Having worked within project management and client services in the digital industry for over 8 years I've learnt a few tough lessons and thought I'd share some useful tips on it with you. These are specific to my experiences as a project manager and a people manager. Although the tips are routed in digital experience many of them are general and will apply to other industries.
1. Be prepared
As the project manager you are the captain responsible for steering the ship successfully to its destination. Your clients, managers and team all look to you as the font of knowledge for the project. If you're under prepared for meetings, briefing or that random client call you'll undermine your position. Do this enough times and you will lose creditability. Be on the ball - make time to know the status of your project daily and pre-empt those tricky questions and random calls. Remember your organisation is the key to cost management and project success – late briefings cost money in wasted resource. Late attendance at client meetings cost relationships.
2. Be nice
A key part of your job is being able to communicate and coordinate different people internally and externally - all with different personalities. The true skill is being able to identify the different personality types and appeal to the traits that will get you to the desired outcome. This might mean varying your communication styles for particular people but will ultimately lead to getting the job done on time and budget with a happy client. Not to worry if you're not great at spotting personality traits, just be nice and 9 times out 10 you'll get people to do what you ask.
3. Take responsibility
As the project manager you are ultimately responsible for all elements of project delivery. If you have an assistant PM supporting your role, it's fine to delegate but ultimate responsibility remains with you. Equally, if your designer goes way off brief, your techy writes poor code or your client is unclear on what you're delivering it's all your responsibility, sorry but that’s what you've signed up for! As the PM make your position crystal clear and follow up with documentation/emails but never point the finger for mishaps that are in your sphere of influence.
4. Know what success looks like
In order to manage projects sucessfully you must know what the final output should be. Ok sometimes things change along the way, this is particularly the case in digital where innovation and technology change so regularly/rapidly but you must have a vision from the start. If you're not clear on what the clients asked for then clarify with them, if you're not sure on any elements of what you're delivering, always ask people to clarify. If you don't know exactly what you're delivering how do you know you've got the right team and timescales? This is the key difference between a project manager and project coordinator. You are not simply organising a collection of people to deliver a project. You are adding value to the project by steering the delivery team to an agreed and shared vision of the output - your regular input is needed to achieve this vision!
5. Make decisions
A project manager must be empowered to make decisions. The decision-making structure for a project should be documented and agreed at the start of the project. I've worked with PMs that have been given no decision-making powers or autonomy and they quickly become ineffective and undermined. Project managers must be able to make day-to-day decisions without having to refer every little decision to a higher power. This decision-making right may need to be earned so PMs must work to gain the trust of the wider project group. I believe that quick decision making is a key part of successfully project delivery.
6. Good briefings
All briefings on the project are essential to the success of the project. The client brief to you should provide all the information you need to write a response - if not don't be afraid to probe, remember you're working together with your clients! The individual team briefings are so important to output. Think about who you are briefing and empathise with their position – if briefing creatives keep it visual, engaging and inspiring. Vary the briefing environment - head out of the office to a pertinent location, buy props and make sure you have the product on hand. The briefings are the PMs chance to enthuse the team and get everyone excited about the project they are working on so don’t waste this opportunity to kick things off well.
7. Maintain a schedule
Having a timings plan seems like the most obvious thing in project management but a lot of people don't do them or create one at the start of the project and then forget about it in heat of battle. Without a detailed timing plan with all project elements included, it will be impossible to commit to accurate deadlines or project costs. Create a schedule consulting key stakeholders and review/update it at the least once a week... This document is the PMs’ key to a sounds nights sleep!
8. Track costs
Different agencies and PMs have different ways of doing this. I've worked with sophisticated cost-tracking documents and simple "fag packet" type calculations. All project costs have one thing in common though - timesheets. I know these are the bain of all agency staffs' lives but quite simply without them there is now way to track the costs of a project. While you can use agency scheduling documents to calculate rough resource costs, this in not accurate. Get all your team doing timesheets and track costs weekly! Running over budget should never be a surprise and should always be something that this discussed and agreed before it happens.
9. Work-in-progress meetings
WIP meetings should be held regularly to keep the project team updated with project developments. It's imperative that all team members attend even if the project has not yet entered their domain - they may have valuable input that will stop problems arising later on the project. WIP meetings can be very informal around a designers' screen or over coffee. They can be just 15 minutes if necessary but they are so important to ensure that everyone is on board with the direction the project is taking.
10. Stay calm
A long time ago I was given an apt analogy for project managers. PMs should appear like a swan - effortlessly floating along regardless of how hard they are paddling beneath the water. In my experience this is so true, if you're flapping or panicked this will rub off on your team and give you some very nervous clients. Stay calm in all situations and think through the problem, escalate the issue if it's something you don't know how to handle!