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My Miserable Life as a Project Manager
By Barry Otterholt

Yes, I’m a project manager. I don’t know how it happened. It’s like I woke up one morning and discovered I had far more responsibility than I had bargained for and much less authority than I needed, and no place to hide.

My staff are nervous because we’ve never done this before. I guess that’s the nature of projects though, isn’t it?

My boss is nervous because she just wants it done and I keep asking her questions she doesn’t know how to answer. I guess that’s the nature of projects too, isn’t it?

And I learned a new word. Stakeholders. These are people that are “positively or negatively impacted by the project or its result.” Really! Is there anybody that doesn’t fit into this category of people that can expect things from me?

I’m starting to remember now. Somebody higher up the food chain had an idea and needed somebody to work on it. Not knowing better (and when everybody else apparently knew better), I stepped up. I’m pretty good with people and we tend to get things done. Boy what I would pay for a rewind switch right now!

I really had no idea what the predator envisioned. Am I supposed to call her a sponsor? That’s like calling a butcher a cow advocate. Anyways, I was just flattered that she had enough confidence to bet on me at the time.

As the months have passed, we keep getting closer and closer to a target that keeps moving and moving. It’s becoming really hard to see how all these changes are part of the original vision, but she keeps telling me to stay flexible. And so I do. When I point out how much this is all costing, she acts like I’m slapping her with news of an impending plague and artfully dodges the issue. I’m noticing recently that there are more higher-ups perched on her branch when I’m giving my status reports. They don’t act nearly as ok with everything as she does. They’re becoming as impatient as I’ve become, except they’re becoming impatient with me!!

So here I am. Losing sleep over something I thought I could do because somebody else thought I could do it, not sure where I’m headed because nobody else can tell me, and getting attention I don’t want because everybody else sees it.

Is this what project management is all about? Is this the way it works? It’s sure a good thing I wake up and realize it’s just a recurring nightmare! Can you imagine if this was real? Hmmm….

Barry Otterholt has been in project management for 30 years. He is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and a Project Management Professional (PMP). He works with public and private sector companies in the USA, the UK and Scandinavia. Mr. Otterholt was a Director with Microsoft, a senior consultant with Deloitte Consulting, and a COO with a nationwide consumer electronics enterprise. He enjoys teaching project management at Northwest University and writing his essays on project management which have been published in PMI and IMC newsletters. He lives near Seattle in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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