Project managers are badass

Rachel Gertz leads a charge for better communication and support
for our digital project managers

Look over your left shoulder. A human chain is forming. Digital project
managers (DPMs) all over the world have sounded a respectful war cry and are rising up to support one another. We’re demanding better communication from our teams and clients, clear expectations around
projects and processes, and empowerment from our leaders. You know what this does? It makes our clients more empathetic. It makes our teams happier. It makes our industry better.

Think about this: it is your DPM who bears the burden of the success or failure of your projects. It’s their job. Great DPMs can also onboard our clients, increase the value and budget of our projects, insulate the team
from change, maintain relationships based on trust, and strengthen company culture.

Your DPMs are precious. But they’re often set up for failure … We hide things from our clients, and our projects are shredded by impossible expectations

Your DPMs are precious. But they’re often set up for failure. As designers and developers, we embellish our abilities all the time. We’ll tell our clients anything to keep a client relationship, even if we can barely deliver. Similarly, agencies will send in sales people who promise rainbows to potential clients and then command their DPMs to ‘work with those numbers’. Agencies also grow their teams to fill the pipeline without
considering that they’ll now rely on red flag projects to put bread on the table. These, my friend, are sure-fire ways to drive a project into the ground.

It’s no shock that increasingly clients don’t trust the agencies they work with. This is largely because agencies are not communicating well with them. Tim Leake of the Naked Truth research project describes the situation beautifully: “Considering we’re communication companies, we suck at communication.”

This comes full circle: we hide things from our clients, our clients demand the impossible from partner agencies, and our projects are shredded by impossible expectations. The industry is begging for a change, and that’s where you come in.

How to empower a project manager

Heed your DPM’s cries. Here’s how you can support them:

  • Let them be client-facing. True DPMs manage their clients’ and team’s expectations, not just their schedules. They are not paper pushers, desk jockeys or schedule makers. They are leaders.
  • Give them a break. They’re ‘on’ throughout projects, and susceptible to burnout. Ask them how their day was. Let them take a personal day. Buy them a doughnut. Ask them again: sometimes they’re terrible at admitting they need help.
  • Let them estimate. The best people to work out budgets are those doing the work. When you let DPMs work with the team to determine timelines and budgets, they learn to understand everyone’s role and the real cost of getting the work done.
  • Let them question the status quo; DPMs have a good BS detector. Let them ask you, their clients, and their teams questions. ‘Why?’ asked respectfully is as good a remedy as sunshine.
  • Let them have the right tools. So many times I hear ‘we can’t afford it’ when it comes to purchasing a project management tool. This is saying you’d rather absorb the cost of a project bleeding out than give your team
    the tools it needs to prevent this.
  • Get them connected. Introduce them to Twitter. Bring them to your meet-ups. DPMs are notorious for keeping their heads low and grinding through projects.

We need you

A lot of companies say they don’t need project managers, but the reality is that their team members are taking on this role. In fact, if you are a freelancer, an owner or remote worker, you have your digital PM hat permanently glued to your forehead. You don’t get to rip it off, because the moment you do, your projects slip. So here’s the key message: there’s room in this movement for you. In truth, this movement depends on you. We need every owner, freelancer and digital agency to stand in support of our DPMs, because without you we’re fighting an impossible battle. Uphold them and
understand them as much as they uphold, support and understand you. That’s the only way we can make this industry better.

The work we do is all communication. Imagine how much more confidently we could stand behind it if we could communicate clearly about the work. Good news: the next step is tapping your left shoulder.

Rachel runs a digital PM school called Louder Than Ten, for creative people who manage projects. She likes bourbon.


This article originally appeared in issue 264 of net magazine.