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We surveyed project management professionals about what working life is like now, and the results are surprising!

Project management is often considered a highly paid, interesting role, and it is. But there is another side to the job: high stress and low organizational commitment to doing work in a structured way makes it a very challenging role.

Key findings

  • 37% of project managers have considered leaving the profession in the last year
  • Over a fifth of project managers say their career goal is ‘getting through the year’
  • Not having enough or the right type of resources are big problems
  • Workload is the biggest cause of stress
  • 28% of project managers say they put dates in a spreadsheet and use that for project scheduling
  • 53% of project managers are using hybrid methods
  • Only 15% say they are using agile approaches
  • 55% of project managers are leading 2-5 projects (consistent with our 2020 survey)

“I really enjoy the job and the challenges that come along with it but a lot of companies seem to be trying to do the same or often more with less resource and experience. This alongside a jump of projects being run simultaneously is slowly increasing stress levels and hindering the ability to deliver successful projects.”

Resources are the biggest concern

The biggest concern project managers have right now is resourcing. Between not having enough people and not having the right people, project managers are scrambling to get work done.

On top of that, a third of people report that deadlines are unrealistic.

These projects are destined to be late. You can’t deliver on time without the right people. If more resources were available, perhaps schedules would be realistic. If schedules were realistic, maybe you wouldn’t need to so many extra people.

The takeaway for organizations is that you can’t do what you don’t have: I talk to many, many project leaders through my mentoring and training and so many of them say the same thing: the organization’s appetite is bigger than its capability.

biggest concern

“Stakeholders, especially project sponsors, boards, senior stakeholders, all need to know project managers need the right level of support from them and the rest of the organization. I’ve seen too many project managers be left to fend for themselves or figure things out, with hardly any training, much less support.”

“With project management being a key capability or competency to deliver needed change, organizations really need to invest in medium- to long-term capability building, as they would do to other specialized roles and even executives.”

Project managers are looking for new jobs

32% of project professionals are looking for a new job outside their company in the next year.

The brain drain in project management is a real concern for employers. 14% report seriously having considered leaving the profession in the past year and taking up roles that are not project-related. 23% say they’ve had the same thought.

If we lost nearly 40% of project managers from the role, would the amount of people joining the profession balance everything out? Maybe, but with people with less experience.

Only 17% say they want to stay with their company and get promoted.

“It is quite a challenge to manage a new product development project with limited technical background. So i may consider switch my career path back to operational management which suits me better. Also working in a non-structural start-up with constant changing and no rigid timeline control, makes it even harder to meet project goals on time/budget with good quality.”

Repetitive tasks need to go

We asked, “If you could take one task off your To Do list, what would it be?”

Unsurprisingly, chasing people for status updates topped the list with nearly 43% of respondents saying this was their least rewarding task.

The good news is that with tools like generative AI, RPA and other automations, we should be able to automate a lot of low-value work like status updates and meeting admin.

However, we still need humans in the process: they still have to complete the updates, even if they are prompted automatically, or enter the data for the system to pull automatically.

I think we’re a way off status updates writing themselves, and for some projects that are predominantly new or knowledge work, it would be hard for an AI tool to capture what has been achieved each month unless someone told it.

List of tasks people want removed from To Do list.

Right now, it’s boring and frustrating. With repetitive and tedious administrative task. Starting to feel like an admin assistant. Managing up has not been effective or appreciated. Switching industries and roles are next best steps.

“Being asked to do every admin task in the company because we have downsized and laid off resources and there is literally no one else who can do it! And yes I mean everything from scanning post to clearing offices to publishing the annual report…”

Certification goals

50% of people who said their career goal is being certified within a year plan to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. The remainder are split between other certifications including agile credentials.

“Most of the time I feel undervalued as a project manager and it’s difficult when you cannot hold people accountable.”

There’s no such thing as a standard team

We asked “How many people in the largest project team you are working with?”

Responses were evenly split, with a third of project professionals working with small teams of under 5 people, and a third working with teams of greater than 10 people.

We did not define ‘team’, so if you include the wider group of organizational stakeholders like the legal team, or a procurement manager helping out on a contract, that might influence the results here.

Want to know more about what about the situation for leaders juggling several initiatives? Read the survey results from our research on managing multiple projects .

Dig into the survey results

You can scroll through the charts and crosstabs, and apply filters. So if you only want to see the results from the people who said they had seriously considered leaving project management in the last year, you can do that.

The filters are a bit tricky – select the question/response you want to filter by, and then scroll back up to the top to toggle it on and the results will update.

The verbatim comments are not accessible via this embedded view of the survey data.

Have a play, you can’t break anything!

Methodology

These are the results from the 2023 project management survey carried out by Rebel’s Guide to Project Management. The respondent group was 217 self-selected individuals working in the project profession who completed the survey online during April 2023.

Respondent profile: 40% reported having over 11 years in project management.

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

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