What Makes a Good Digital Project Manager?

In the Agency world, finding good Digital Project Managers isn’t always easy. During my time at Creative Jar (and at previous agencies) I’ve met and interviewed quite a few candidates for Project Management positions. To have a successful Project Management team it relies on having the right kind of people so I’ve often found myself asking the question: ‘what makes a good Digital Project Manager?’

Here are some thoughts about the characteristics I’ve found really come in useful:

1. Ability to prioritise

This speaks for itself to some degree but it is absolutely essential in a high-pressure environment where you may have 10–20 projects on the go at once, each at different stages of development and with different resources working on them, you need to be able to prioritise. As the PM you need to be focused on what needs to be achieved this morning, for the rest of today, and this week whilst keeping half an eye on what you’re going to need over the coming months. Without a clear list of priorities you run the risk of just doing the first thing that comes across your desk whether it’s important or not. Time taken to plan at the start of the morning or afternoon really helps when it comes to making sure people aren’t sitting around without a brief or that you have the right people in place when you need them.

2. Keeping calm and focused

One of the great things about working in a Digital Agency is the mix of people and personalities that you get to work with. As a PM, part of your role is to encourage people who have differing motivations and skills to work together (not always at the same time) to produce great solutions. It’s that very diversity, combined with the constant changing needs and requirements of your clients, that can often lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Good Project Managers have the ability to stay calm and focus on what’s important (to the project as well as the people) in difficult situations e.g. where the project is late or one of the project team is upset by something.

3. Being able to let go

It’s quite rare for someone in the discipline to be a pure-bred Project Manager from the beginning. Many of us started out as Developers, Designers or even Marketers. Because we have the skills and experience it’s sometimes difficult to let go — cutting an image here, making a quick amend to a wireframe or updating some HTML code — however, in order to be efficient as a PM you really have to. That’s not to say that you can’t have an opinion on how something should be, just that you should let the specialists around you do their jobs. Because that way they can focus on production and building their experience and you can focus on making sure the project stays on track.

4. Don’t assume too much

Whilst you can’t know everything, one of the things you learn very quickly when you start managing digital projects is that you can’t assume that people know what you mean or what’s required for their element of the project. It’s really important to have asked the right questions e.g. confirming screen-sizes, browser specifications, currencies, languages and locales or reporting requirements before they answers are needed to save time and effort on rework later.

5. Being approachable

Although you’ll be busy it’s essential that anyone working your project feels able to ask questions (face-to-face, on IM, via email or on the phone) and can get answers when they need them. Approachability is key to this because it ensures that there’s a culture of collaboration within the project team rather than continuing on until issues become real problems. Being open to ideas and suggestions really makes a difference in how a project is approached and ensures that the best ideas make their way into the final solution.

6. Have a passion for Digital

In theory if you know project management then you ought to be able to project manage any project — it should be a case of organising the tasks and monitoring them through to a successful conclusion. However, in the real world, that’s not really true. The best Digital PMs have an appreciation and an interest in digital applications that goes beyond being a mere consumer of content and services. I’ve found that those that truly succeed want to know how things work and are always on the look-out for new tools, services and ways of doing things.

In summary

Being a good Digital Project Manager requires a diverse mix of skills and experience. And to be effective you need to be more than just organised and a good communicator. The ability to prioritise, keeping calm and focused, being able to let go, not assume too much, being approachable and having a passion for Digital are all things that when combined together make for an awesome Project Manager. Oh, and it helps to have a sense of humour too!

(The original version of this article was published in June 2013)