I fell into Project Management a few years ago when the Projects team at the company I worked for was shorthanded and I naively offered to help out.
Once you’re in, you’re in. Project Management is like a cult. And ever since then I’ve been one of them. I can’t get out. Only other Project Managers can understand.
Since then I have been a part of projects and campaigns as varied and far reaching as they come; from a 9-month full website build translated into numerous different languages for a global brand to tenders for local councils. Excitement and challenge (and panic, stress and sleepless nights) for a Project Manager is never knowing what will land on your desk next. And every project is vastly different; even if it’s something you’ve done dozens of times before.
Forward thinking, planning and agility are the Project Manager’s main weapons. But, more than that, here are the main things I have learnt about project management in the years that I have waded my way through it, learning as I go.
Manage the creative process
Creative Directors, Art Directors, Designers etc. are all told to “think outside the box”, “think big”, “wow them”. It’s a part of their job. They wouldn’t be in the positions that they are if they didn’t want to push the envelope and innovate instead of repeating the same old tried and tested things over and over. It’s your job as a Project Manager to only let them go as far out of that box as is sensible and within the realms of reality and possibility. To think, what are the obstacles? What are the risks? Can we do this on time and on budget? And most importantly, is it on brief and will the client be able to sign it off?
Working with the Creative team to get the best possible results for the client under strict parameters and deadlines is one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of the job. Even if it does sometimes mean intense debates at the validity and ability to deliver a giant robot arm on a tight budget!
Manage the client
Some projects require a lot of input from clients, some don’t. For those that do you need to agree upfront and make very clear the amount of input needed, at what stages and what the milestones and deadlines are. And you need to ensure that they are happy with them and can, as much as possible, stick to them.
To help you with this you will need to keep your fingers crossed and pray to the Gods of project management every night before bed.
Working with your internal team is one thing; you know them, have an on going relationship and see them every day. Managing a client is a whole different ball game! It can be like herding cats.
Keep a track
Detail, detail, detail. Write everything down. Have notepads, a secondary or tertiary notepad, Post Its, archive your emails, put everything in folders (both digital and physical), use a project management tool. You need to be the all knowing oracle on a project and you need to know where things are up to and what’s going on at all times. You need to be able to keep a track of budget, timescales, milestones and deadlines and make sure that everything is going to plan. Because if it isn’t, you need to deal with that as well! Problems, issues and risk are easier to manage if you’re on top of everything and can see potential issues coming.
Finding the exact notebook or Post It note that you scribbled that important bit of information on is the next challenge…
Being a Project Manager can sometimes feel like being the (harried) middleman between the client/Account Managers and the Creative team. It’s important that everyone on a project is happy and comfortable and has all the relevant information. If they don’t, that’s when things go wrong. You need to ensure that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing at all times and that all expectations are managed.
The majority of project management is actually people management. Get the best out of the people and you’ll get the best out of the project. A lot of this comes down to learning how everyone likes their tea. A good brew can sort everything.
Fail to plan, plan to fail, or so goes the old and very well worn phrase. It is sometimes difficult and maybe you don’t have all the information upfront but the more that you can plan, schedule, budget and second-guess, the easier things will be down the line. Having a detailed plan that everyone is bought into and aware of makes all the other points on this list much easier too. A decent project plan is your map, your bible, your holy grail. Don’t start a project without it. And don’t accidentally delete it. Been there. Not funny.
So, there you have it. A short list of my key learnings over my years in Project Management. I don’t often get a chance to compare war stories with other Project Managers so feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree or think there are things I have missed. Always learning, always evolving. After all, I’m in now, and they won’t let me out.