THIS was my life for many years as a project manager:
It’s 5:30 pm
My phone rings.
It’s my wife.
“Hey hun, I just came to the city. Shall we meet up for dinner? It’s lovely outside and everybody is enjoying the wonderful weather”
“Sorry dear, I’m too busy. Still need one more hour”
That one hour usually became 2.5 hours, and I wouldn’t return home before 8:00 pm.
This episode will probably sound familiar to the majority of people who manage projects.
You do work a lot as a project manager. But how many hours exactly?
With this article I want to shed some light on working hours in PM.
I will also discuss some of the factors that determine working hours as a PM, because as for other professions, there are no “standard working hours”.
Why project management is anything but 9-to-5 work
This is not so much because of the actual working hours, which can be at a level comparable to other jobs. The challenge with regards to working hours in project management is that you don’t have a fixed and predictable schedule as in other jobs (think of a CS agent answering calls during regular office hours).
When leading a project, your daily schedule will be highly erratic and variable, and it is determined mainly by the events going on at the moment.
On some days, you may have to be on an early morning call at 7:00 AM because that’s the only time an executive stakeholder is available. On other days, you’ll be working till 10:00 PM to finish some PowerPoint deck, because the entire day you were caught up in meetings about some urgent issue. Occasionally you may use a Sunday morning to complete some tricky planning work, because that’s the only time you have nobody around you.
Just like me:
What determines your working hours as a PM?
While my statement about project management not being a 9 to 5 job is true, we have to look at the topic from a more nuanced perspective.
There are project management positions where you are able to complete your work within the 9 to 5 window.
But what determines your working hours as a project manager?
The main factor is project size and complexity. If you are heading an 18-month implementation project for a client, you have to deal with many people and complex requirements. Your work schedule will be packed and you can be happy if you find time for lunch.
On the other hand, if you are leading a website development project, which takes maybe 3 months, you can usually do all your work within regular working hours.
Another factor determining your workload is whether you are a part-time or full time project manager. I’d say the majority of projects are run by people whose main job is not project manager. They basically are leading projects on the side for their company, while still performing their regular job (for example as an engineer or consultant). Then there are full time project managers whose main job is to lead projects. Often they are leading multiple projects at the same time (but this is also true for many part-time project managers!).
The third factor impacting your work schedule is the type of project. One of the companies I worked for was a manufacturer of custom-made machines. The machines were built over several months. Then they were shipped to the client, and one of our engineers had to be onsite for several weeks to set up and test the equipment. The project manager had to be on duty and coordinate our internal resources from the office – often this meant long working hours, endless conference calls and weekend work.
So, how many hours you have to work as a PM is mainly dependent on the type of project you manage, its size and complexity.
But does that mean if you want to manage larger projects, you’ll have to put in 10-14 hours EVERY DAY?
No, definitely not.
Let me explain why.
Your working hours can vary depending on the project stage
Every project has different stages (also called phases). Your involvement and workload as a project leader will vary depending on the stage your project is currently in.
The first weeks you will dedicate to planning and getting the necessary resources and approvals. This work can keep you quite busy, but it’ll never be as stressful as in the later project stages, as you move towards concept creation and implementation, product review and testing. There will be lots of workshops and discussions with the client and your team, and you’ll hardly find time to grab a snack at lunch (I always lost a few pounds in those times)! These are not 40-hour weeks, but rather 45-to-50-hour weeks!
Between those hectic phases, there will be more peaceful weeks where you can relax and close your computer early in order to have dinner with your loved one(s) or do other fun things. Those calmer phases are typically when your experts are doing the technical work and you just have to wait for them to finish. Generally we can say, the most labor-intensive phases (for the project leader) are the launch phase, requirements gathering and certain weeks within the implementation and rollout phase.
To give you a more detailed picture of the working hours during a typical project, I created the following graph:
It’s all about being super-efficient
The working hours in project management can be brutal, and the bigger your projects, the more hours you have to put in for managing your team and pleasing the various stakeholders. How do you cope with the high workload and still find joy in your work?
The secret is to become super-efficient in what you do so that your team requires little supervision and you can focus on progress monitoring and communication. Some of the “secrets” to be a super-efficient and effective project manager are: Strictly delegate any type of work, stick to simple “good-enough” solutions for project tracking, have a good meeting plan in place and.
If you want to learn how I manage projects in a very efficient way, check out my course Real-World Project-Management, where I show you exactly how I manage the critical parts in a project, handle status monitoring, motivate the team and more!