Here’s a little joke from back in the Soviet era, back in the USSR:Why do Secret Agents always travel in threes?The first can read. The second can write. And the third keeps an eye on the… intellectuals… Many see PMs as that third agent: the person without the hard skills who babysits the talent to keep everything on-time and on-budget. I’m here to tell you that those aren’t good PMs. A good PM gets beyond read-only or write-only, and has those two other agents collaborating on the ReadWriteWeb.
What is a PM?Professional NagPaid to be DistractedThe Great InterceptressRemover of ObstaclesCat HerderAsker of the immortal question, “How long?” “Rough ETA?” “When?” “How much?”MOTIVATOR PM’s are a relatively recent phenomenon, like directors in theatre… Before the late 19th-early 20th Century, shows were borne by writers or actor-managers.Like direction, PMing is a soft skill: anyone can do it, but when it’s done right you realize how few can do it well. You can train for it, but some just have that knack for being that rare combo leader & team player.Every ship has a captain, and some of you may be here because you find yourself steering projects: whether you want to or not. Maybe you’re a freelancer, and find yourself running the show (or wish you could), maybe you’re a small business owner caught between clients and employees, or maybe you’re actually a PM. After all, it’s a craft like writing: you can always get better at it, learn new tricks, and keep people guessing…Read Dan Pink’s book Drive! (I hear there’s a movie out based on it ;) )
How did I hustle my way into Twist Image, one of Canada’s top 10 marketing agencies? Because theatre gave me what I need to manage projects well…Theatre:It’s all Development & Production in the end…If I can wrangle a run on a $3k budget, imagine what I can do with 30, 300…Motivating people with a tiny paycheck (or none at all) is harder!And you don’t get a harder deadline than opening night!A good PM is:Flexible, but firm: understands both the importance & arbitrariness of deadlines.A catalyst: Speed things up, produce a better product, but don’t interfere with it… Socratic: I know one thing, that I know nothing…
Scope – Unless you define what you’re doing, it’s hard to say ‘no’ later on. Are you providing content or someone else? Objectives – Make them measurable, realistic, but not too easily attained. E.g. JFL – 10 % increase in ticket sales. Our redesign resulted in 300% increase. VH 10% increase in leads, stayed the same. This allows you to explore “why?” and helps you understand your work better.Budget – Not just what it actually is, but is it fixed or is there a contingency? What happens if more is asked of you?Timeline – What’s firm, what’s movable? Hard or soft launch? X & Y Access: Ideally one is fixed, the other can shift. You think working with a flexible budget and a flexible timeline would be ideal, but it’s not! Mitch’s example of the painting: you don’t take 20 years to get it perfect, you make your showing.
StakeholdersMap out the important people and their roles. If it’s a corporation, ask for an org chart: even if it’s out of date it’ll help understand their hierarchy. Who has final say? How does approval work? Who will be managing site content & making key decisions. Day-to-day: Clients sometimes want to do work, but don’t have bandwidth for it. Make sure they can meet your needs, otherwise the project will get caught in bottlenecks.BusinessModel: Every one is unique! I’ve worked with nuclear-grade industrial valve manufacturers to arts & entertainment like JFL (two streams: for-profit & nfp) and Van Houtte – B2C (retail, e-com, bistro), B2B (resellers, offices, franchisees). Know the business, period. It’s one of the great parts of being in the service industry: we get to moonlight with different models.Overall Objectives: Not just for this project. What do they wanna be when they grow up? Where are they going?Communication Plan: Regular status calls with all parties, day-to-day communication preferences, who runs what, major meetings (presentations, etc.)THIS PROCESS CAN BE AS FORMAL OR INFORMAL AS NEEDED TO GET THE JOB DONE. The more work you anticipate, the more investment you should make in understanding its context. E.g. I can just tell with Trevi we’ll need to communicate a lot by phone… That means more recap work!
Answers I’ve gotten:I don’t know, whatever is on the computer.I use Firefox at home, but at work we have to use IE. At least it’s v7 and not IE6Chrome, FF, safari, Opera, IE: bring it!HAVE YOU USED WORDPRESS BEFORE?
