Rebel's Guide to PM

Rebles Guide to PM

Get projects done with more confidence and less stress
Rebel's Guide to Project Management
  1. virtual 6

    We aren't managing projects now in the same way that people managed projects years ago. The approaches taken by many companies and professional bodies to managing projects are different now to when I first started out in the field in 2000ish.

    So why has that happened and what have been the biggest shifts in how project management has evolved?

    There are a number of things that to focus on, even just comparing my own experiences from when I started managing projects over 10 years ago to the workplace today.

    First, let's look back over the history of project management, before we get into the changes we've seen in the field more recently.

    Were the pyramids the first major capital build project?

    How long has project management been around?

    Longer than I've been working in the field!

    Project management has been around in the form we know now since just after World War 2. At least, the 1950's were when project management emerged as a discipline to help manufacturing, construction and government initiatives deliver more reliably and with greater repeatability.

    If you think about it, getting work done to complete projects is a skill that has been needed since Stonehenge or the Pyramids. People have always needed to come together to achieve a common goal, and that's what project management really is.

    The Gantt chart in the form we recognize today has been around since Henry Gantt used it for his work in the 1910's, although Karol Adamiecki developed a similar tool in 1896.

    With all that history, it's strange to think that even now we are seeing a huge acceleration of how project management has changed over the years. Today, project managers work in all industries including legal project management, healthcare, hospitality and marketing.

    Having worked in the field for over 20 years, I've seen many changes. Here’s my view on what the main changes have been in project management.

    Elizabeth Harrin wearing a pink scarf

    What project management was like when I started

    When I started working as a project manager, we had fax machines in the office. The biggest change has been that documentation is no longer printed and circulated for wet signature. In the 2000's, I used to walk around the senior managers' offices to get signatures on initiation documents, closure reports and more.
    Today, all of that is done via workflow and electronic approvals which makes it much faster and easier to incorporate changes.

    1. Technology

    So much has changed in the field of technology, even in the recent past. Here are some of the main tech innovations that have led to an evolution in the way we manage projects.

    Collaboration tools

    We’ve seen the introduction of collaboration tools in the workplace. I won’t forget presenting at the APM conference in 2008 where I spoke about how the rest of business worked in comparison to how project managers worked, and why we should be embracing technology and social media tools.

    I think a lot of the audience were surprised, and I certainly had some interesting conversations with bemused people afterwards.

    We’ve moved beyond Friends Reunited-style networking to collaborative, enterprise-wide systems that help us work better professionally, both with external networks and colleagues on the same project. We wouldn’t have had that use of technology 10 years ago.

    I talk about how to choose, get started and collaborate with technology in my PMI best-selling book, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

    The impact of the pandemic

    The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that began in 2019 and saw countries moving into lockdown mode in 2020 completely changed the landscape for technology.

    While many companies had tools like Skype and Zoom before people moved to work from home, the uptake in virtual working tech like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet really took off when there was no choice.

    Project management software companies also saw greater take up because employers needed ways to ensure common understanding of tasks and shared documents.

    [lasso ref="crozdesk" id="22755" link_id="279829"]

    Collaboration Tools for Project Managers
    Learn more about making collaboration tools work in my book

    Bring your own device

    Allied to the use of collaboration and social media-style feeds in the workplace, we’ve also seen the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

    I’ve had a tablet for a number of years and it has made a difference to how I work. Plus there are literally dozens of apps all proclaiming to help you get things done better/faster/cheaper. It does take a while to find a few you personally like.

    I think the next step here will be to get some type of portal technology that takes all my favorite apps and social media feeds and puts them together so I don’t have to use multiple systems for project management.

    Some project management software tools are aiming to bring together both the collaborative aspects of team task management and also the 'technical' features we need as project managers, but I've yet to see a tool that does it all well.

    In my experience, teams often end up with a hybrid solution that they can use on multiple devices because that suits how they work.

    AI and Big Data

    Robotic Process Automation is here to stay, along with AI, natural language processing, big data and all the other data-driven processes. Alongside those developments comes an emphasis on data protection on projects.

    Check out these statistics on project management and AI to see exactly how this area is growing.

    And what a good thing that is for project management. This is one way that tech has changed the role of the project manager for the better, and is still changing it.

    Hopefully, over time, our tools will get smarter and we'll be able to spend more time on the value-added work like the next point.

    Elizabeth Harrin wearing a pink scarf

    The impact of AI on my job

    Project management software now includes workflows, RPA and automations that make it easier to integrate systems and processes.
    However, my day-to-day work as a project manager hasn't seen much impact from AI (yet). This is an area where project management will continue to evolve.

    2. Stakeholder engagement

    Finally, project management professional bodies have woken up to the idea that people matter.

    There’s more emphasis on people today. And less on following rigid processes. Thankfully. The introduction of a section on stakeholder management in the PMBOK Guide® is an example of this, although we’ve seen the shift to better models of team and stakeholder engagement develop over the past few years.

    APM focus heavily on stakeholder engagement (and I wrote the book on stakeholders for them).

    Elizabeth Harrin wearing a pink scarf

    Project management methodologies

    Agile methods became more prevalent in the first 20 years of the 21st Century, following the publication of the Agile Manifesto in 2001.
    However, the 2020s have been dominated by hybrid and tailoring methodologies to be fit for purpose.
    The professional bodies and methodologies have put more emphasis on making the right decisions for the project and blending tools and techniques to tailor project delivery to suit your organization, deliverables and team.

    It might seem strange to say that people on projects matter more today than they did 10 years ago, but I really think this is the case in modern project management.

    There’s a greater emphasis on collaboration, teamwork and project managers having soft skills to complement their ability to schedule tasks and manage risks.

