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Why are people leaving project management?

Nada Abandah commented on Twitter recently that she knew people who were leaving project management jobs.  When I asked her why, she said they felt under-paid, under-appreciated and were fed up of being blamed for project failure.

Nada on Twitter

Leaving project management isn’t always bad.  I spoke to an ex-project manager, Ruth Malone, about why she left project management and what she’s up to now.

What prompted you to leave project management?

I felt that I had run out of opportunities to progress as a project manager. I was getting larger projects, and more responsibility, but the job was essentially the same each time and I didn’t feeling I was learning a lot more.

I also started to resent being inside all day and sitting at a desk. Although I didn’t realise it at the time I found it very constraining being employed by a big company with all the politics and bureaucracy that comes with it. So, based on that I decided to become self-employed and personal training seemed like the best way to do this whilst also working in an industry that I really care about.

Ruth Malone

Now you run your own fitness business.  Tell me a bit about ‘achieve more’?

I started the company 18 months ago and at the time it was just me offering personal fitness training to clients in a studio in my home. The business built up pretty quickly and after about a year I was joined by a business partner. I found that you can only grow the business to a certain extent when it’s just you in it, so this was an excellent way of taking things further. Pretty much at the same time we also moved into new premises in the centre of town [Tunbridge Wells].

In the last month we have bought the cafe which sits below our studio. We will also be adding treatments such as massage and rehab to the company, with all of this being done in the same building. The idea is that if someone needs to get fit and healthy, everything they need is in one place.

How have your project management skills helped you in your new company?

I’ve managed each step of the business as a project. For example, my first project was “start up”. Having planning skills has been invaluable and has meant that I have been able to move pretty quickly but in a controlled way. I can quickly understand the dependencies and am clear on costs before I commit to the next step. The only difference between this and project management in a big company is that I am the project manager, the sponsor and the stakeholder!

Have you found any links between managing people’s health goals and managing office-based projects?

The approach we use to improve people’s health and fitness is actually pretty similar to Six Sigma. We start by understanding how their fitness is currently and looking at where the need to get to. We’ll then work with them to understand what has prevented them from previously achieving these goals e.g. lack of time, lack of knowledge, stress etc and will help them find solutions to change it.

Essentially getting fit and healthy is about changing the way you do things. The tools, techniques and skills we use to influence this are often similar to the same ones I would have used to change the way people work in an office environment.

Where are you taking your company next and how are your project management skills going to help?

For the next 12 months it’s all about realising the business plan which incorporates the cafe, the personal training and the treatments. This will involve measuring how we’re doing against the plan and putting in place improvements where we need to. Each of those improvements will be managed as a (hopefully small) project and will be based on understanding what the customer wants and what that means for the business.

I’ll be constantly assessing the risks to the business and making sure the business can adapt where necessary.

Thanks, Ruth!

So, there is life after project management, and whatever you end up doing, hopefully the things you learn as a project manager will enhance your career, however it evolves.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. TT says

    It’s 2018 and guess what nothing has changed, management still is uneducated about the true value of the skills pm’s bring. Still undervalued, underpaid, and burnt out. PMI hasn’t done a great job of educating businesses. Good PM’s are leaving the industry so many who do remain aren’t very good and are now treated like glorified admins. I feel the only way this will change is when good PM’s move into management roles because the good ones understand a PM’s true value.

    • Herbert says

      Genuinely curious do know what you mean by good “PM’s move into management roles”. A Project Manager, by definition, is within a management role, it’s literally in the title.

      Perhaps we hale from different parts of the world where PM means vastly different things.

      • Elizabeth Harrin says

        I know that comment wasn’t addressed to me, but I would imagine ‘senior line management in a functional role’ was what was meant.

  2. Alex says

    I guess Agile Project Management addresses most of these issues. Building cross-functional teams makes it easier (and less risky) to manage, working with iterations and frequent releases has a huge impact on team morale, including the client in the planning increases satisfaction… All-in-all, better than traditional methods. Just MHO.

    – Alex
    Product Manager at Planbox

    • Elizabeth says

      Nada’s response as to why the people she knew were leaving was because they were under paid, under appreciated and because project management was seen as a place to hang the blame. They are all failings of management, IMHO, no traditional project management methods. If senior execs don’t buy into the project process – Agile or otherwise – then project managers will continue to feel that their efforts are not valued.

      • Annie says

        I totally agree with Nada. Until management is educated on the value of project management and the methodology followed at their company, they will not understand nor support the time and effort to deliver a successful project. It really comes down to respecting the knowledge and experience of their project managers to collaboratively determine realistic milestone and delivery dates for projects. If this isn’t happening, then yes, burnout is high for project managers.

        • Elizabeth Harrin says

          Thanks, Annie, I agree with you too. I know one of PMI’s goals is to spread the word more widely in business. And we should do what we can in our businesses to help too.


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