based on your engagement model.
If it’s milestone-based billing, know where these milestones are in your project schedule. If it’s time and materials, always be reconciling and forecasting the monthly invoice amount. It’s not exciting work, but it can create a mess if it isn’t attended to!
Creating Change Requests And Driving Approvals
Although monitoring changes to scope is listed as a daily project management task, the reality is that sometimes there are larger scope changes and other business opportunities that may come up along the way.
These are the things that likely won’t get approved in a day. They are the things that center around the question: “should we do this now while we’ve got the hood open, or should this be part of the next phase?”.
It may sound more like the job of an account manager or business development lead, but it’s a key part of how digital project managers deliver value—using our proximity to the project work and the trust that we’ve built to advise on more strategic decisions.
Project Close-Out Tasks
Lastly, there is the process of closing out a project. This again is a mindset shift from overseeing the execution of the work to measuring the impact, collating the lessons learned, and looking ahead. These tasks typically include:
At some point, you’ll be asked to report on how well your project performed in reality versus the expectation, so get ahead of it. Ensure all timesheets have been submitted and then close out your job codes so that no new time can be tracked to it.
Perform a final reconciliation of the budget and send final invoices. Make sure you’ve got your story (and documentation) to discuss where things went off rails versus planned changes to the scope, timeline, and budget.
Organize A Project Retrospective
With the final project data in hand, you may want to conduct a project retrospective (also known as a post-mortem) with your project team and key stakeholders. Provide ways to get feedback and insights both publicly and confidentially. Use that information to inform your lessons learned.
Capture Lessons Learned
Talking about what went well and what could have gone better is all fine and good, but it’s of no use to anyone if these lessons aren’t written somewhere and acted upon. Be sure to document the lessons learned and action plan to improve future projects, and file it where other project managers can leverage those insights.
Celebrate With The Team
Projects are hard work. Even if the project wasn’t perfect, there is usually a reason to celebrate the fact that the project reached its conclusion through the efforts of a group of humans that probably haven’t worked together before to create a product that probably couldn’t have been created by one person alone in the same time span. As the project leader, this is something you can own so that you continue to build trust, loyalty, and rapport.
Archive The Project
When the time is right, you’ll be archiving the project. That means gathering all the assets and deliverables, putting them in whatever archiving system you may be using, and spinning down the tools and environments that no longer need to be used. Oh, and then give a big sigh of relief and a pat on the back for a job well done. 😊
3 Tips For Staying On Top Of Your Project Management Tasks
Okay, I’ve just listed off dozens of project management tasks that break down into many more subtasks, and this list is by no means exhaustive. If you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, here are 3 tips from our community on how best to manage your workload so that you can have the maximum impact.
1. Organize Your Day Based On Desired Outcomes
Your day is a project in and of itself, so plan it! If you want the team to complete specific tasks by end of day, consider starting your day with your stand-ups and check-ins before you get slurped into hours of emails. Carve out time for heads down work and set expectations with your team so they know when you’re most available to support.
2. Prioritize Based On Impact, Not Urgency
Probably we’ve all heard the mantra of doing the important things over the urgent things, but as a project manager whose job it is to sometimes fight fires, that can be hard to assess.
The best way to look at it is an exercise in prioritization. Is the urgent thing that is only affecting 1 or 2 people worth taking you away from getting a time-sensitive change request out the door so that your team doesn’t have to pause work for 2 weeks?
Looking for help auditing and prioritizing your project management tasks? We’ve got a few great productivity templates that come as part of our Career Builder Membership. Learn more about DPM Membership here.
3. Invest Time In Learning And Trying Proven Productivity Hacks
As it turns out, the nature of modern work is prone to feeling overwhelmed by the things to be done. But that means there’s a lot of shared knowledge around personal productivity. Whether it’s bullet-journaling or calendar blocking or Traction or EOS or something completely different, make a point of exploring a few so you can find what works for you to keep your head above water.
Beyond The Task View
When you’re a project manager, balancing the ongoing and daily tasks in your workday is critical to the healthy progress of the team and the overall success of the project. Establishing realistic deliverables and timelines—alongside constant communication and support—is the key.
One other critical task for project managers is keeping up with broader trends in the industry and the status of the industry itself. Taking a little time each day to research what is going on in the market or other competing companies can only put you at an advantage.
You should study how others have approached a similar issue or take note of any pending successes and failures that are happening around you. Research means insight and foresight; it’s the kind of task that can make or break a team working on an intensive project.
And good news! You can do this with us through The Digital Project Manager membership—find out more here!
So What Do You Think?
Are these the project management tasks that you expected that a project manager would be responsible for? What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you!