The hourly demands of an IT Project Management job?
November 3, 2007 7:42 AM   Subscribe

The hourly demands of an IT Project Management job? Help me with my career planning!

I think would like to eventually work in a role that offers high control. High difficulty or complexity is ok, however, it needs to be less than 40-50 hours per week.

I'm assuming any higher positions like business manager or CEO would be impossible. But what about a project manager? How unlikely is a 9am-5pm IT Project Management job?

I'm sure there is variation between different companies in the say way some companies expect a developer to work long hard hours especially nearing deadlines, while some believe in work/life balance and more than 40hrs leads to fatigued, inefficient programmers. Is project management varied in a similar way? If not, how many more hours are generally expected?

I'm assuming they are expected to be more flexible and put in more time, then say a developer, so that obviously means they are expected to work longer hours.

Your collective wisdom is appreciated. Feel free to make suggestions outside of the IT field.
posted by gttommy to Work & Money (18 answers total)
How unlikely is a 9am-5pm IT Project Management job?


Finding an IT gig with a 50-hr/wk average is do-able. I don't know anyone in an IT organization who puts in a 40-hour week.

I work in New York City; your mileage may vary.
posted by enrevanche at 7:55 AM on November 3, 2007

I work for a large corporation and while I'm not in the IT department, I work closely with them on software projects. The project managers I work with definitely put in more than an average workweek but it tends to come in spurts. Day to day, most people get by with 40-50 hours, but during an implementation (for example), it goes way up. We even have some people who manage projects who are part-time, so it can be done, but they work more than their official hours, too (if they are 3 days/week they really work 4).

I know it varies by company but in IT I think you will always be expected to work extra when it's needed. If something breaks, and it's your project, you are going to stay on it until it's fixed - and there's almost never a "thank you" at the end of the day.
posted by cabingirl at 8:04 AM on November 3, 2007

It's doable if you make it a priority. Many of my managers now make an effort to work 9-6 or 10-6. Many work far longer. Both do equally well. If you're good at your job and find a company where reasonable hours are culturally acceptable, it's very doable. I'm also in New York City.
posted by rachelv at 8:17 AM on November 3, 2007

The IT project manager in my company works a regular 40 hour week. It's a 700-person company in Denver, not focused specifically on IT.
posted by scottreynen at 8:37 AM on November 3, 2007

If you have a product/project that is installed onto servers, like 90% of enterprise software, you will inevitably have to do installs in a change window, which is always outside of 9-6, and maybe on Saturday night. PM is inevitably involved. And when a project is going badly, and the devs are working overtime, the PM is also doing overtime trying to manage the customer and/or upper management.

Also, like cabingirl, we have some PMs who are part time... usually mothers who did part-time once they got back from maternity leave. They do work more than they're supposed to, 24 or 32 hours, but less than 40 hours. OTOH, if they only are supposed to work 3 days, they only get paid 3/5 of regular wage, and get 3/5 of the vacation time, etc.
posted by smackfu at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2007

How unlikely is a 9am-5pm IT Project Management job?

It is unusual, but not unheard of. You won't find such a role inside a company where IT is part of their core business, or inside a small cutting-edge business, but you might be able to find it as part of an IT department of a large company in another industry.

In general, though, if you're unwilling or unable to work long and/or unusual hours, then IT is the wrong career path. To be effective as anything approaching a GOOD IT project manager, you absolutely need to have a bona fide background as an IT practitioner. Half of project management is domain expertise. If 9-5 is a hard requirement, you won't ever get the experience that you need to do anything worthwhile in the IT field, much less effectively manage IT projects.

And... and this a huge, good project managers didn't get into the sort of work because of the hours, or the balance, or because they always wanted a job for the companies that they work for. Good project managers generally became project managers after realizing that they really enjoyed leading projects (usually as an informal lead of an engineering or design group), and that they're really effective at it. Does that sound like you?

