Charles Day is a Freelance Project Manager. In a previous post Charles shared with us how to become a Digital Project Manager. In his follow up post he now tells us just what it is like to be a Digital Project Manager. If you would like to share your career story in a similar way, let us know in the comments below or tweet us@wearesource.
So Charles, What is a Digital Project Manager?
Imagine this scenario: you’re at a party, have just been introduced to a group of new people and someone drops the classic first question -
So what do you do..?
- I work in advertising.
Really? It must be interesting doing TV ads. I love those car ones with whatshisname, you know the guy from that film.
- I don’t do TV ads although I have made a lot of video. I do online stuff mostly.
-Websites, Facebook, email and banners, also games, experiential, viral, events, outdoor, mobile and maybe even a bit of print or DM.
You design them?
I see – you’re a computer programmer then?
- No, I tried that but found that there actually was a limit to the amount of caffeine I could consume in 24 hrs. They’re called developers now.
Do you write the websites?
- No, that’s the job of a copywriter
What DO you do then?
- I’m a digital project manager.
I see. Another drink?
- Yes please, a large one…
Digital Project Manager Is A Meaningless Title
The job title of Digital Project Manager is largely meaningless unless you are a recruitment consultant or another digital project manager. Most people think of TV when they hear the word “digital”, either that or watches if they are above a certain age. In any case, the projects aren’t necessarily all digital and the project managers certainly aren’t although I would love some sort of implant that stopped me needing to type.
The Building Metaphor
Put very simply, the PM is like a building site foreman. It’s her job to make sure that it all happens the way it’s supposed to, so that the thing being created is ready on time and doesn’t cost too much more than it should.
However, the build phase is only part of the story. Before the first brick is laid down there will have been a lot of work done on the costing, designing and preparation for the building work. Also there is a lot more work to do after the building has been put up.
The building metaphor will come up a lot. There are lots of reasons for this. It’s an easy parallel to make when explaining the process to someone new to it e.g. your client or account manager. It’s a handy source of truisms to keep people on track. When your client is obsessing about a design issue while ignoring the more pressing functional questions you will be able to say “You have to build a house before you can paint it. Let’s get the wireframes approved before we start on the designs.”. Perhaps most importantly, it illustrates that the skills that make a good Digital Project Manager are the skills and attributes that make a good Project Manager in any context whether you are building a website, a house, a bridge, a ship or anything else. A good Project Manager is really an agnostic when it comes to what is being built, the skills are entirely transferable.
Adam Graham, one of my former bosses, who is now CEO at Weapon 7, said to me “Being a PM is an easy job. You aren’t actually doing the work and you have all the tools that you need to get the job done.”
At the time I didn’t fully understand or agree with what he said as I was having a very difficult time with my job on that particular day. But after I’d thought about it some more I realised that he was absolutely right. A PM is responsible for the overall project but not the individual tasks within the project.
What does a PM do?
A PM doesn’t concept, design, write or build a campaign or a website, nor does she decide how long a task will take, who should do it or how much it will cost to do. All of those actions are the responsibility of the other members of the team.
The PM spends a lot of time collating this information, sense-checking it and compiling it into a plan of action for approval. The PM then books the resources and gets on with making sure that it all gets done according to plan and that the right people give their approvals at the appropriate times until the job is done. Almost every task is handed off to someone else and almost every obstacle can be escalated.
To conclude, the job title may be confusing but the job itself is actually pretty straight forward. As for skills and attributes that make for good project managers: It helps to be organised. You should stay calm at all times. Speak to everyone on your project every day. Lastly, do everything you can to cultivate patience, always be patient.
Not enough resources available? Speak to the resource manager about outsourcing the work. Client won’t pay that much for the project? De-scope or get the Board Account Director to sign off a discount. Client won’t sign off the designs? Escalate to the Creative Director. These are problems for the PM to manage but they aren’t for the PM to solve in person.”
This was Charles Day’s take on the role of a project manager. If you would like to share your experience in the same way we would love to feature it on our blog. Please contact Annika@wearesource.co.uk or tweet us @wearesource.
If you would like a job as a Project Manager search our latest vacancies or would like to find out how to further your career please contact Emma Hunt; Consultant, Digital Project Management; firstname.lastname@example.org.