A Day in the life of a GIS Project Manager

A Day in the life of a GIS Project Manager

Grit May, GIS Project Manager

As a GIS person, I spend nearly all day in an office behind several computers with large dual monitors. GIS or geographic information systems allows for the analysis of geospatial data. These data can come from multiple different sources such as satellite images, GPS surveys, or databases and tables with a spatial component. Thus, importing, updating, and querying data are some of the most frequent tasks. Grit's main monitor set up

The geospatial data sets can be huge so data processing sometimes requires days to finish. Hence, when I come to the office in the morning, one of my first things to check is if the geoprocessing task is still running. If it crashes, my least favorite task starts: troubleshooting. I try to make sense of the error message which often equates to solving a riddle. The error message might look like enciphered text. Once I have an idea of what went wrong I change the inputs, clean up all the unfinished output fragments and restart the task while crossing my fingers in hopes it will finish this time. Sometimes that process evolves into numerous iterations of the trial and error method. It requires patience and an optimistic attitude.

Another frequent task is streamlining and automating processes. This is a fun assignment that entails building and testing models. Often these models crash during the development phase because of a simple syntax error or a data structure transgression. But sometimes the software developer updates the software version which is then longer compatible with older scripts. This type of debugging involves tedious googling and fatiguing reading through online help forums or reporting bugs to the software company. The upside to this chore is that I often learn new tricks and methodologies that smart people posted on the web.

Example of cartographic work done by GritThe project management part of the job translates to overseeing the successful completion of our projects. This starts with planning, designing, and budgeting the required steps to achieve the project goal and then monitoring quality, timelines, and costs during execution. Frequent communication with the project staff is just as important as a foresight to detect potential problems or risks.

Cartography, which is the art of map creation, is a task I enjoy very much since it speaks to my aesthetic side. I start with the layout decision followed by choosing a data visualization technique that works well to communicate the information. Visual variables may include shape, size, color hue, position, orientation, and texture. Nowadays traditional paper maps are more and more supplanted by digital maps, map applications or story maps that unveil dynamic features, pop-ups, videos, and 3D scenes next to beautiful images. Here the sky’s the limit. It requires regular time commitment for me to stay up-to-date on all the new developments.Screenshot illustrating what GIS can look like during an analysis

Most of my time,  however, I spend with spatial analysis to extract, locate and analyze geographic data. This often includes measuring distributions, quantifying patterns, performing statistical assessments, or making predictions. Here the quality of the input data as well as the assumptions in modeling real-world processes impact the outcomes. One requisite is solid database management to maintain best data quality, resolution and currentness. Finding answers to spatial questions is a rewarding task that requires an analytical mindset mixed with a dose of creativity.

If I am not yet tired from looking at my screens I might enjoy a quick look at some GIS dashboards with location-based analytics of the latest headlines before I finish my day.