    Stakeholder satisfaction counts for more today as well.

    There's less focus on giving people work in a top down way like traditional resource allocation approaches. And the command and control mentality is all but dead.

    "Remember your stakeholders' tacit goals too: you're in the rockstar-making business. Make them look good, and in turn they'll make you look good" - Ben Aston

    3. Virtual teams

    Project management has changed over time because the workplace has changed over time.

    One of the big shifts in how technology has changed project management is that we now have the option to choose from the best resources around the world, wherever they happen to be. We don't need to pick our colleagues from the next town, just because they can make it into the office to be with us.

    With virtual working and remote teams comes off-shoring, near-shoring, and an increased reliance on third parties to make all of the stuff we want to do work.

    Managing a remote team, and working remotely yourself, can be great, but it also comes with challenges. Project management technology makes it easier, but if you didn't collaborate well as a team before you got a new shiny tool, you probably won't find yourselves working any better after the tech has been deployed.

    Laptop screen illustration with people in a virtual meeting.

    4. Complexity

    Complexity is one of the challenges introduced by teams split across the world. Other factors that you see in complex projects include:

    • The number of variables and interfaces between teams and systems
    • High levels of uncertainty and lack of awareness
    • High levels of unpredictability so you can't plan ahead and predict what will happen
    • A rapid rate of change (for the environment or the solution)
    • The number of stakeholders and their relationships
    • The system the project is operating in and the interdependencies between that environment and the overall organizational culture.

    Basically, the projects we work on today are likely to involve more people, more transformative change, more interfaces and lead us to work on stuff we haven't done before, adding to the challenge.

    It's one of the reasons why techniques like critical chain scheduling are more important now -- at least for you to be aware of the concepts even if the organization hasn't totally bought into the idea.

    If you want to know how technology has changed project management, this is another example. Organizations now have dozens of systems, and there's a job to be done with integration and migration away from legacy tools.

    5. A shift to leadership

    Finally, there’s also more emphasis on leadership.

    Project managers really need to step up and lead. As a profession, we aren't doing enough of this, and that has to change.

    As part of that, there’s a shift towards knowing why you are doing what you are doing on your project. Previously, there was a belief that project managers implemented other people’s strategies and we were responsible for hitting deadlines and keeping track of the money.

    Today, we’re seeing project managers take on a role where they can challenge senior managers about why projects are being done and advise about premature project closure when required. We're expected to know the strategic goals and how our projects are helping move the organization closer to them.

    This is a massive move towards project leadership skills instead of simply implementing processes.

    These days, we have to get more done, and it's even more important to be productive and effective at work.

    Productivity bundle contents

    This will evolve further – if you can lead a project you can lead other areas of business, so the career path for project managers over the next 10 years will hopefully see more of us branching out of projects, programs and portfolios into managing business units at executive levels.

    6. The focus on value

    The focus on value is something that is part of the developing conversation on the project economy.

    PMI in particular is putting a lot of emphasis on projects as the way to deliver strategy. APM's Golden Thread research quantifies the impact that projects have on the UK economy (£186.86bn annually) with the Gross Value Added metric.

    Project planning now focuses on quality management and making sure project efforts go to deliver the right thing, not just anything.

    This is a good thing, because we should be striving to add something useful and valuable to our organizations.

    7. Sustainability

    The journey to net zero is top of mind for many forward-thinking organizations, and projects have a huge part to play.

    Green Project Management is an alliance formed in 2009, so sustainability has certainly been on the horizon for many years. However, the focus really ramped up for project teams more recently, and probably wasn't much of a consideration for the majority of projects in the 1950's and 60's.

    Elizabeth Harrin wearing a pink scarf

    The drive for sustainability

    I remember learning about acid rain at school, but it's only recently that project management has truly adopted green ways of working.
    Sustainability is now baked into many projects, through energy efficiency measures, carbon reduction, recycling and more. We now have more focus on delivering sustainable results than I've ever seen before in my 20 years in the profession.

    The approach to project management is something that I think has stayed the same.

    It's still a profession filled with motivated, enthusiastic individuals who want to make a difference. A career in project management is still well-paid and interesting. Business outcomes still need to be achieved -- and projects are the way to do that.

    Are we in a new era of project management? The core aspects of understanding and delivering on goals, working with others to get things done and making the most of the resources (of all kinds) that we have, are going to stay with us as we move into future eras and evolutions of project management.

    So that’s what I’ve seen. What other changes have you seen over the past 10 years that have made you realize how project management has moved on?

    This article first appeared at Rebel's Guide to Project Management

  2. woman in hot air balloon looking at city

    Want to make it as a program manager? There are loads of skills you need to succeed.

    Let’s face it – there are loads of skills you need in every job, so let’s not overwhelm ourselves. In this article, I’ll share the skills that have been the most useful for me in the role.

    I’ve worked as a program manager for a few years now so I can tell you the top program management skills that I use each day. As it happens, they are also the most likely skills you are going to see on a program management job description.

    If you’re wondering what program management skills and competencies you should be highlighting on your resume, I’m about to give you a shortcut to showcasing exactly what employers are looking for.

    Different types of program management skills

    An average salary for a program manager in the US is $137,776, according to PMI’s Project Management Salary Survey—Thirteenth Edition (2023). It can be a very lucrative career, so it literally pays to have the right skills!

    And what skills do program managers need? They need a blend of both technical and soft skills.

    Technical skills

    Technical skills are what you use to complete tasks that have lower involvement with other people. For example, using your project management software, budgeting and forecasting (although you would involve Finance for that) and scheduling.

    These are similar skills to what you would use to manage complex projects.

    Interpersonal skills

    Interpersonal, or power skills, to use PMI terminology, are arguably more important than technical skills. These are the ones you’ll use talking to stakeholders, working with project teams and collaborating with vendors.

