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Always Learning: Five Lessons From My First Five Years

Director of Project Management Nick Cobb navigates the biggest lessons he's learned as a project manager since entering the web industry. 

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I was bombarded with lessons when I started at Blend almost five years ago.

Because my previous experience was primarily in video production, I had a lot to learn about the “wide world of the web.” Each new project featured a set of new lessons. Each new client helped shape how I worked with the next.

Each new opportunity brought on new opportunities for mistakes — and, more than anything, the lesson I learned over and over again from the director team is that we’re always learning. That encouragement greatly impacted me in my early development as a project manager.

Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned so far.

Collaboration — and culture — drive success.

A project manager is only as good as their team.

Creating a collaborative and inclusive team culture is instrumental in achieving project goals. I’ve learned and seen firsthand that a cohesive team will work harder for each other and encourage each other to deliver results.

This means encouraging open communication, positioning team members to utilize their strengths, and addressing issues as soon as they arise. When a team — and culture — support a positive and productive working environment, good things will follow.

Risk management is proactive, not reactive.

Risks are inevitable. This means planning for risk is crucial — risk management is far more effective than being reactive.

As project managers, our goal is to identify potential risks early on. We need to have contingency plans in our back pockets. And, we need to continuously reassess risks throughout the project lifecycle.

I often tell our project management team to “trust their gut” – essentially, if you’re worried about something or feel something is a potential risk, it probably is. When this happens, be proactive!

Embrace flexibility in planning.

Web projects are inherently dynamic and often influenced by changing technologies and client expectations, so embracing flexibility in project planning is important.

In the beginning, it’s common to plan a project along the “happy path” — but every project manager quickly learns that the odds of staying on the ‘happy path’ are very low. While a solid plan is essential, being open and ready for adjustments and iterations ensures the project remains adaptable to unforeseen challenges and evolving requirements.

If you’re new to project management, getting comfortable with this can take a little time. Take it from those of us who have done this a little while – you’ll start to embrace an always-changing project plan and learn how to adapt quickly.

Communication is a continuous process.

Web projects require open, clear, and frequent communication.

Successful collaboration doesn’t happen at one specific point — it’s an evolving process. Whether it’s a one-time implementation project or an ongoing support partnership, it’s important to involve clients in project decisions and seek regular feedback.

Feedback builds stronger relationships, and keeping that feedback and communication growing and evolving ensures a successful project and partnership.

Be a leader.

Teams and clients want to be led through the project process. That responsibility falls on us as project managers.

We’re not the only ones responsible, but even though projects rely on the full team for success, the project manager is often in the best position to keep the project on track and navigate any challenges that arise.

Leading a project means more than just doling out orders. It means running efficient meetings, keeping clients and partners involved and accountable, and providing consistent project updates.

It also means trusting your team to call out critical items. Web projects are collaborative, but project managers need to be confident in their own abilities while instilling confidence across the entire team so they can trust in the project’s success.

Always learning, still today.

Here we are, five years later. Despite all of these lessons, I’m still “always learning.”

Every project and experience still brings new lessons, and it’s important to keep applying what I learned from each of those lessons to new projects. It’s crucial: web development is an ever-evolving field, with new technologies and trends emerging regularly.

Because of this, it’s our job as project managers to keep up with industry developments, emerging technologies, and new and improved best practices. It’s why Blend encourages our entire staff to invest in their professional development and continuous learning.

We know our processes and best practices will be everchanging. And, we know that, no matter what happens, we’ll always be learning.