Can project managers play the long game?
Many project managers like projects because they’re temporary, they end. But what if you need to be in it for the long haul?
I once interviewed a project manager about an award-winning project she had successfully delivered and asked after her favourite part. “When it ended,” she laughed.
Her response isn’t all that uncommon. Many project managers I know enjoy working on projects precisely because they are temporary endeavours and they can see the end. It must be the same feeling I have when I receive a deadline, or see my work published: there’s closure, so you can go onto the next thing knowing that whatever you did is done.
I was surprised, then, to find out there are a number of project managers who specialise in long-term projects, usually programs of several interdependent projects, who don’t see definitive results for several years, even a decade. People in these roles tend to work at a different scale and yes, they do possess additional attributes.
- Short- and long-term thinking: Being able to reconcile the short-term goals of each task and project to lead to long-term outcomes is key. Not every project manager can do it as some are more comfortable focusing on an individual output and outcome, but those in the long game are good at connecting the dots at both timescales.
- Meta-juggling: If you think project management is a juggling act, imagine juggling the jugglers. Being able to delegate and learning to trust members of the project team are essential to meta-juggling. Some project managers find this easier to do than others.
- Celebrating milestones: For the metric-minded, that means if you’re running a marathon, being able to see your progress with kilometre markers helps! Working hard for 10 years before being able to achieve closure is a difficult ask, so being able to acknowledge small wins along the way helps revive flagging motivation.
Could you run a project a decade long, or do you like to see closure and endings more often?