    Good program managers have a blend of both, plus business acumen and the confidence to get the job done.

    Let me share some specific, key program management skills that should be on your resume if you are job hunting this year.

    These are in no particular order!

    1. Benefits management

    I’ve probably hammered home the role of benefits management and realization enough already in other articles but benefits should always be top of mind.

    Are we getting what we planned? How close are we to turning the ideas into tangible outcomes for the organization? Do we have trackable measures and baselines against which to track?

    The project goals should lead directly to the realisation of benefits identified in the program business case.

    2. Dependency management

    Dependency management is one of the top program management skills you’ll need to develop.

    Project dependencies are managed by the project managers, but they might escalate up dependencies that you should be managing at the program level, for example those that are between projects in the program.

    A big role for the program manager is juggling these so the right people are working on the right projects at the right time and nothing is held up because a dependency was overlooked.

    Experience in project management will help here, because it’s basically the same skill as you use when managing dependencies on projects – they are just at a different level.

    woman in hot air balloon looking at city
    Leading a program requires a view from above.

    3. Collaboration skills

    A study by KPMG reported that 70% of managers felt that having a capable and experienced delivery team is a key success factor for transformation projects, so being able to create an environment where your team can do their best work is crucial.

    You’ll be facilitating cross-departmental collaboration and making sure people on different project teams work effectively together.

    4. Governance management

    Program governance happens at 3 levels:

    Project level

    The project manager/project sponsor keeps the individual projects on track and reports progress to you. You’ll make sure that project management processes are being followed, with the support of the PMO.

    Project managers would choose the project management methodology that is appropriate for delivery, which means the program may contain projects that use agile, predictive, iterative, hybrid approaches.

    Program board

    The program manager and program board control the program i.e. by deciding on risk management measures, holding projects accountable and tracking progress.

    They hold you accountable for the program outcomes.


    Could be the PMO or the executive management – the group that the program manager reports into. This is the corporate level that challenges and holds the program board accountable for delivery.

    In addition to these 3 layers, you might have to report into various forums or committees, depending on your organization structure.

    5. Reporting

    Reporting, as it is with projects, should be a mix of looking forward and looking back. You’re creating program board reports focusing on progress and variances, providing recommendations and decision papers.

    At the same time, you’re forecasting forward, looking for trends, seeing off risks and trying to plan ahead. Apply some critical thinking to how you report – your readers don’t need to understand the teeny details of each project so think about what information you are escalating up.

    6. Leadership

    Leadership skills are really important because program management roles are typically at a more senior level in the PMO than other roles, so you’re setting the tone for the way work gets done.

    You might also find yourself mentoring project managers.

    7. Stakeholder management

    Or stakeholder engagement, as I prefer to call it. Especially at program level, you aren’t managing the behavior and contribution of other people, you are facilitating it.

    The role here is to identify stakeholders, ensure they receive the information they need creating an environment where they can contribute in the best way possible.

    Project stakeholders, especially senior ones, often have program roles too. For example, project sponsors would sit on your program board. A RACI matrix or roles and responsibilities document would help you make sure roles are defined.

    8. Communication

    Communication skills are used in every job, including project management, but they are really important for program managers.

    You’ll be communicating up to senior executives and the portfolio management team, across to peers and PMO colleagues, and down to team members on individual projects.

    The program manager role includes defining and creating a communication plan and establishing the right communication methods (without duplicating anything that is happening at project level).

    9. Resource management

    Resource allocation happens at lots of layers in a project-based organization. Some of that is going to be at program level.

    The challenge I’ve found with resourcing program-level tasks is that they can be seen as bureaucracy. If the projects are running well, why do we need a program manager pulling it all together?

    The other aspect to program resource management is making sure each of the projects has the resources they need to progress at the pace you need.

    10. Strategic thinking

    Being able to see the big picture is important for program leaders. You’ll be linking organizational goals to the work the program is doing and ensuring you stay on track.

    It helps you communication progress towards the vision to senior leaders and the team.

    It will also help you spot potential risks because at program level, the risks tend to come (in my experience) from external influences.

    11. Organizational skills

    Effective communication and strategic thinking is going to help you with organizing the work in the program. There’s a bit more to it than project planning because you’ve got to juggle the competing needs of projects.

    You’ll be taking each project plan and creating an overarching program plan. Then you’ve got to make sure that everything is tracked and monitored, and under control to the extent that milestones don’t slip and all the component parts of the program work together.

    pin image with text: 11 program management skills that you should know and employers are looking for

    What if you don’t have the skills?

    There are 2 schools of thought for what to do if you don’t have the skills required to do the job.

    First, you can work to get them. There are plenty of training courses for program managers as well as degree courses. Plus, nothing is better than practical, real-life experience! See what experience you can get in your current role.

    The second approach is to recruit to fill your gaps. If you don’t have the skills, maybe you don’t need them. We can’t all be good at everything.

    Consider hiring someone who is good at what you are not interested in doing or skilled at. Building a balanced team will mean you’ve got all skills covered, without having to have them all yourself.

    Where to next?

    There’s a lot more that goes into being a successful program manager, but hopefully that gives you an idea of some of the main things to consider.

    What I’ve shared is more than just a list of program management skills. It should be the foundation of your professional development. It will help you identify gaps in your knowledge.

    The best program management skills are the ones that are going to give you an edge in getting a job and excelling at the job once you’ve got it.

    You’ve got this!

    This article first appeared at Rebel's Guide to Project Management

  3. Illustration of an organized desk

    What is the best way to get organized at work? Well, the answer, as with so many personal productivity things, is that it depends.