Templates:They ensure the format you want, so you don’t get an Excel when you wanted a Word doc and vice versa.Makes sure you get all the info you need. May be a given for us, but how do they know you need a reply-to address unless they can see the field?Especially for site feedback, enforce compliance with a googledocs spreadsheet with validated fields, otherwise you end up juggling emails all day!
Expectations:JFL Wordpress themes… Rounded corners in IEWhen I and over the staging site, you will need to do this… E.g. edit content, These are the steps to go-live and it will take 2-3 days to get through them & propagate your site. Does go live on X mean start the process or must be propagated by then?Never done, just built: bugs, new features, new browsers, new tech (tablets, mobile)
How to handle non-readers:Schedule informal one-on-one calls with them, and email them the attachments or deliverables right before the call. Then say, “so let’s walkthrough this…” DO NOT do this with large groups of people.Diplomacy: Sometimes the medium is the message. Escalate where necessary, bring in the parties to hash it out where you can. Prepare for meetings/calls: even if you just jot things down. TREVI: Try to recap verbally, and then in written form. I hate formal contact reports, but always send an email recap after calls and facetime.
Does a megaphone make you a better director? It certainly makes you a louder one :)MACGUYVER METHOD: A stack of colour-coded post-its, Dirty spreadsheets, a whole whack of email and some duct tape.Never underestimate the value of a good handwritten list: or the joy of manually crossing things off it.
Everybody and their aunt is pushing time tracking, task and project management solutions like your life will suddenly run itself with the magic of SaaSYou’ll have your own style, and should work with it. Change can be good, but the latest trendy app may not suit your workflow.Test tools out before running with them! Loop your coworkers, freelancers and clients into the tests: that way you secretly get to see if compliance will be an issue. Compliance being the number 1 failure of new tools! Also, then they’re complicit in a roll-out, offering feedback, trying things out, rather than on the receiving end of process.INTERFACE BIAS: Play to your strengths, and don’t adopt a tool that is painful for you to use. Mac/PC: you’re going to have preferences here, too.
Word/Excel:Don’t put in a Word Doc or PDF what could go in an email.Don’t use spreadsheets for evil.Document within reason, you know: somewhere between “Getting Real” and tangible.Emails:Write for scanners. (bullets, lists, concise, formatted)Bold assignees and deadlines: Always assign someone to an action item: even if it’s John to follow up with legal, who’ll need to follow up with corporate, which in turn will run that by the big pixie in the sky.Practice safe Ccing! Recap verbal communication.
Wish I could descope in real life! “Hey honey, I’d love to do the dishes but it’s just not in the scope of this meal…” Increase budget or cut other things from the scope to accommodate it. Of course, we all throw stuff in for clients, but identifying it as beyond scope helps them understand you’re going above and beyond. Don’t expect them to magically know!Same thing on projects as in real life, if your budget gets tight, cut back if you can. People don’t like cutting scope, so in fixed budget projects introduce a phased release concept and share a scoping doc to understand the impact. JFL: discovery, priorities, massive scoping challenge with fixed budget!NAGGING:Studies show the most effective PMs nag, without appearing to nag.Census folk in the face of my non-compliance: three mailings, TWO phone messages and a gainfully summer-employed McGill Physics student finally nabbed me in person this afternoon. Partner agency pharma example.
Andrew’s Santa/PM story: It’s a sad day when it hits you that Santa was always just your dad in a costume. That’s exactly how I felt when I realized my PM is a salesperson in a special suit. The magic is gone.Your Own Bias: some are inherently more client-centered, or care more about their bosses or identify with certain departments or people. I tend to side with my internal team, have a weakness for the tech department (especially QA), and tend to prefer very specific creatives/strategists. I know this about myself, so I do what I can to filter where necessary: but naturally your biases are often part of what make you a valuable team member.Organizational Bias: Who/What gets routinely overlooked? Are processes taken for granted? Are there o[pportunities to be more efficient? To inspire?
