A day in the life of a Digital Project Manager close

Rachel Wilde
Rachel Wilde
In Codegent College
24th January 2013
A day in the life of a Digital Project Manager

At the moment we are working on the redesign of kinapse.co.uk. A challenge they have faced in the past is the lack of understanding potential recruits have of what the different roles in the organisation actually involve. To help with this issue we have introduced ‘A day in the life’ section on their site.

This got me thinking about how well my role as a Project Manager is understood by those who have not worked at digital agencies before. Hopefully my clients understand my overall responsibilities (or I’m not doing a very good job!), but when you look at the day to day tasks of a Designer or Developer they seem much more tangible, whereas a PM can seem less defined. Are we just here to get in the way? To answer this question I'm going to attempt to describe what I (and the other PM’s on the team) actually do every day and what difference we make to the output of the agency.

AM v’s PM

The first thing to point out is that at Codegent we don’t have Account Managers as such. At some larger agencies you are likely to have a client facing Account Manager (known as “A Suit”) whose role is to build a relationship with you, develop your digital strategy and take briefs. They would then pass on the requirements to a Project Manager (who you may or may not ever meet), whose role is to deliver the project. At Codegent we combine these roles into one so that, supported by Mark and David at a strategic level, your Project Manager is the one that understands your business needs AND delivers the projects that aims to meet these needs. So when I talk about Project Management I really mean Account and Project Management as a hybrid role.

A Typical Day

The next thing to realise about digital Project Management is that there isn’t really such a thing as a ‘typical day’, every day is very different. That’s one reason why I enjoy the role so much…and also the reason why I should probably have given this article a different title!

One thing that is consistent however is that every day starts with checking emails…just as it does for most of you no doubt. Although it’s not always possible to respond to every one straight away the key is to pick out any that need urgent attention. If you are waiting on something that another member of the team needs to get on with their work, if the client has an urgent request etc.

Then it’s about checking what all of the designers and developers are scheduled on that day and ensuring that they have everything they need. If they haven’t had a brief or have an unanswered question then they can’t get on with their work and wasted resources is something no agency can afford. If questions do arise or they are unsure which option to choose then the PM will do everything they can to get them back on track, but if we can’t or are unsure then we need to contact the relevant party/person to get them what they need.

After that a range of things can happen depending on what’s going on, these may include…

  • Meeting with clients to discuss upcoming or current projects, presenting ideas or creative, CMS training etc
  • Writing documents such as briefs, project timing plans, scopes of work, functional specifications, CMS guides etc - sharing them with everyone who needs to sign them off, collating feedback and updating where required
  • Receiving briefs from clients. These may come through via phone, email or a meeting but it is essential that we dedicate time to understanding exactly what the requirements are and ensuring we can translate this into a clear brief for the team
  • Going through new briefs with the relevant team members to see how long the work will take and putting together costs based on this
  • Reviewing designs before they are presented to the client - it’s the PM’s responsibility to give them the first critique, judge how well they meet the brief, request changes to try and make them work harder or give opinions on ways they can be improved
  • Discussing feedback with the client and then passing this onto the team ensuring that all points are addressed satisfactorily before representing to the client
  • Taking clients through proposals, next steps in the their project, assets that are required from them
  • Chasing clients for sign off on projects, documents, feedback on designs, assets and content etc
  • Writing placeholder text to be used in designs or sometimes writing final copy when it has not been supplied and is holding a project up
  • Liaising with third parties such as other agencies, content providers, media suppliers and hosting companies
  • Checking development work that I have been told is completed, testing and reporting back any bugs or errors to the team
  • Resourcing - every Friday afternoon the Codegent PMs gather to resource for the next week. We then go through all the resources and projects and assign each team member a task every day the following week using Schedule App
  • New business meetings - although these are often lead by Mark and David it’s good for clients to meet the person that will be their day to day contact
  • Researching what’s going on in the industry and with our clients competitors and brainstorming new ideas for clients
  • Forecasting, budget control and invoicing across all projects
  • General admin such as sorting through emails, answering the phone, writing to-do-lists, organising meetings, setting up conference calls….
  • On top of this there are other tasks that there never seems to be time for. Like writing Third Thursday articles!