    However, given that a study by Alteryx and IDC shows that being digitally disorganized can cost you up to 14 hours per week! You'll see a very fast return once you start trying to be more organized in your job.

    While there isn't a once-size-fits-all approach, there are some good practices and tried-and-tested methods that you can have a go at.

    The ideas I share below work for me, and for the people I mentor. They might work for you. And if they don't, you will have learned something new about your working style and preferences that will shape what you do in the future.

    In this article, you'll learn 20 practical ways to stay organized at work, tested and approved by project managers! I'll also share some examples of what being organized looks like and how to get organized if you are overwhelmed.

    Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!

    Organize your calendar

    The first step to being organized in the office, or wherever you work, is to make sure that your calendar is up-to-date and reflects what you have to do. Here are some tips.

    1. Block out half a day a month

    Book a meeting with yourself for half a day a month and call it ‘process review’. This is your reflection time for how things are working. Think about what you could be doing differently to get more done. Refine your processes.

    I use a Wednesday afternoon for this as Fridays are too liable to be spent dealing with last-minute tasks for the week.

    This equates to 6 working days per year. I don't think that is too much to ask, so if you cannot make 3.5 hours happen to support your personal productivity and help you reflect and refine per month, then ask yourself why not. What else is so important that you can't make time to set your future self up for success?

    2. Book time to write reports

    Book a recurring meeting to schedule the time in your diary for reporting. I have to write weekly project reports and I have half an hour every Thursday morning as a time block set aside for this.

    Another tip to stay organized when writing reports is to open last time's report on a Monday and then add to it during the week. By the time it comes to submit it on Friday, you're pretty much already done. Updating the report template in real-time is a tiny effort with a huge reward, and you'll never have to worry about reports not being ready on time.

    This works for any recurring tasks such as updating project risk logs or anything else that you might ‘overlook’ if you don’t have time deliberately set aside.

    3. Set up calendar reminders

    Forward-schedule anything you need to be aware of this year such as project management conferences or team members’ birthdays. You can set alerts to remind yourself that these dates are coming.

    Copy major project milestones into your calendar so you are aware they are coming up. Block out time the week before any major meetings so you have the time to create the agenda and any papers required.

    4. Create a To Do list

    This is how to organize daily tasks at work. There is nothing better than a To Do list, although you do need to be smart about it. A list of 500 tasks isn't going to help you stay organized.

    If you already have a To Do list, rewrite it. What has been stuck on there for the last six months that you have no intention of doing this year? Ditch it. Streamline as much as you can and put your priority tasks at the top. I put longer-term actions in the back of my notebook so I can split them off the daily To Do list (and because I’m not wired enough to have an online task management system).

    Pick your top 3 things off the list that you will complete tomorrow. Write them on a sticky note so there is no getting away from them! Focus on getting those done.

    Each day you'll be organized and structured as you will have a goal to achieve. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the 3 things a day rule is something I have lived by for some time now and it's great!

    Which To Do list app?

    There are dozens of To Do list apps that serve as an organizational tool, but what I've found is that there is not one perfect app for everyone. Test out a few and see how you get on with them.

    Organize your team

    Next, let's look at some simple tips for helping your team stay organized. These are things you can do that will improve things for everyone and tick a lot of admin boxes at the same time.

    5. Book team meetings for the rest of the year

    Yep, get them in the diary now. If you don’t, you risk de-prioritizing them in favor of plodding on with the work. Put them in and invite the right people.

    As a minimum, project team meetings should be weekly. I have used fortnightly meetings on some projects but only where I have provided minimal project management governance and the team has basically got on with the work themselves.

    It's easier to have the meetings in and then delete them than it is to try to find time for everyone to get together at short notice.

    6. Review your resources

    Have you got everyone you need to make your projects a success? What other resources do you need to secure?

    Review your resource gaps now so you can put forward a plan to either recruit or ‘borrow’ people from other departments so that you can achieve your objectives. Make a contact list so you know how to get hold of people and what they do on the project or in the company.

    If the people allocated to your projects don't have the skills required, you can get ahead with the next tip...

    7. Book training for the team

    Actually, you can you can book training for yourself as well.

    Ideally, do this earlier in the financial year while there is still a training budget, get yourself and your team booked on the relevant courses. Even if they aren’t happening until much later in the year.

    Organize it now, pay for it and then forget about it until your pre-course work turns up. Otherwise you’ll never get round to scheduling that training.

    Organize your projects

    With you and the team organized, it's time to consider ways to stay on top of your projects, and keep your projects organized at work. It helps to have a digital workspace where everyone can see what's going on, so use the tools you have in-house to help with that.

    8. Agree your priority projects

    Do you know what your priority work should be for the rest of the year? Think about all the projects you have on the go or know are coming your way. The priority level should be clear but if not take advice from your manager. Knowing what is a priority will help you focus on the right tasks at the right time.

    Make sure the rest of the team knows the priorities as well. Someone has to work on the low priority projects, and if that's you, then at least you know.

    Equally, if your projects are the top priority ones for the year, it should be relatively easy to secure executive support and get resources...but you never know!

    9. Sort your filing system

    Set up your project filing systems, or if you already have one, review it. Create folders labelled with project names and dates. Grant access to new members of the team and remove access from old folders for people who have moved into different roles.

    If you use Slack, do an audit of the channels. Remove any clutter that you no longer need.

    If you use MS Teams or Sharepoint, make sure that those sites are organized. Check the right people have access. Make sure there is a process for document version control so people know how to find the latest files.

    If you use your email inbox for filing (gasp) like I do, then make sure you have folders set up and some kind of mental rules for what to put where.