Project-management-induced ADD (Attention to Detail Disorder).Reprioritizing sucks: taking over the world = downtime taskCockblock should be officially added to the PMI lexicon.How long does it take to find your keys?
The Work B4 the Work• Every project needs: • Scope – SoW • Objectives - KPIs • Budget – Moneyz! • Timeline – Milestones, Targets• If it’s the first project with a client or team, you’ll need to do a little discovery…
Discovery: Who, Where, Why…?• Stakeholders • Day-to-day contact • Project Roles • Approvals & sign-off• Business Model • Get to know your or your client’s model. Intimately.• Overall Objectives • Business • Tech • Marketing & Strategy• Communication Plan • How do you like your eggs? Skyped, Emailed or Phoned- in?
Important QuestionsAsk a new client or partner before you start:WHAT BROWSER DO YOU USE DAILY?HAVE YOU USED WORDPRESS.COM/.ORG BEFORE?• Gauge tech sophistication• Understand IT constraints• Be extra-ready for QA
Production - TransmissionCommunicate what you need and when• Assets (logo, images, PDFs)• Content (copy, video, photos)• How to handle revisions.• ApprovalsSend/share formatted, reusable templates • Copydecks • Auto-email copy • User data migration • Staging site feedback 12
Production - TransmissionSet expectations as you go along… • Wordpress.com versus .org • Browser limitations – Rounded corners in IE • Unknowns… • Staging site handover – QA, feedback, content… • Go-live planning – URL mapping, who switches DNS • A web project is never done, it’s just built.There will be • Bugs • Changes • More projects!
Production - TransmissionA few tips from the trenches• People don’t read. Clients are especially immune.• Content is almost always a problem.• Practice good diplomacy: who should it come from?• Don’t jump in a meeting or on a call unprepared.• Never be afraid to “be a bother”: assert yourself!• Don’t commit or make important decisions on the fly. “I’ll look into it”
Production: Tools & TrendsDirty secrets…• You often don’t really need them.• The biggest weapon in your arsenal is not a Gantt chart, but good communication & a sense of humour.• Great projects come of the MacGuyver method.• Equally, some come from MS Project• The trick is, don’t ever think a tool is going to stand in for keeping everyone in the loop.
Find a process thatworks for:• You• This project• This team
Production: Tools & TrendsSoftware ideas• Trello: Free & agile.• Freshbooks: Holla sponsor!• Basecamp: Mid-level, Well-known• AtTask: Heavy-duty• MS Project: Masochists, rejoice!…and many more time tracking/tasking/PM SaaSs
Production: Tools & TrendsStand-bys• Word/Googledocs• Excel/Googledocs• Messenger/Skype/Gchat: Group IMs FTW!• Email: Write them gooder!… and so much more…
Production - TroubleshootingRemember that X/Y axis: • Request is Out of Scope – Need more budget! • Budget problems – Let’s descope!Lack of Response/Delivery • Nagging: do it well and it’s not actually nagging! • Make people understand “Why” you need the info. • What’s the impact if you don’t get it? • Get a commitment and then follow up on it.Timeline Issues • Communicate early if a deadline will be missed. What can keep us on track? • When your team stays late, be available.
Post-launch• Start planning the next phase or project while wrapping up.• Let everyone know the site is LIVE!• Always celebrate a launch! But never on the day off, try a week later • Regroup a month later for a post-mortem.• Regroup 3 months later to discuss KPIs/results.• If you’re ever up for awards, or if the project lives on: let the team know!
Practice Two-Way PMing• Don’t be Santa.• Understand your bias - always question yourself.• Be an advocate: for your team, your clients, your bosses, third parties and The Internetz.• Remember: it’s always more important to keep things moving than to be right.• You can never be “liked” by everyone, but when managing projects, learn how to work with them all.• Celebrate & congratulate milestones…
Show Your Appreciation• Take client/team for drinks• Throw a launch party• Tokens/swag• LinkedIn Recommendations• Surprise emails of gratitude• Bonuses: if you’re able to give them• Networking• Take & share pictures• Handwritten thank you cards
Get Started: Kick-OffGet Going: ProductionGet Moving: Post-Mortem