11 Trade Secrets From An Expert Project Manager


It came to my attention recently that, according to one survey, 94% of people manage projects at their job, but only 47% of those workers actually have “project manager” in their job title. This means that almost half of the project managers out there are likely operating without any training in standard project management (PM) practices.

Whether you’re one of those “undercover” project managers or you have some PM experience under your belt, the following expert advice could revolutionize your day-to-day work. It did for us!  Not long ago, the project managers of Nectafy had the privilege of taking a workshop with 25-year project management veteran David Whitemyer (see his bio below). In these two-on-one sessions, we got to pick David’s brain about things only a true expert would know. Since then, these 11 trade secrets have helped us become more efficient and organized, enabled us to provide a better client experience, and strengthened our PM skills. And we know they can do the same for you!

Secret #1: Be realistic when you’re estimating the time you’ll spend on a project.

If there’s one thing that’s certain in the PM field, it’s this: Time equals money. The amount of time we estimate for client projects could ultimately make the difference between a profit or a loss. That’s a big responsibility! So accurately estimating how much time each team member will spend on a project is crucial.

Unfortunately, there have been many times in the past that we’ve wildly underestimated the amount of time a project would take. To help make more accurate estimates, we’ve implemented time tracking at Nectafy—our team tracks every moment of time spent on any given project. Having the ability to compare the time we thought it would take to complete a project to the time it actually took has helped us immensely in estimating new projects.

Even though we’ve come a long way from where we used to be, we still sometimes struggle with how to estimate time, especially when it comes to small projects. In our workshop, we found out why: Smaller projects can be as complicated, if not more complicated, than large projects.

Since David currently works in museum planning and exhibition design, he gave us this example:

“Designing a 3,000-square-foot space is not 10% of the [work] of designing a 30,000-square-foot space. It doesn’t work that way. Designing a 3,000-square-foot space might be 25%-30% of what a 30,000-square-foot space is, because there are certain tasks regardless of the size of the project that are still going to take the same amount of time. It’s like the old joke about how you can’t take nine women and have a baby in one month. It still takes nine months!”

His advice for project time estimations is to look at the length of the project and come up with an average number of hours each team member needs to spend on the project per week. Then multiply that by the total number of weeks needed to complete the project.

At the end of the day, trial and error will be what truly hones your estimation skills, so start by making sure you have as much logic behind your numbers as you can—then manage to those numbers.

Secret #2: Be upfront with your clients about the fact that the execution of the project won’t go perfectly.

At the beginning of a project, everyone tends to be excited and hopeful that everything will go according to plan… but experience tells us otherwise, doesn’t it?

David refers to a project schedule as a “living document”—not a plan set in stone. Since there are always going to be hiccups along the way (no matter how hard we try to avoid them), instead of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, we, as project managers, need to inform our clients at the outset of a project that the unexpected will happen and we’ll have to adapt. Whether that’s rethinking a process to deliver something by a hard due date or taking a little extra time to work through a kink, detours are inevitable.

David advises telling your clients about this reality at the start: “At some point, you’re going to get irritated with us. And when things don’t go according to plan, you may even feel like we aren’t doing our job. But we’ll adapt as necessary, and in the end, everything is going to work out—and you’re going to love the results.”

Your clients will appreciate that honesty. And instead of setting unrealistic expectations that your company won’t be able to live up to, you’ll have done you and your team a favor—now clients won’t be surprised or let down when you let them know about an unexpected hiccup.

Secret #3: Make sure you have a project communication plan in place.

Get the details about #3 (the game-changing secret for me!) and find secrets #4-#11 in our free ebook For Project Manager Eyes Only: 11 Trade Secrets From An Expert PM. Download it here.

11-Trade-Secrets-From-An-Expert-Project-ManagerDavid Whitemyer, AIA

David Whitemyer is a licensed architect with more than 25 years of experience in museum exhibition design and project management. He is the Director of Business Development at Luci Creative, a Chicago-based exhibit design firm. David is also a Faculty Associate at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches two graduate level courses: one on exhibition design and documentation, and the other on project management in museums. He writes frequently about workplace culture, project management, and design, with articles published by the Harvard Management Update, PM Career Track, the Boston Globe, and the International Interior Design Association.


  • Join 2,265 others who get our content right in their inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.