I have to confess, project management is one of those areas where we’ve struggled to find our sweet spot - particularly in the last year as we’ve seen our projects grow in size and scope. Managing a website project can take many forms, and with methodologies and terms such as Agile, waterfall, fragile, agile (note the little ‘a’) all being banded around, it can feel like there’s a pressure to adopt one of these if you’re to successfully deliver the goods. Adding clients to the mix introduces new personalities and experience (or perhaps inexperience), and you can soon find there are opposing forces in your team, each hankering for their own way.
Having spent the day surrounded by digital project managers at DPMUK15 this week, one of the stand out takeaways for me is that it really doesn’t matter what approach you take.
"Clients don’t care about process. Stop worrying about what to call it and let success be the noise"
There’s a growing community of digital project managers (or DPMs), largely kickstarted by Brett Harned, formerly VP of Project Management at Happy Cog, and runs the Digital PM Summit events in the US. It’s great to see it being talked about as I think how a project is managed is every bit as important as achieving the end result - even though I know we’ve sometimes failed at this in the past. As Stephen Thomas eloquently put it,
“There are no old roads to new destinations”- we’re all learning as we go.
Sam Barnes opened proceedings with a viewpoint on individual personalities. The core of his message was that people are all different and there’s no such thing as ‘normal’, concluding that we’re actually amateur psychologists. Up next, Rhodri Coleman, drew parallel’s with his experience as a cage fighter. For him, project management is all about choosing the right approach, being open to embrace change and having a duty of care.
Moving into 4 so-called lightning talks, subjects included an interesting approach to pricing per point from Stephen Thomas, avoiding pitfalls in managing digital projects from Suze Haworth, inheriting problem projects with Peta Kennet-Wilson and Rachel Ball talking about working with remote teams. Pricing per point is an interesting concept, and Rachel’s point that ‘Offices have become interruption factories’ was one that resonated with me.
"Offices have become interruption factories"
With an open Q&A panel session immediately after the lunch break, there was undoubtedly some interesting conversation. However I couldn’t help feeling much of this and the speakers before were coming from larger project teams. By that I mean they were supported by account managers, account directors, producers and various other roles. Not something we have the luxury of - but then again I personally like the thought of clients being able to speak directly with the people ‘creating’ their site. Maybe this is indicative of most of our work being low budget (well, when compared to 6 figure budgets at least - we’re not all working with some of the country’s biggest brands).
Meri Williams talked about Stealing Project Management Lessons from Artificial Intelligence and how motivation was the sum of purpose, autonomy and mastery. Some great points about what makes people and therefore project teams tick.
The final session with Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker really stole the show for me personally - and looking down the #DPMUK15 tag, others too. A great double act, it was apt they got to speak on the stage of the Comedy Store! Very well delivered with some fantastic words of advice, arguing that emotional intelligence is the most important trait of a digital project manager, which should be accompanied by taking risks, building consensus and making mistakes. After all, no one ever learns if there are no mistakes. They made far too many sound points to list them all here, but I can highly recommend their book, Interactive Project Management for anyone wanting to know more about how they manage projects at Clockwork.
Managing web projects (or any kind of project really) doesn’t require so much technical know how - although that undoubtedly helps. Moreover, an effective PM will usually be characterised with attributes such as bravery, honesty and empathy, while being a strategic thinker and a confident leader. Ultimately, the project manager is responsible for seeing the project through from start to finish, while maintaining that delicate balance between budget and requirements and expectations and performance. As Nancy told us,
"what we do powers businesses, and that brings tension and frustration"
A frequent source of this tension and frustration is our eagerness to say ‘yes’. Of course we do this because we know that’s what clients like to hear - after all they’re paying us. However, this can so easily cause issues further down the line, by which time it may be too late to try and dig yourself out of a hole. Honesty and transparency from the outset, and having the confidence to explain it as it is will invariably mitigate against some of those awkward conversations and keep everyone aligned.
Time to go forth and create then, be bold and make mistakes. That's ok though, just so long as you're honest and transparent about it, and learn as you go.
DPMUK will hopefully become a fixed entry in the calendar. In its second year, I can say it was every bit as good as last year, so big thanks to @RachieTp and @katiegallagher at @McrDig and @MattThornhillUk for putting on such a great event. Thanks also to all the speakers for sharing their knowledge and experience.