    15 ways to stay organized at work

    10. Check your templates

    Many organizations update their financial templates from time-to-time. Check that you have the most recent templates for raising purchase orders, creating capital expenditure requests, preparing business cases and reporting accruals.

    11. Put key project dates in your main diary

    This might sound like duplication of effort – after all, you have a project schedule to manage your critical project milestones. Why put them in your diary too?

    I put major events like training courses for end users in my Outlook calendar. It means I don’t double-book the resources required and I’ve got another reminder of what’s coming up on the project.

    Also put celebration dates in your diary: you don't have to invite anyone yet but having them there will remind you to do something to celebrate success of your projects.

    12. Book your project governance meetings

    As well as scheduling your team meetings, book all your Project Board or steering group meetings for the duration of your project. Project sponsors and senior executives are busy people so give them lots of notice for your upcoming meetings and decision points.

    Book end-of-project meetings

    Lessons learned meetings can be booked now too. If you have separate lessons learned session or retrospectives, make sure they are timetabled (if they aren't already a calendar invite). Alternatively, update your weekly team meeting agenda with a bullet point that prompts you to ask for lessons.

    Organize your environment

    Finally, let's look at some ways you can influence your environment to help you feel more organized (and be more organized).

    13. Sort out your tech

    Don’t put up with a phone that doesn’t work. Upgrade your wifi, get the IT help desk on speed dial, buy a new charger so you can always keep one in your bag.

    Set up facial recognition and password keepers so you can log into systems quickly (because there are so many systems...).

    Gadgets are an essential part of office life now so make sure they work for you and don’t hold you up. Oh, and review these pointers on gadget etiquette so you don’t make a faux pas at work.

    14. Give your team the tools they need

    Make sure that your team members have the tools they need to do the job. If you don’t know what they are, ask the people involved. You could potentially speed up a lot of tasks if only they had the right piece of kit. Get it on the procurement radar before the budgets run out later in the year.

    We found this with automated testing tools. Yes, they were expensive, but they really helped catch the bugs, do proper regression testing and save the humans time. I don't know how we got away without having them before. Luck, probably.

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    15. Tidy your desk

    Chuck out the Christmas cards, that free calendar that came in the post, the novelty freebies you got from your last conference and the glossy brochures from suppliers you aren’t going to use.

    A clean desk makes it easier to find what you are looking for (pen, USB stick etc).

    I found some receipts that should have been included in my expenses when I did this. Too late now!

    Shred any confidential paperwork and put anything else in the recycling. Start with a clear, organized workspace, whether that is your home office or a shared office.

    It's amazing how much better I feel when my messy desk is magically transformed into a tidy physical space!

    Tidy desk with a teal mug and white chair

    Organize your tasks

    Organizational skills come into their own when sorting out the individual tasks that you have have to do.

    16. Identify the urgent tasks

    Keep your stress levels down by identifying the urgent tasks. These are the ones that have to be done now.

    Ask yourself, is this really urgent? Or is it someone else's problem that they are passing to you?

    If you can, schedule your day so that you have chunks of time available to deal with anything urgent that comes in, especially if you work in a role where there is a lot of urgent stuff coming across your desk every day.

    17. Identify the overdue tasks

    Clear some stuff off the to do list by looking for the overdue tasks and getting them closed off.

    Shutting down even one task a week will help you address the overwhelm and feel like you are getting on top of your work.

    18. Schedule difficult tasks at high-energy times

    Got something difficult to do? Make time for it at a point in the day/week/month where you have the most energy.

    For me, that means doing the hardest task first thing in the morning, setting a time frame for it and having it done (or at least the first part of it) within a couple of hours.

    For you, it might be evening time when you are not interrupted, or at some other time. Use your cycles and rhythms to your advantage.

    19. Automate repetitive tasks

    If you can, tap into AI and RPA to automate as much repetitive work as possible.

    You might not want to do that on high-impact projects or essential tasks with high consequences, but there are some 'ordinary' tasks that you can take off your To Do list completely if you can automate them.

    Look for workflows that you can set up in your project management tool.

    If you can't automate, can you delegate?

    20. Link tasks to your goals

    If you know what your overarching goals are, you can prioritize the tasks that support those.

    Also, understanding how work fits into into the bigger picture can help you feel like the tasks are meaningful.

    How to get organized at work when overwhelmed

    What can you do when work feels overwhelming?

    Work normally feels like it's too much when you have a long list of things to do, no clear priorities and no clarity on where to start. For example, if you are managing multiple projects or have just started a new role.

    Or you start something and then fall down a rabbit hole of having to investigate more and more things -- and each new task feels like a giant project in itself.

    Sometimes, with a bit of time, things become clear, but that isn't always the case. If your work environment has no clear processes for managing projects or you've simply got too much to do, then you have to take action.

    Action steps for getting out of overwhelm and getting organized

    Try these action steps for re-organizing your workload and getting on top of things when it all feels overwhelming.

    1. Make a giant To Do list
    2. Take a five-minute break -- I find I get quite stressed when reviewing the giant list!
    3. Group the actions into buckets, for example, tasks for a particular project or person, tasks to do with a particular business unit, tasks to do by Friday etc.
    4. Prioritize the groups
    5. Review how much time you have available to work and your upcoming deadlines for the priority groups/tasks
    6. If you have more to do by the deadline than the time available, talk to your manager about your workload.

    When you've got too much to do, the options are simple:

    • Do less
    • Take longer to get it done.

    Neither of these are particular great choices as when that has happened to me, the instinctive reaction is to worry that you aren't good enough. You think that someone else could get it all done. Maybe they could, but at what cost? You can't, and that's what is important.

    Schedule some time to discuss your workload with your manager and say you are overwhelmed. Be factual. Show them your list of projects and your grouped tasks. Highlight the deadlines. Point out your available time and the time required to do the work.

