It’s a love-hate relationship
Being a practitioner and a project manager and a client partner and a…
‘We do wear many hats.’
That was the response I got from a colleague when I told him I was writing about this topic.
You see, around three years ago WAE (now Globant) made the decision to not employ project managers and client partners, and instead let the practitioners during projects be responsible for those tasks.
Now it should be said we do occasionally employ project managers on a freelance basis, but this tends to be when we’re working on a long, complex delivery project.
The projects we typically undertake do not require the skills of a dedicated full time project manager, and thus those responsibilities fall to us, the consultants delivering the project.
It’s a love-hate relationship, for me anyway.
My first experience was around two years ago, and funnily enough while working on a delivery project, but not a long one, nor complex.
The programme manager responsible for a large migration and redesign project wanted status reports. Detailing what my colleague and I had been working on and how much budget we had used, every week.
This was new, didn’t get taught this stuff at university.
But before I knew it I was being shown how to create a burn report, how to keep it updated and how to get out of it what I needed.
I’ve had to take on this task on numerous occasions during my time at Globant, it’s given me the experience of being responsible to deliver projects on budget and on time. Managing who has worked on the project, their time spent and looking ahead to ensure the project doesn’t overburn. A valuable skill and understanding of processes for a practitioner to add to their skillset.
During projects I’m the first point of call for clients if they have a question.
They’ll come to us the practitioners, rather than, for example an Account Manager. This is great as information doesn’t fall through the cracks.
I never find myself in a position where information is relayed onto me from somebody else. I get everything first hand and am able to act on it immediately, with complete clarity on what the client is expecting, and what is expected of me.
I can speak directly with clients about anything I want at any time.
I have the freedom to challenge, discuss and question whenever I see fit. I don’t have to go through anybody.
In the past working in partnership with a traditional creative agency I was astounded that the ‘creatives’ weren’t able to directly ask clients questions and challenge them. They would speak with the Account Manager about their concern, and then the Account Manager would judge whether or not they would pass it onto the client. Not the most collaborative.
I’m baffled as to how anybody working in a problem solving/creative position can confidently do their job if they have doubts about what it is they’re solving, or have unanswered questions.
Being able to speak up and ask what we want when we want brings with it a range of benefits. From the outset we have clarity on the brief, we know we are solving the right problems as we’re questioning and challenging to ensure so.
Let us figure out the right thing to solve, so we can solve the thing right.
At Globant I’ve never found myself in a position where we haven’t fully met client expectations at the end of a project. In part I put this down to the practitioners always questioning, always challenging, ensuring we’re solving the correct problems throughout, that will benefit both business and customer. A luxury we might not have if we were stuck behind an Account Manager or Client Partner responsible for communicating with clients.
Being given this autonomy and freedom allows us to move at speed and make decisions quickly and efficiently.
As you can tell by now during projects it’s my practitioner colleagues and I on the frontline alongside our clients. I say clients, they become part of our team, the team. We are all striving towards the same desired outcomes.
Working as closely and frequently as we do with our clients it gives us the opportunity to establish and grow relationships with them. We’re not stuck behind somebody else doing it.
Having the opportunity to forge, maintain and grow relationships with clients and other partners we work with brings a number of benefits.
- I am developing a range of skills that I may not have had the chance to if I wasn’t given the responsibility
- I’m getting first hand experience of taking my new found relationships with clients and exploring commercial opportunities
- I’m meeting new people and establishing relationships, constantly. Smart, ambitious, experienced people working for some of the biggest organisations in the world, I’m growing my network
- Welcoming clients into our team and working alongside them gives the clients a sense of shared ownership in the work. They are a big part of the final outputs and outcomes
- We build more human relationships with clients due to honest communication during the process. There isn’t a ‘client and supplier’ feeling. Honest communication always produces better outcomes for everybody
- Our clients get attached to practitioners they like working with. They seek to work with those same practitioners on more projects. People buy people
It’s not all love though.
It can get in the way, if I’m not careful
Having these extra responsibilities does create a higher workload, naturally.
I’m rushed off my feet, needing to finish a prototype before user testing tomorrow and my boss asks how much budget we’ve got left, they need to know ASAP.
Whilst doing the ‘practitioner work’ and being responsible for the ‘non practitioner’ side of things, I need to ensure I’m managing my day correctly, spending time keeping budget and planning documents up to date. That way the situation above avoids turning into a time consuming one.
Being responsible for the logistics of a project isn’t the most fun.
The tasks can be tedious, time consuming and in the moment of completing them I’m always wishing somebody else was responsible. For context, I find myself completing tasks like booking travel, booking facilities, arranging and buying technology, arranging people and setting up rooms and labs.
However, having to complete these sorts of tasks and more it does always ensure what the team and I need is right for the job at hand.
This point is similar to the Chinese whispers one I made earlier, but in reverse. I never find myself in a position relaying information on to somebody else to do things for me, I just do it.
Having to do these logistical tasks cuts out conversations in which I would be explaining what I need. It removes the back and forth while trying to clarify something.
It enables the project and I to be leaner, move quicker, more efficient. Admittedly it takes time away from doing ‘practitioner work’ but in the long run I see it as a time saver.
Keep me posted
Client communication, it’s no secret this is of utmost importance to the success of any project.
But on a project I have my head in the detail. I’m synthesising customer insight, problem solving and planning what direction to pursue. It’s busy, there is a lot on.
But given the setup of our teams, nobody is going to fill in the client on what’s going on other than the practitioners working on the project.
Therefore planning my time and day properly to allow for client communication, updates and Q&As is vital.
Luckily the way we work I’m normally sitting amongst our clients, but even then, clear consistent communication is paramount and it’s up to me to do just that.
Having to do this I’ve seen my soft skills in this area developing. Most notably persuasion and selling techniques, two skills I wouldn’t have been developing if there was somebody else solely responsible for client dealings and justifications.
If you find yourself in a similar position some of the tips I would give are to:
- Block out time to keep finance and project management documents up to date
- Delegate the ‘non practitioner’ tasks between yourself and other project team members, you can miss things if it’s all on you
- Learn your client’s preferred method of communication and keep them updated
- Spend time using your burn report, run different scenarios through it
- Look ahead in the project and figure out what logistical tasks need to be done now, to ensure you’re well prepared when they come around
Writing this has given me time to pause and reflect on the extra tasks I do as a practitioner. And clearly the relationship is more love than hate.
I’ve been able to get hands on with tools and processes that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of, let alone how to do correctly.
It makes my job more fulfilling, being able to own, represent and defend my work throughout a project.
I feel it’s made me more valuable as a practitioner. Not only do I have the practitioner skills and experience. But also experience in planning, delivering and the commercial side of projects.
If you have the opportunity to take on these extras tasks you should do it. It’ll expand your skillset and give you a greater appreciation of all the moving parts during a project. Some of which will surprise you.
I’d love to hear your experiences of having extra responsibilities as a practitioner, the sort of responsibilities you didn’t expect to have when in design school.