They tend the kind of always-inciteful people that their peers look to for guidance and/or support, even outside the bounds of any hierarchy. Would an acquaintance of yours call you when he got arrested in the middle of the night, because he knew that a) you'd keep his arrest discrete, while b) you took care of the logistics required to get him out asap, because c) you actually care about his wellbeing and want him to spend as little time in an uncomfortable situation -- even though it's an acquaintance, and not a close friend.

Does _that_ sound like you?

Regardless, I'd recommend that for your career planning, that you do something that you love to do. You're much more likely to end up being a happy, effective, worthwhile project {leader,manager,director} if you base your choice of career path on subject matter, rather than the future's perceived working conditions.
posted by toxic at 10:25 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

PM's hours aren't generally long, in my experience, due to having a lot of work to do yourself (exception: documentation. ugh). PM's suffer at the mercy of the "last man out" rule- if there's a deadline, you've gotta stick around until it gets done. That's the "manager" part of project manager, and it's unavoidable. IT PM jobs that don't suck your life away exist, but they're few and far between and are held by people who spent several years at positions with much longer hours.

If I may go a bit meta for a moment- dude, your questions follow a strong pattern of "how can I ease my way into X?" I'm going to guess that breaking into acting is a harder, longer process than you expected, so you're looking at IT since you like computers. OK, that's good- focus on something where more than .1% of the industry achieves success. Still, there's no shortcut- anywhere you go, you're going to have to pay the dues.
posted by mkultra at 10:29 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a consultant, I've found that there are major regional and company-to-company variations in normal hours for a PM in the US. My experience has been that companies with good hours (e.g., government, banks outside New York, insurance companies, universities) tend to pay significantly less on a per-hour basis, but enough to live on comfortably if you're frugal or live in a low-cost area.

PMs at government contractors can work reasonable hours while making good money, but that style of work is not for everyone, and jobs are concentrated in metro DC.
posted by backupjesus at 10:46 AM on November 3, 2007

You can absolutely work in IT doing mostly 40 hour weeks, be damn good at your job, and get paid well for it. Except for my 4 extremely demanding years of undergrad, I have managed to work mostly 40 hour weeks my entire programming career. But you have to really WORK those 40 hours. IT suffers from both a lot of people that don't know how to manage their time, and a lot of managers that don't know how to schedule and manage projects to keep people from going into absurd crunches. Sometimes you cannot help the crunches but I do think that if you go into a job with the goal of kicking ass in 40 hours a week, you can absolutely do it.
Just beware working for a consulting company. If you're working for a consulting company that bills its clients by the number of hours you work, my impression is that you can get a LOT of pressure to work far more than 40 hours a week.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2007

Thanks for the inputs thus far.

I have worked as a developer in 2 different companies previously and did not find it fulfilling. For me a fulfilling life would be preferred over a fulfilling-career life, so I am willing to accept a job I will not be 100% satisfied with for the rest of my life as long as my weeks are not full of overtime. But I would like to enjoy my job if possible, for me the 'dream' job would be challenging and provide high level of control. Why IT? This is my 6th yr studying and frankly I want to use what I already have and make $$$ asap starting next yr.

I also believe if you really limit yourself to 40hrs per week, and stick to it you will become more productive as you realise everyday 5pm is precisely when everything must stop.

mkultra: I'm just a confused young man trying to understand life and wanting truckloads of cash. Is that so WRONG? *plays the violin*
posted by gttommy at 1:16 PM on November 3, 2007

I worked in I.T. for almost 18 years before a career change earlier this year, and in that time, I've only encountered one environment where working a regular 40-hour work week was the norm - government work. One of my first jobs in I.T. was doing deskside support (and some light development) at the headquarters of a very large school district. The people I worked with there were out the door at 5 like they were shot out of a cannon. Typically, there would be a line forming at the time clock by 4:57, waiting to punch out at the stroke of 5.

The downside to that, of course, is that while your hours will be limited while doing government work, your salary will be EXTREMELY limited. When I left my government job for the private sector, my paycheck immediately went up by over 50%. 5 years later, I was earning roughly quadruple what I made in my government job, and about triple what my peers who stuck around were making.