    Be prepared with some solutions too, like these:

    • Extending the deadlines for certain activities to reduce the time pressure
    • Reducing the scope of certain activities so they are faster and easier to done
    • Delegate some work to other people
    • Get someone to work alongside you.

    Books on organization

    [lasso type="grid" category="books-organisation" link_id="285529"]

    Your next steps

    Organization skills are a life skill, and if you find yourself being organized at home but not at work, have a think about why it is different for you in the office.

    In this article, you learned how to stay organized at work by focusing on your calendar, your team, your projects and your environment, as well as what to do when you are overwhelmed.

    Next, check out 15 clever ways to save time at work.

    This article first appeared at Rebel's Guide to Project Management

  4. how to present to senior stakeholders

    As you grow in your project management career, you’ll be called upon to make various presentations. However not all presentations are the same. Presentations to senior executives can be very different than presenting project information to peers.

    I've presented in front of many senior leaders, and it's always a little daunting. After all, they aren't my peers. I don't know how they're going to react or what their feedback will be.

    The level of formality might vary depending on your organization, but usually the focus and needs of those at the C-suite level are the same, and are very different than those at the individual contributor or manager level.

    Nordic inspired office location set out for a meeting, made with Midjourney
    Get into the room early and check it's laid out how you would like

    What does C-suite mean?

    By C-suite we’re talking about people who have job titles starting with ‘C’ like CEO, Chief Operating Officer, CFO or similar. The top people in your company; your Board.

    These are senior managers in the organization: the people who are executive leaders. Think: they have the corner office! And often offices on the top floor. With windows and a view... at least that's how things used to be.

    Today's senior leaders are just as likely to hot desk with the rest of us.

    However, regardless of where they sit, you still need to understand their views and what they need from a presentation.

    Understanding the different needs for the executive audience will help you prepare and give presentations about your projects with confidence and grace.

    Let’s look first at the differences between what an executive leadership audience wants from a presentation and what will go down best with your colleagues.

    Tips for starting executive presentations

    You will likely not have as much time if you’ve been fit into the agenda of an executive session. You need to get to the point as quickly as possible.

    You'll probably have to submit slides or a paper in advance. Assume they have read it (some of them won't have). Don't spend the time reading out your slides.

    Your start should focus on the main points you want them to take away, or the decision you want them to take.

    Don’t start with stories, but rather get to the point. Lead with what you need from them. Use a summary slide (as per this advice from HBR) to summarize everything in your presentation, and then use the rest of your presentation to support that.

    Tip:You need to have the data available in case it is requested. This is different to how you would present to your peers.

    If you are presenting to a peer group, it's different.

    You want to engage your peers with the “Why” of the project. Help them understand the benefits so that you can get their buy-in and support. Speak from a perspective that they can relate to. By connecting with a story, you can capture their interest and draw them in more.

    meetings template kit

    6 Tips for strong executive presentations

    Here are my top 6 tips for managing the middle part of your senior leadership presentation. You've been called to a C-level meeting to show your stuff, let's not waste the opportunity!

    1. Provide the background

    Once you’ve explained your position or what you need, give a brief explanation of why this is important to the company. Give it context.

    2. Evidence your points

    Provide evidence that your position is important. Do this with high level data, and use graphs or charts if possible. Present outcomes and what the data supports.

    3. Have more information ready but don't share it unless requested

    Stay top level but be ready with the drill-down data if it is requested. Some execs like the numbers and you need to have them available.

    4. Go with the flow if the direction of the discussion changes

    If the executives stray from what you’ve rehearsed, be ready to go with it. You have to let the conversation flow in the direction they take it. Because they're in charge.

    Use your facilitation techniques to try to keep the topic on track, but if it wanders, let it wander. It's their time and their goals, and there is probably a purpose for the change of topic.

    They may need to have peripheral discussions in order to come to agreement or decisionson your topic.

    5. Have a shorter version of your presentation ready to go

    I've been in presentations where I've arrived at the Boardroom and been told: we're running late, we can only give you 10 minutes.

    No problem... because I kind of expected that would happen.

    It’s possible you won’t have as much time as expected. Be ready to make your presentation in a shorter time-frame if needed. Being prepared with options is critical:

    • Be clear on your goals and bottom line
    • Be ready to provide a much shorter version of your presentation
    • Be ready to discuss even if you must stray from your rehearsed presentation
    • Go immediately to your bottom line.

    6. Read the room!

    Read the room and make changes to accommodate what is going on in the moment – be flexible and ready for the direction the discussion goes.

    This article has more tips for presenting at work if you feel like you want to dig into these strategies a bit further.

    How senior management presentations differ from other presentations

    When you are talking to your peers about your work, you can take a different approach.

    The main part of your presentation can be shaped in a different way, because they need to take away different information so they can make decisions or do their job, or understand what is coming.

    Here are some tips for managing that kind of presentation.

    • Using silences in your stories and presentations can be powerful.
    • Your audience wants to be both informed and entertained. Telling stories and explaining your points in ways that resonate with your audience is going to impact them more. Use stories that grab their attention (find out how to do that here).
    • Your presentation should flow in a logical order. If you are presenting about a new software product, set the context for the audience and build on the information. If you are presenting new process changes that must be adopted by others, you might give a story about the challenges currently faced and how you approached the process development to get the right inputs for the changes. Then you might tell about the changes and how they will benefit others. You might follow with the rollout/ adoption plans. Ensure that your presentation flows well.
    • If your audience veers off topic, bring them back on point to keep the presentation focused.

    Tip: Stay on the stage! Read about the time Elizabeth fell off the stage.

    The Presentation Book is a good reference on how to make stand-out presentations that people will remember.

