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Why project management is key to your success — even if it’s not in your job title

Lauren Katz
Published in
5 min readNov 8, 2023

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Project management is crucial in newsrooms. From creating editorial packages to planning live events to developing internal processes, so much of our work requires setting goals, creating timelines, detailed organization, and consistent communication. While more dedicated project manager roles are popping up in newsrooms, it’s also common for people to take on a significant amount of that work unofficially and/or along with other responsibilities. If that’s you, keep reading.

I’ve project managed podcast launches, live shows, collaborative academic research projects, editorial packages, and much more over my nine years at Vox. I was thrilled to bring together experts on this topic for October’s lighting chat. Our panel included:

  • Robin Kwong, director of audience loyalty at the Wall Street Journal and author of this guide to project management in newsrooms
  • Kristine Villanueva, audience editor at ProPublica and professor at the Newmark J-School
  • Nancy DeVille, editorial project manager @ The Atlantic

We shared our “lightbulb moments” of realizing we were actually engaging in the work to lead projects, how to navigate various roadblocks, and our favorite tools and resources. You can watch the full conversation on Gather’s Lightning Chat: Why project management is key to your success — even if it’s not in your job title. Below, you’ll find some highlights.

WHAT’S THE DEFINITION OF A PROJECT?

The Association for Project Management — the chartered membership organization for project professionals — defines a project as:

“A unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget. Time, cost and quality are the building blocks of every project.”

For Robin, because the APM definition is broad, the parts that stick out to him are that “a project is usually unique, not business as usual … transient — so a project has a definitive beginning and end — and the planned objections that define why you’re doing it.”

SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES — AND SOLUTIONS

  • Learning the language. When Nancy worked on a project with engineers, she needed to know what they were talking about in meetings in order to work with them. She participated in trainings, read up on guides, and asked a lot of questions. “I just had to raise my hand and say ‘hey, can you explain that to me in non-engineering terms.’”
  • Working remotely with a hybrid team. As more people have started to go back into the office, sometimes there are conversations that happen that don’t make it back to remote folks. “I need to remind people about keeping the lines of communication open,” Nancy says.
  • Building strong relationships. Relationships are key to this work. And relationships take time. For Robin, a big part of his job is empowering people on his team to be project managers. And in his experience, a project will run smoother if you have a longer-term relationship with the people you’re working with instead of a purely transactional one. The challenge there, he explains, is “that’s not really something you can teach or give to someone in a short amount of time. [People] need to spend the time themselves in the organization to start to build up their own networks and their own relationships.”

“A large part of this work [comes down to] networking and power building within the organization that you have to work on constantly and build up as you spend more time in that organization.”

  • Setting up tools/best practices when you don’t have the bandwidth to own going forward. Nancy recommends setting up a project management tool like ClickUp or Airtable and asking everyone to document everything in one place. Set up Slack channels for each project to consolidate communication. Create templated timelines and kickoff meeting agendas, so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time. Kristine adds that it’s important to think about the positive psychology of making changes to processes and tools. Remind folks why it’s important and how it will make their lives easier.

“It’s important to think about positive psychology of making changes to processes and tools.”

  • Balancing the dual role of project manager and working directly on the project. I set aside dedicated time for both aspects. On Mondays and Fridays, for example, I’ll check in on the project from a high level, do meeting prep, etc. On a different day, I’ll block off time to do the other work on the project itself. Of course, what works for one person might not work for another. It’s important to understand yourself and when during the day you do your best work, Kristine says. Robin shares that we’re generally all harder on ourselves than we would be for other people. “What would you do if you had a writer or something working on the project come to you and say ‘I’ve got too much going on, I just can’t meet the deadlines.’ You would probably say ‘let’s have a discussion and maybe we can adjust the scope of the project.’”

QUICK TAKEAWAYS

  • Find a network. It’s great to connect to other people doing similar work to talk through issues, questions, swap ideas, and share tools. Join us in #project-management.
  • Stay organized. Whether you like paper planners, Notion, or a simple list in the Notes app on your computer, figure out what works best for you as your one source of truth.
  • Set yourself up for success. Before you sign off each day, go over tomorrow’s to-do list so you know exactly what you need to prioritize when you sign on.

For more takeaways, tips, and best practices for project management, watch the full Lighting Chat.

Lauren Katz is a project manager at Vox, where she focuses on newsroom-wide editorial initiatives as well as podcast engagement strategy. Lauren sits on the professional advisory board for Smith College’s Journalism Concentration. She was Gather’s guest moderator for October 2023.

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