Attempting to explain what I do as a digital project manager (DPM) is tough. Many, including coworkers, don’t fully understand what we do, and I don’t blame them. This is why when people ask me what I do for a living, I usually give a blanket statement of “marketing” or “business.”
Of course, that’s not even close to accurate or helpful. The projects at Blend are complex and technical and we as DPMs manage the process: gathering technical information, translating it tangible pieces, and maintaining long timelines and large budgets — all for multiple projects at once.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. So, when surrounded by another 200-something digital project managers that have the same questions, challenges, and ideas as me this year’s DPM Summit in Orlando, I went full nerd mode.
Be Bold. Be a DPM.
There were all kinds of lovely and insightful talks at DPM Summit. Some resonated more than others because of the type of company and culture that we have here at Blend, including Lynn Winter’s talk “Be Bold. Be a DPM.”
Winter dove deep into how the people we work with, whether it’s our clients or our coworkers, often don’t know what we do as DPMs. They wonder if the work we do is necessary or making an impact.
She explained the importance of redefining our value in the industry by trusting our personal and professional values. As a project manager, things I value most are being transparent and direct. A lot of the conversations I have are difficult, so open and honest communication is a must in my profession. Saying no and not being able to please our clients is a lot harder than it may seem.
Communication Needs are Always Evolving
Communication was a prevalent topic at the conference. Although it may seem simple, our communication methods require continual improvement and evolution, especially as our communication tools change over time.
I learned some great communication tips including:
- Communicating openly and honestly in the project will affect every single part of the project. The earlier we communicate issues with the budget, scope creep, or timeline, the earlier we can solve the issues and form valuable relationships with clients based on transparency and honesty. This helps avoid derailment at the end of the project.
- There are always new and improved ways to communicate during a project. As project managers, this is where we can get creative. For example, in Dean Schuster’s talk, he explained how we can not only manage our team, but we also need to manage our client. He’s created a “Status Report” that is sent weekly that has brief, important details and uses colors to visually show how the project is going.
- Green = the project is going as planned
- Yellow = the project has a risk that needs to be discussed
- Red = the project is completely off track
- Another powerful talk was from Crystal Richards, who discussed the DPM career path. She talked about the importance of having a mentor, and to stop comparing your “Chapter 3” to someone else’s “Chapter 19” in their professional career path. Having a mentor outside of work can help change ways of thinking and communicating, while lifting up our community.
Challenging Feelings of Inadequacy
A major challenge for project managers is the creeping feeling of inadequacy and uselessness during some parts of technically complex projects. I found that Matt O'Bryants session, “How Technical Should Digital PM Be?” helped me understand that I’m not alone, and that the main goals for a project manager are:
- Hit project deadlines
- Manage project backlog and budget
- Coordinate resources and planning
- Quality control and delegation
- Client and project satisfaction
Nowhere above does it say we must plan and know every technical detail. What’s more, our ability and experience is affected by the projects we end up taking on, and it’s all about finding our flow.
Matt gave the advice to take projects more complex than what is comfortable to help us dig deep and rise to the challenge. If I was taking on the same projects that I managed during my first six months at Blend, I wouldn’t have been able to grow to where I am now managing more substantial, complex projects. Learning how difficult and technical things work helps us understand why and how something was built.
There are endless ways to learn nowadays — online courses, podcasts, code academy, blogs, and peers. With this new-found knowledge, we are able to understand the challenges and roadblocks to each new project, which then comes full circle as we can use that project knowledge to empathize with our coworkers, further improving communication. We’ll know what questions to ask and how to work together to solve problems and deliver great products.