    How to close a presentation to senior executives

    For the best presentation to your senior leadership team, you’ll want to be clear on what is needed from them (or overall), and on the next steps.

    If someone has an action item or follow-up activities, be clear on who that is and what action is to be taken.

    Presentation skills infographic

    Final tips for creating successful executive presentations (that also work for all presentations)

    There are similarities that will support a successful presentation for both types of audiences: both your executive audience and your peers or other people. You should:

    • Know your audience
    • Be aware of the various concerns in the room before you present
    • Anticipate the questions that will be asked so that you’re ready to answer or provide the detail they will be requested
    • Do not read from PowerPoint slides
    • Practice, practice, practice!

    By knowing what is needed for both briefing senior leaders and your colleagues, you’ll be ready to present to both peers and executives successfully.

    Your team and management will trust you to represent the project or your department with grace and confidence in a variety of situations, and you’ll step in front of each knowing you’re well-prepared.

    Want more tips? Here's a quick video on how to deliver a great presentation about your project.

    How to present to senior executives

    This article first appeared at Rebel's Guide to Project Management

  5. Abstract image created by Midjourney of characters on a board

    A program manager is someone who is responsible for leading a program of change. They coordinate the work of multiple teams managing multiple projects to ensure that overall, the business gets to where it wants to be.

    But there's a bit more to it than that.

    Having been a program manager, I feel I can share a few insights about what the job is really like and what we're expected to do. Read on!

    First we should start with a definition of program management.

    What is a program?

    A program is a collection of related individual projects, all with similar aims, objectives and resources that together deliver a common outcome and/or significant change; for example, moving the company to being a paperless office would be a program with a number of projects like:

    • Choosing and implementing an electronic document management system for Head Office
    • Designing a paperless sales process for use in the company’s shops and implementing it to all branches
    • Launching an employee portal for electronic payslips and HR information
    • Launching an electronic expense management system with approval workflow
    • Developing the digital strategy for future projects to follow

    And so on.

    Each of these are projects with a project manager, but together they deliver a transformative change for the business.

    The overall change is managed as a program, under a program manager who consolidates program-level risks, manages resource conflicts across all projects, controls the budget and works with business owners to realize the benefits across all the initiatives.

    Regardless of what type of program it is, programs tend to deliver strategic objectives and organizational change – bigger transformations than individual projects. Because of that, strategic alignment for the work is really important and you should be able to see how your work drives the organization forward.

    What is program management?

    Program management is the ability to lead a program, keep all the moving parts moving in the right direction and deliver the overall change.

    It's the collection of techniques you use to do the job.

    Program management requires a different skill set to project management, but it’s often considered as a future career move for experienced project managers.

    What is a program manager?

    I'll say it again:

    A program manager is someone who is responsible for leading a program of change. They coordinate the work of multiple teams managing multiple projects to ensure that overall, the business gets to where it wants to be.

    I certainly found that some program management skills do overlap with project management skills but the easiest way to think about it is this: a program manager sees things at the next level up from a project manager.

    There are multiple projects with interdependent resources, risks, and timelines. There’s a lot more juggling to do. It’s a bigger picture role.

    Personally, I always found program management more interesting because it’s more strategic, longer term and it’s easy to see the value.

    However, you do have to be able to live with uncertainty and not be too stressed out not knowing the exact detail. There’s a lot of trust involved as the project managers need you to get out of the way so they can manage the detail.

    That ability to stay out of the weeds is often what project managers find hard when they make the shift.

    Program manager alternative titles: what your job might be called

    You might be called something different to a program manager. For example, I'm a Senior Project Manager but I still manage a program. Other alternative job titles for program managers include:

    • Program Director (typically a more senior leadership role than a program manager)
    • Technical Program Manager
    • Program Coordinator or Program Specialist (typically a more junior role than a program manager)
    • Program leader
    • Program owner
    • Program controller

    One of the biggest challenges with finding a role is that different organizations use different job titles. Check out the exact job description if you are applying to a new post and ensure the responsibilities align with what you want (and are qualified) to do.

    What are a program manager's responsibilities?

    Let’s look at what a program manager does all day. Much of this will be written into your job description.

    In this role you’ll work under your own initiative most of the time. You’ll receive broad direction from your leadership team. You are responsible for maintaining the program plan and scheduling work at a relatively high level, and you’ll also assign tasks to other people. These could be project managers or PMO colleagues.

    A program manager is responsible for these activities as a program kicks off:

    • Defining, facilitating and completing programs, including setting the approach. These will be made up of a number of projects with clear deadlines and direct business impact
    • Designing the program organization structure (get an org chart template) and securing the resources to do the work.

    And during program delivery, you'll focus on these activities, while demonstrating your leadership skills:

    • Making sure project teams have what they need to get their work done and that there is a flow of communication up and down through the program
    • Helping teams select the right project management methodologies for the type of work they are delivering
    • Day to day management of the program, including dealing with questions and escalations from project teams
    • Identifying, assessing and managing risks that might stop the program being successful
    • Ensuring that the related project plans are realistic and up-to-date, in line with the methods used, and that they make it possible to meet deadlines
    • Managing dependencies between projects.

    Plus you'll do a range of communication and reporting tasks, much like project managers do, but consolidating information at a higher level to provide an umbrella view to stakeholders (who tend to be more senior and what different information):

    • Preparing, circulating and managing program documentation
    • Ensuring that there is regular communication with the stakeholders, and that this accurately reflects what is going on
    • Regular reporting to key stakeholders and the PMO.

