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Topics: Career Development, Information Technology, New Practitioners
Is travel common for project managers?
Hello fellow project managers,

I've been looking through some different project manager positions in the IT industry, and noticed that some advertise up to 10% or 25% travel for these positions.

I just want to know, is travel common for project manager positions? If so, what is the reason and nature of traveling? Are you mainly traveling for conferences, clients, work/project sites, and/or other reasons? Do you feel that traveling for these reasons adds value and is worth doing or do you feel that traveling is unnecessary and only adds more stress?

Although I am an IT project manager, I would love to hear from other industries as well.
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I would say it is pretty common both in the job postings I read, and my own personal experience with large industry that involves many technical domains. It's not necessarily long distance travel, but it depends on your organizational distribution and supply chain.

I would travel to suppliers or visit customers for both team building, and to get a better understanding of the problems we are solving. It can be a lot easier seeing processes unfold in person, talking to technicians in person who work in a factory rather than an office, and defects can be hard to see in pictures. On projects with very sensitive data, they often try to limit electronic communications and I might travel between office campuses regularly.

Although technology advances can greatly reduce the number of in-person visits necessary there can certainly be a lot of value in meeting people and seeing where and how they work in-person.

Also remember that as good as your interpersonal skills and experience with digital collaboration tools are, the people you deal with might be challenged in those regards. It might help them a lot more than it does you.
Gregory -

It really depends on the context of the project. For example, when I led a large system implementation project many years back with four global sites in Asia, Europe and North America, I didn't travel as everything could be accomplished using virtual collaboration tools.

But a few years before that, while leading another implementation project with a different client, the needs of the stakeholders required in person discussions at each of the affected sites.

Once you have established positive relationships with key stakeholders, remote work with very occasional in person visits is okay, but to get there, it often helps to have some initial activity on site, especially events such as kick off meetings.

Of course, factors such as pandemics and budget limitations can constrain such practices.

In my point of view, strategically scheduled visits/meetings, depending on the nature of projects, are extremely important to identify and recognize stakeholders with whom can contribute to your/their goals when you are distant from the processes and would manage the issues remotely. Some companies do this kind of alert on the search for professionals trying to anticipate to the candidate the routine they will can have but not necessarily accomplish.
I agree with Kiron,

It depends on the context of the project (project, company, and/or team).

My experience is in the video game industry.

I have worked on projects where it would be beneficial to visit the client in person and have been told that we don't travel.

I have worked on projects and meeting the client in person would be a waste of time, but we were forced to travel anyways.

I have worked on projects where I have never traveled at all.

If you look at it from a team perspective I would say Publishing/Marketing project managers are likely to travel more than development project managers. (in my industry)

The point is that it really depends on the context of the project or company.
While as my "debate mates" stated it will depend on multiple factors. But let me say that in my case the answer is yes. From long time ago I am in charge of programs/projects that involves people that belongs to lot of different countries. We use a model we call "cascade" so we met with PoCs (single point of contact) people at least for one week to agree on the way to moving forward with the solution. Just to comment we try to avoid it but it happened no matter I do not like it.
In my PM life travel was common. I gained multiple frequent flyer / hotel chain stati. I worked for external clients and engaging with them face2face was key to stakeholder engagement. Also travel was required to different team locations.

I normally lived in hotels, did not relocate, and tried to have 4 day weeks. Though my longest engagements were 12 years and 5 years for one client location each.
I've never worked on projects where travel was mandatory. I have, however, made a weekly 4-hour drive to meet with other project stakholders face-to-face. It's really hard to develop relationships remotely. Don't be surprised if you misinterpret people with whom you are not co-located.

The reason for travel is really about communications and people. Given the importance of people on your project, never underestimate the power of tête-à-tête encounters.
I've gone from a position 10 years ago that involved 50%/100 days+ per year of travel, to one where I rarely, if ever, need to travel more than a couple of hundred kms in on day. I'm an owner's project manager in the construction industry (primarily institutional buildings for government). I think the travel requirement has changed considerably for a lot of PMs because of the developments made during COVID for remote meeting platforms.

When I was traveling extensively - at first, it was fun, maybe for the first three years. Years three through 10 were exhausting, stressful (yes! very hard on family life and relationships). Years 10 through 15 were unbearable. I would not go back to a position with that much travel even if it were the only job available to me.

I would say, if you have a relationship you wish to maintain, or a young family, avoid extensive travel.
Prior to the pandemic, I would travel once a year to visit our outsourcing partner and sit down with their team and see how my projects were being executed, what challenges they faced, etc. document all of that and then take that knowledge back to our teams internally and work to improve improve tools, processes, efficiencies. I always had weekly calls with the teams, but being able to see someone face to face was immensely because sometimes things got lost or misunderstood on a phone call.
Gregory -

one more thought. While you can certainly learn a lot remotely and build relationships virtually, there is no substitute for "Going to the Gemba" because a lot can get lost (or missed) in translation.

While this is true for physical/tangible outcome projects, I've found it equally true for intangible ones such as software implementation or development work.


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