Project management is critical and it’s vital it’s done properly and digitally. Get the project management right and you will blissfully deliver on time, on budget, and keep the team together. Yes, it’s unrealistic to assume that all projects go smoothly just because of the project management, but if you get the right person, they will ensure the smoothest ride possible despite the typical project hiccups.
We’ve worked on many projects where the project manager (PM) lacked digital experience or simply failed to do their job properly and it caused carnage for everyone involved. We’ve got to the point, as jaded as it sounds, where good project managers really are like gold dust – it’s nigh on impossible to find one!
I think the best way to see the PM is as the project glue. They hold everything and everyone together, keep strong for the sake of the project, and without them, vital bits and pieces start to drop off.
Every PM has a different way of doing project management, and perhaps they’ve learned from experience or are armed with qualifications. But regardless of where they’ve learnt their skills, I think there are a number of essentials, that in order to be considered ‘good’, they can’t do without.
This is my number one essential – the ‘if you can’t do anything but this’. It doesn’t matter how good the PM is at everything else, if they aren’t accountable for the project, it won’t work.
What do I mean by accountable? They have to believe in consequences. They are responsible for what happens and must be able to explain and justify any action or decision. It sounds heavy, and it is. If the PM doesn’t do this, no one else will. The PM must understand that if X happens, this will impact Y and Z which in turn will affect timings or budget, the end deliverable or team morale…
Which leads nicely onto no.2…
It’s not the PM’s job to play Mr or Mrs Nice Guy (that’s where the Account Manager comes in!). Neither is it their job to play Bad Cop, however I’d argue it’s more likely they will stray into this role. The PM is the interface between the project team, the various hierarchical roles in the agency and the client. The tricky balance here is for the PM to ensure they are liked, at the same time as commanding respect. No one should mess with the PM – they should want to deliver their work for them, because they like them, and because they are perhaps just a little bit scared of pissing them off!
If the worst does happen, the PM should be able to have a discussion with a developer or designer as to why X hasn’t been delivered yet, and what they are going to do about it, to be able to explain to them the critical nature of their task and ensure they get it done.
The PM also has to stand up to the client, taking onboard what they are saying but making the client accountable for their actions and decisions. Most importantly here, the PM needs to be comfortable with saying ‘no’ and explaining this. This reminds me of all the times that a team member has said ‘yes’ to the client…and the complicated rabbit holes this took us down!
So whilst it’s great being assertive, if a PM is no good at communicating, people will get confused, or not listen. Knowing when and how to communicate is a good start – is this an email or a phone call situation? How best to frame what needs to be said? Who needs to know this versus who doesn’t? Communicating with the client in the way that they like, and filtering only the necessities through to the rest of the team, without creating dangerous chinese whispers.
In that order. No one or thing should jeopardise your team’s health or happiness. If the client starts playing the real bad guy, and it’s above the PM’s head, they should get the senior team involved. Too often have we heard of team misery due to the client throwing their toys out of the pram and disrespecting the team.
Next comes the project – the PM should always have in mind the project purpose, goals, timings, budget, and recognise the warning flags if something starts to jeopardise any of these, whether it’s a client request, contractor delay or internal resource issue. It’s the PM’s job to make sure the project doesn’t come off worse.
Finally, the client. They’re likely putting a lot of their heart and soul, as well as trust, money and resource into this. The PM should demonstrate they are on the client’s side too – being empathic with their needs and supporting them through the project.
Whilst a PM needs to be able to control the project, they need to know where they stop and where their knowledge is limited. In a good team, everyone should be able to communicate what they do, to someone who doesn’t understand as well as they do. It’s up to the PM to facilitate this. The PM has to effectively balance the big picture knowledge with the detail – it’s their job to do all this magical linking up that probably no one else understands!
All of this is based on my experience of working with other PMs, and doing years of project management myself. My role is interesting and complicated, because not only do I do a lot of project management, but I am also a UX consultant, business owner and account manager, with a background in design and development – the benefits of running a small business. On the one hand it makes it complicated to extract a simplistic PM role out of what I do, because I can’t unlink all of the different aspects of what I do. But on the other hand, it demonstrates what project management could be – bringing a whole lot of value to the project management I do, because it encompasses all these other vital skill sets.