    On top of all that, you have a range of governance and accountability responsibilities to maintain:

    • Ensuring that quality reviews take place effectively and at the right time
    • Managing the change control procedure for the program
    • Being responsible for program governance including sitting on the Program Board and program controls
    • Preparing a plan for benefits realization and ensuring that it is carried out so the organization receives the planned benefit
    • Ensuring that project deliverables are completed within the parameters agreed around budget, resource and schedule, and that deliverables are handed over to users and signed off

    A successful program manager does all this, and you'll probably find yourself mentoring project managers too.

    Tired yet? It's a lot. But it's not beyond you if this is the path you want to follow in your career.

    How many hours do program managers work?

    Typically, a program manager works a standard 9am to 5pm working day, Monday to Friday. At least, that's what I do. Your organization might have longer working days.

    You shouldn't be routinely expected to work weekends or outside of your normal office hours unless there is a particular challenge happening.

    For example, around important governance meetings I will often work longer hours to ensure the papers are ready and stakeholders are adequately briefed.

    Who does a program manager report to?

    Again, every organization is different. If you are a Technical Program Manager (TPM), you might report into a technical division. If you are a business program manager, you might report into the PMO or the portfolio director.

    Normally, your line manager would be a senior leader responsible for business change delivery across the organization.

    What skills do you need to be a Program Manager?

    Program management isn’t the same as managing projects and the skills you need are quite different. However, they are certainly aligned and many project managers successfully make the leap into the more strategic and higher-level role of managing a program of work.

    If you want to move into program management, these 5 skills will help you prove you are capable of doing the role:

    • Resource management
    • Stakeholder engagement
    • Data analysis and synthesis
    • Data-driven decision making
    • Change management.

    You’ll see these skills on a program manager job description – and if you don’t you should be asking why!

    Practical experience as a project manager or operational (line) manager will also help.

    1. Resource management

    You’ll need to be able to review work allocations across multiple teams and check people are working efficiently – and on the right tasks.

    That might mean pulling people off a project to focus on another piece of work. You’ll need a good understanding of what the individual projects are all about so you can make sensible resource choices.

    Resource management also involves capacity planning, so you’ll be looking ahead to what skills the program needs in the future and making sure the people on the teams can fill those needs. If they can’t, do a training needs analysis and get your team skilled up.

    2. Stakeholder engagement

    In my experience, stakeholder engagement at program level is more ‘political’ with a small ‘p’. It’s part of the leadership skills you’ll have to demonstrate in the role.

    There are more stakeholders to work with, and they tend to be higher up the organization. They have agendas of their own and are connected to strategy in ways you might not realize.

    There have been a few times where I’ve been in the room with board members and they’ve said something that I had been totally unaware of – something that was a driving force behind shaping strategy within the company and the industry more broadly.

    You’ve got to use business acumen and deal with the bigger picture on a much larger scale and the influences that puts on your stakeholder community.

    3. Data analysis and synthesis

    Data analysis is going to be significant for the future of project management. There are multiple data sources at program level and you have to look at them all, focusing in on what is really important.

    It’s essential to be able to assimilate lots of information and condense it into a format that people can understand. You need to be able to tell the story of your program in a single slide, all the while focusing on what people want to know and need to know.

    4. Data-driven decision making

    You have to make decisions for the good of the program. That means relying on facts to work out what to do, not emotions.

    You need the confidence to stand behind your decision and instruct people on what you’ve decided.

    Basically, decision-making at this level requires more exposure because there are greater implications for when things go wrong. Honesty and transparency become more important in how you reached a decision.

    5. Change management

    In the ‘old’ way of thinking, projects deliver outputs and programs deliver outcomes. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with that approach, but let’s not go there now.

    Change management on programs is about making sure that the outputs from projects are integrated into the business and used. It’s important to make sure the end result is adopted (and, ideally, loved by users).

    Being able to change behavior at an organizational level is key to being good at managing programs. People have to understand what the program is all about, how all the component projects contribute to the bigger picture and what role they help play in delivering this part of the strategy. (Because programs should in 99.9% of cases deliver strategy.)

    What’s the career path for a program manager?

    After spending some time managing projects of some complexity, you’ll be thinking about the next phase of your career. Program management roles are often seen as a natural choice for project managers looking for their next challenge.

    As businesses get more strategic with project management and start aligning projects together into programs of work, the need for skilled program managers grows.

    You might start asking yourself how to become a program manager because of the need from your company, in which case, you can simply go ahead and pitch that role to your management team.

    (Make sure the proposal also includes the need to recruit a project manager to replace you.)

    However, you could move into program management from a senior operational role or another PMO role as well.

    Program management in the organization

    Managing a program should be considered a senior, influential, leadership role. It requires a wide range of interpersonal skills, experience and a fair bit of courage to be able to stand up, take the decisions, and lead organizational change at that level.

    However, it’s a hugely rewarding job. When you see what’s being delivered through the individual projects and the benefits realization starts, you’ll appreciate what a mammoth effort you and other team members have made to make that happen.

    Being able to juggle interconnected projects is truly a skill. It’s the way strategy gets delivered and it’s a role that supports colleagues across the organization because you put the plans in place to make their goals a reality.


    Is being a program manager hard?

    The technical skills are straightforward. The challenge with being a program manager comes in juggling the multiple stakeholder expectations and senior level politics within the organization.

    Is being a program manager a good career?

    Yes, program managers are well-paid with good career prospects. It’s a respected and interesting job, so it is a good option for individuals wanting to move on from project management.

    Do program managers code?

    No, typically a program manager would not create code, they would be a leading projects. The coders/developers would sit in the project teams carrying out the work to get the software live.

    Where do program managers work?

    Program managers work in all industries, typically in larger organizations where there is a mature project and program structure.

    This is an edited extract from my book, Project Manager (BCS Books).

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    program manager

    This article first appeared at Rebel's Guide to Project Management