One of the most important attributes of an effective project manager is to constantly check your altimeter. To make sense of this statement, let’s first define an altimeter. Wikipedia defines an altimeter as:

An altimeter or an altitude meter is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level. The measurement of altitude is called altimetry, which is related to the term bathymetry, the measurement of depth under water.


Using an altimeter and, even more importantly, knowing how to read one, is one of the cornerstones of being able to successfully fly a plane without crashing and burning. It helps a pilot understand where they are in relationship to the ground and is especially important when visibility is poor.

How does this tie back to successful project and program management? Well a program manager is often times the link between the business and production teams, frequently interacting with and coordinating developers, designers, QA, product teams, business and marketing teams, and reporting up to senior management. In this role, it is particularly challenging to keep in the right mindset depending on who you are meeting with and for what purpose.

When you are working with the management team you have to keep the big picture in mind. Make sure that you are distilling information that is relevant for management to act on without getting too far into the details. Senior management doesn’t really need to know all of the ins and outs as to why a small delay or change has a ripple effect with a substantial delay in the delivery timeline. They just want to know the change in the timeline, the general cause, what is being done to mitigate the issue, have you explored all of the options, what support you may need from management and is the path forward the correct one.

Conversely, when you are working with QA, you need to resolve issues like missing requirements, acceptance criteria, which build you can test on which environment and how blockers impact the overall test plan.

Additionally, every segment of the business, from senior management to QA flies at a different altitude so if you want to be a successful and impactful project manager, make sure you are constantly checking what level you need to be on and try to focus the teams and meetings to be most efficient working at that level. Knowing what altitude to fly when you interact with different teams will help you stay on course and avoid crashing and burning.