5 ways to get the most from your PM

As you can see from the tasks listed above a PM has a lot going on in their day, being pulled in lots of directions and being there for everyone who needs us.

We are here to work collaboratively with our clients and deliver the results they want. To help us do this there are some things clients can do to work efficiently with their PM and, as a result, with the agency as a whole.

1) Share with us
Share your brand strategy online and offline, any research you have, what your competitors are doing, what you’ve seen out there that you like and dislike, what your other agencies are working on… The more we know the more we can help. Understanding your business is one of key aims, but if we are always focussing on delivering in the short term it often prevents us stepping back, taking time out and thinking what are we doing and why? It may not seem like the most important thing at the time as you want us to focus on reacting to your requests but it will allow us to be more proactive and creative. As an agency we take time out to ensure we are keeping you up to date with the digital industry, share what we are doing for other clients and trying to educate you on how to get the most out of our relationship with our Third Thursday blog. We want to learn from you in a similar way.

2) Direct us
Sometimes clients come to us for advice and help with ideas because they don’t know how to achieve the results they want. That’s great and is what we’re here for. However when you have a clear idea of what you want (or don’t want), defined objectives, restrictions on what you can do or a limited budget make sure you communicate these in your briefs. Without this information we can unintentionally go off in a direction you know you are never going to take or spend a lot of time developing and scoping ideas that are way over budget. A guessing game going back and forth is not an efficient use of anyone’s time - if we have all the information up front we can save time defining the brief and invest more in delivering results. This may initially push a little more work your way but will result in a better outcome all round in the end.

3) Be honest with us
Your PM acts on your behalf within the agency. Above I mentioned that one of our tasks is to review creative before it is presented to you. We approach this by thinking about how well the proposed creative meets the brief but also try and second guess how you will respond, the questions you will raise or concerns you would want answered. As long as I can defend and rationalise the creative and am confident that the client will approve it then I will present it. If I have concerns in any of these areas I’ll push back on the designer to make it work. The more I understand the brand and the individual clients who will be assessing our designs the more effectively I can apply your thinking to our designs before presenting them. Again it comes back to reducing the amount of back and forth and time wasted trying designs that for one reason or another would never be approved.

4) Collate and Prioritise with us
As we manage multiple clients and projects a PM is consistently compiling lists and prioritising. Pulling together what needs to be done, prioritising what they will work on next and prioritising the order they will brief other members of the team. This becomes a particular challenge when we have multiple requests coming from one client all with “Urgent” deadlines. The more you can collate the requirements coming from you and your team and help us prioritise them, the less time we have to spend doing it and the more we can spend on the important stuff. Five emails from different members of your team, some with overlapping content, means five times as much work. One central point of contact pulling everything together on your side, knowing how it all impacts each other and communicating concisely to us can make the world of difference.

5) Warn us
As I mentioned earlier we resource on Fridays for the next week and every agency I have ever experienced works in a similar way. It is very rare that following this meeting there are any gaps in the schedule for the following week so that means requests that come in on Tuesdays often can’t be scheduled until the following. Obviously we do everything we can to get things done as quickly as possible but to have to spend time every day amending the schedule and shifting resources around upsets productivity. The more notice we get the earlier we can schedule your project in, even if we don’t know exactly what it is we will be doing we can often work out the resources that will be needed and can block them out as required.

With the main audience of our blog posts being clients, the purpose of this article hasn’t been to pat myself on the back, fish for compliments and wish for an easier life. My aim was to improve your understanding of what your PM does and hopefully, with this increased understanding, help you to learn how to work most efficiently with us and to get the best value possible. Because ultimately that’s what being a PM is really all about.

Still with me?

Then enjoy this take on PM life