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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Typical Day ... In The Life Of An IT Project Leader

When talking with friends and relatives, a question that I'm asked quite frequently is "... and what exactly do you do at your job?". Answering that somebody decided to give my current job the title "IT project leader" wouldn't help too much.
First, because the majority of people don't work in IT and consequently don't have a clear picture about daily business.
Second, because I've come to realize that even within the IT industry there is a huge variety of possible "project leader" responsibilities and tasks.
And third, as you might know, job titles don't mean too much anyways.

Thus, I've decided to describe what a typical day in my current job looks like.


Some background information first: I'm currently working on a project in a Bosnian-Herzegovinian administration. The project is funded by the European Union and the main goal is to bring the country closer to EU standards in the field of VAT and customs legislation and procedures, and with regard to the IT systems used. I'm in charge of the IT part of that project.

So, my small team and I normally start working at 8.30. We are not particularly strict on the working hours, however we do not allow flexitime nor tele-working. I'm strongly convinced that there is no replacement for sitting next to each other and discussing face-to-face.

Mondays ...

On Mondays, we get the week started with a short review of the previous week's achievements, problems encountered, and questions arisen. We also discuss this week's main tasks, technical questions and make key decisions together.
Among other reasons, I think this is an important team building measure, helps to develop common knowledge, and represents a platform to encourage team members to share what they are proud of and improve their communication skills.
Apart from that, we call for a meeting spontaneously at need or simply discuss informally with each other anytime.


Daily Business

On other days, I might have meetings with representatives of the local administration. We talk about their exact requirements for certain IT programs we are about to develop, testing and training for these programs, knowledge transfer to local employees, hardware issues and administrative stuff.
Unfortunately, my local language skills are still far from sufficient to discuss important matters, so half of the time is lost in translation.

Depending on which stage we are in one of our sub-projects, I would typically spend some time on planning activities then. Which additional information do we need to make the next steps? Whom do I get this information from? Which technology should we use for that project? What should that program look like? How busy are my colleagues at the moment, and which of these planning or pre-development tasks should I delegate to them? Which sub-tasks should be done for that project, how are they related, and until when should they be done? On which hardware infrastructure will we install that system, and whom do we need for that? When are the meeting rooms for testing available, and whom should we invite to it?

A scrum board, similar to the one used by us. Source:

As we are that small a team, I do some programming too. Sometimes, that comes as a nice alternation to all these meetings and planning stuff, which are not always particularly amusing. Furthermore, it helps me to better understand what's going on beneath the surface of our programs.

Every now and then, I grab a chair and sit with members of my team directly to check their progress or problems encountered. Even though I try to avoid micro-managing as much as possible and sit with them only when they call me, I sometimes take the freedom and check spontaneously when I feel that circumstances demand it. For example, when we agreed that a certain user interface form should be provided within two days, and I haven't heard anything from him for four days.
Again, I want to give them the possibility to show what they are proud of, and establish and maintain trust between each other. In case somebody is stuck somewhere, I like to ask such basic questions until they have broken the problem to such small chunks that the solution comes inevitably to them (that is, I take the role of a rubber duck).

Since I'm responsible for the products that we deliver, I also test the software before any of our clients sees it. This is the moment when all the various parts that my colleagues worked on are connected, and potential design or usability issues show. Sometimes I have to turn colleagues down on their proposals, because they would not be do-able in reasonable time, or would not make sense to the final users, even though they might be nice from a technicians point of view.
Part of my job prior to delivering a product is to write guidelines and handbooks for the users. Not very entertaining, but necessary.


However, there are also some challenges that are out of our control. For example, sometimes expectations from the EU and the beneficiary are not quite in line with each other; we act as an intermediary between them and have to find some solution.

A huge obstacle for progress in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole is politics. No government for quite a while, no key-decisions made, budgetary problems, ... These impediments have a negative impact on our work, too, because by the end of the day, whatever we do and provide is subject to legal boundaries.

Personally, I strongly believe in all my colleagues' intrinsic motivation, and do everything I can to remove all potential barriers, in order to enable them to do their best job.

Working Environment

Our working environment is a little bit suboptimal. Our chairs might have been acceptable some 15 years ago, but are definitely not any more now; in our office, there is no real window to the outside world, and for weeks we have been suffering in the heat, because the one and only guy who would know how to fix the air condition is on vacation.

Well, at least our office is not in the basement. Source:

Once a quarter, I meet with representatives of the European Delegation and assistance directors of the local administration to discuss the overall progress of our project and obstacles encountered. Quality of and participation at these meetings varies.

Fridays ...

By the end of the week, I have to provide a report for the European Delegation in Sarajevo, which monitors the progress of our project against certain performance indicators.


For the non IT guys among you, I hope that I managed to create a rough picture of my work. For the IT guys, I hope that I made you smile at least once or twice when recognizing certain things from your workaday life ;-).

Generally speaking, it seems to me that most people (including me) have no clue what most other people are actually doing in their job. Some "typical days" I already found on the web include:
Still, more "typical days" would be totally interesting - so why not share yours in the comments below?

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