I guess you just need to decide what means more to you - money or time. Although you may find a rare exception, you can't have both.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:50 PM on November 3, 2007

you will become more productive as you realise everyday 5pm is precisely when everything must stop

That belief is incompatible with most IT environments, where project deployments are scheduled around times of idleness (often in the middle of the night). It is doubly so for people on the low end of the seniority ladder.

mkultra: I'm just a confused young man trying to understand life and wanting truckloads of cash.

I tend to concur with mkultra here. You come off as wanting truckloads of easy cash, which is different from truckloads of cash.

I can offer some help with your confusion, though... You're willing to settle for an unsatisfying job in exchange for low hours. But you want a job with high control/responsibility, and that's intellectually stimulating. Part of what I think you're missing is everything that goes in to your earning a gig like that -- someone is putting a lot of trust in you in exchange for that control that you want so much.

It's easier for an employer to have that trust in you, when they can see that you're truly dedicated to what you're doing. An employee who is clearly only 75% satisfied, and who lines up, timecard in hand, every day at quitting time, is not exactly the picture of dedication -- and is not likely to get (nor, frankly, deserve) the promotion to the high-control/responsibility position.

If you do something that you like, you will do a better job of it, and people around you will notice. That's what leads to positions of control, and larger checks, and yes, even better hours.
posted by toxic at 4:25 PM on November 3, 2007

They tend the kind of always-inciteful people that their peers look to for guidance and/or support

While it's true that many an IT guy has been known to have a short fuse, it's the insightful people that tend to be more appreciated.

I was never an IT manager (company too small to need a manager), but I was, for a while, basically "the guy" for all matters IT at our company. I don't think I need to explain my thoughts on being woken up at an ungodly time of the morning because my cell phone was getting a SMS from our distressed server. This sort of thing might happen to you too. I suppose the best thing is making sure that whatever company you work for is large enough that you can delegate all off-hours work to someone else. Why, exactly, do you want "high control"? Maybe a better option is working for yourself?
posted by Deathalicious at 5:16 PM on November 3, 2007

High control is a motivator for me and when I'm motivated I can easily put in many more overtime hours, however I'm trying to avoid that. Self-employment seems like too much hourly commitment and stress.
posted by gttommy at 11:33 PM on November 3, 2007

Self-employment seems like too much hourly commitment and stress.

Rationally, there is very little difference between being at at-will employee and a contractor. PM is one of those roles that some interesting companies only use contractors for. Regardless of your role, being a contractor can make it easier to stick to your preferred schedule, since you can insist on approval and/or penalty rates for going over 40 hours in a week.

OP, I'm not sure about your impression that being a PM gives you a lot of control. In most companies I've worked with, PMs have very little say in the projects they are assigned and have no authority over the resources on their projects. Much of the job revolves around persuading management and resources to live up to their commitments (schedules, feature sets, etc.) when one has no real power to do so. You may be able to exert control if you are a really good PM -- and, even then, it's earned, not granted -- but the same skills could be applied to being a developer with better results in terms of both control and (generally) compensation.
posted by backupjesus at 4:53 AM on November 4, 2007

A developer with more 'control' than a project manager, is like saying a store clerk with more 'control' than a store manager! Unless, I am missing something.
posted by gttommy at 5:35 AM on November 6, 2007

At 95% of the many places I've worked in the US, project managers are not managers in the traditional sense -- they don't have people reporting to them, they don't have hire/fire authority, and they are at the same level of the org chart as developers (often reporting to the same "real" manager). It's unfair in many cases, but PMs are also considered more replaceable than developers in most shops due to higher supply and lower onboarding costs.

Oh, and most store managers I know work much longer hours than their sales clerks and, while having lots of control on paper, find that their success depends on retaining good clerks.
posted by backupjesus at 6:42 AM on November 6, 2007

Based on all the helpful answers above, the PM's work hours are normally longer than a developer's with rare exceptions. I'm guessing around 10hrs more.

I think I will look for a developer role in a large company to gain exposure to various IT roles enabling me to make better decisions with my career.
posted by gttommy at 6:47 AM on November 9, 2007

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