5 Real-Life Project Management Tips That May Surprise You

5 Real-Life Project Management Tips That May Surprise You

In the world of project management, not everything is as it first seems. When a project comes to you, it should be ready to manage, right? Nope. Your superiors should have more experience and PM or leadership knowledge than you, right? Well…not really. The project finances should be straightforward, right? No way.

Things aren’t always how you would expect them to be. So you need to go into each project with a clean slate and a curious mind. There are lots of facts to be questioned, assumptions to be analyzed, and questions to be asked. And it helps if you go in armed with some knowledge of what to look for.

I discovered these tips for myself through years of real-life project management experience. I’m sharing them here with you today so that you can go into your next project ready for the unexpected.

1. If you’re an experienced PM, you probably have a better resume than the person you report to

This may come as a surprise, but if you have a few years of proven PM experience you probably look better on paper than whoever you are reporting to. With my VP at one company, that was the case.

As we were gathering resumes to create an experience portfolio to use for winning projects, out office admin pointed that at to me.

At my next organization, that was the case with my PMO Director. It was also the case at one early company where I was leading large multi-million-dollar government contracts. What can I say? I was more of the hands-on doer (if you’re a project manager, you probably are too). Meanwhile, the people I reported to were more likely to be resource managers.

2. The financial part isn’t that easy to manage

You probably aren’t thinking it’s a cakewalk to manage, even if you’re aware of hidden costs. Nothing financial ever really is. Most of us really stink at it personally. I do. But professionally — on projects and consulting engagements — thankfully, I’m much better at it.

Just be sure to make a good friend or contact in accounting. He or she will help you get accurate project financials every week. You can then use those to keep the financial health picture and the financial forecast up-to-date every week. That way, the budget never runs away from you.

Skip it for even one week and you could be in real trouble.

Imagine 30 different people writing checks or holding ATM cards to your personal bank account. That’s what’s happening on your projects. Be careful…watch the finances very closely.

3. You’ll always have change orders (and I mean always)

You can say, “I’m excellent at managing scope.” You can say, “there’s going to be no real need for a change order process.” Right.

Every project has change.

Every project has customers requesting something that isn’t in the original requirements. Requirements always change at least a little.

In an extreme example, I worked at one organization as a PM head and we won a huge project because our CEO promised no change orders — no matter what.

Then, tragically, he passed away early in the project and it shut the company down. Sad as it was, it continues to remind me inevitability of change and the unpredictability of life.

4. Your customer may not know the real issue that’s creating the project need

This one happens all the time. The client thinks he needs a new CRM system. Turns out what he really needs is the entire underlying HR, accounting and reservation system re-worked.

They’re all home-grown patched up pieces of software. They’ll never talk accurately or efficiently with the new solution you build for customer relationship management (or anything off the shelf you bring in and customize).

Because he doesn’t understand the underlying cause, his expectations for the project may not be realistic.

Believe me, you want to catch this one early.

5. Your client or project sponsor has many other priorities

This may be a huge project to you, but to your project sponsor – at least on some engagements – this may be just some stupid project that got dumped on her.

So it may not be her top priority. And when you go looking for her for decisions, information, clarifications and meetings, it may be hard to find her — or get her to commit to specific dates and times.

Am I telling you that you might find yourself frustrated by the client’s lack of engagement? Yes. You may have to find creative ways to keep her engaged. Think up tasks you can assign her to so she will have to make herself available for weekly project status meetings to talk about her tasks.

And, speaking from experience…good luck!


No one ever said project management was easy. In fact, it can be incredibly hard. And every project is different from the last. Every customer is different.

No matter how clearly laid out your PM processes are where you work, just know that you will always have to customize them to some degree for each project.

Be ready to roll with the changes and needs of the project.

What would you add to this list? Do these tips resonate with you? If you’re an experienced PM, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?