Jillian Warren

Digital Project Management & Communications

Tag: Project Management (page 2 of 2)

So You Think You Can Project Manage?

August 16, 2010
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Do you have what it takes to be a Project Manager?

There was a time when I asked myself that very question. Just a few years ago (as I explained to the Viget crew in my internal, company-wide LabShare presentation last week), I decided to change careers from a television marketing producer to … Something else. I just wasn’t quite sure what yet.

When a job listing for a web project management position first crossed my path, it sounded like a great idea. I was, after all, a TV “project manager” of sorts, and I wanted to work with the web.

Yet, I hesitated. “What exactly does a Project Manager do? Am I qualified for this?” I asked.

Well, the truth is that I’m not alone in asking these questions. Nowadays, when I tell people my job title, they often have no idea what it entails. “Project management” is such a vague term that it’s easily misinterpreted or simply not understood.

So, what does a PM do? And, now that I’m an experienced project manager, what insight can I give you into the skills required to be a top-notch PM? Here is my very simple, very informal questionnaire to evaluate whether you have what it takes:

  1. Can you juggle? — If you prefer to work on big tasks one at a time in a very focused manner, this is not the job for you. You can stop reading now.
  2. Are you any good at Tetris? — Project managing is one big logic puzzle. You have a set time frame, a given allotment of resources, and an objective — and you must perfectly fit everything together to achieve your goal on time without grossly exceeding your budget. And, that’s just for ONE of your many projects.
  3. Are you a jack of all trades? — A basic understanding of design, development, marketing, and user experience is essential for web project management. It’s okay to be “a master of none” — since if you’re a design master, for instance, you should probably be a designer and not a PM — but general knowledge is key to adequately guiding, coordinating, and communicating with clients and co-workers of varying skill levels and specialties. You don’t need to be fluent in Ruby or analytics, but you at least need to understand their roles in a web project.
  4. Can you see both the forest and the trees? — PMs need to see the big picture and be detail-oriented. On one hand, you need to know every little thing about your project; but, on the other, you need to keep your eye on the finish line and know where you stand in the grand scheme of things.
  5. Are you good at foreign (and not-so-foreign) languages? — Most foreign language courses focus on four main skills: writing, speaking, listening, and reading. Much like learning Italian, managing a project also leans heavily on these four disciplines. Effective PMs are powerful writers, smooth and efficient speakers, thoughtful and thorough listeners, and conscientious readers. Strong communication skills are required.
  6. Have you ever been Team Captain? — To manage a project is to lead a team. You need to be a natural leader, a team player, and a tough decision-maker. Sometimes you’re under pressure to make a big decision for the good of the project, and sometimes you have to deal with players who aren’t pulling their weight or aren’t getting along. Sometimes you just need to get it done and try to make everyone happy. Whatever happens, you’re in charge.
  7. Do you love spreadsheets? — I ask this because that’s how Carolyn Hack and I first bonded; she and I both have an unhealthy love of using spreadsheets to organize our everyday lives. Maybe you don’t necessarily love spreadsheets, but boy, do you love your Google Calendar, day planner, or other OCD organizational tool.
  8. Do you behave yourself in public? — I certainly hope so, because PMs are the main representative of your company to its clients. You need to be respectable, be respectful, and play well with others.

It is important to note that different types of PMs in different industries may perform very different day-to-day duties; but, ultimately, these qualities come in handy no matter what the project. So, if you answered yes to these 8 questions, then congratulations! You may have an illustrious project management career ahead of you.

The 7 P’s of Web Projects … And 7 Reasons Why They Work

June 10, 2010
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Think back to your school days, when you were tasked with writing the longest research paper of your life. Chances are, you pulled an all-nighter before the deadline and miraculously cranked out an acceptable essay (double-spaced, of course). Looking back, do you think this was your finest work? Would you want the rest of the world to look at this hastily thrown-together effort as the ultimate representation of your abilities?

No, I didn’t think so.

It surprises me how often companies take this “all-nighter” approach for their websites. They want their new site to do X, Y, and Z … and they want it NOW. A website, like a research paper, isn’t something that should be pieced together as quickly as possible without proper preparation. A research paper without research is often a disorganized jumble with no coherent vision or purpose; a website without strategy will reach the same fate.

This is where the 7 P’s come in.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (please pardon my French!). A former coworker loved to quote this phrase, and though he wasn’t talking about web development, the philosophy fits our field perfectly. In any web effort, a great deal of thought goes into the project before a developer even dreams up the first line of code.

The Viget process builds in plenty of Proper Prior Planning, and we’re always working on ways to add even more creative and strategic collaboration at the onset of an engagement. Additional critical thinking up-front achieves several important objectives and starts the project on a positive trajectory.

However, the benefits of this strategic Prior Planning portion of the project are often less obvious than the more tangible benefits delivered at later stages (new site maps or designs, for instance) and therefore need a little extra explanation. So, without further ado, here are 7 major reasons why the 7 P’s will improve your web project:

  1. Better knowledge of your business. You wouldn’t give a stranger the keys to your house, so don’t give them the keys to your website, either. Strategic planning gives us the opportunity to really get to know a client’s brand, goals, audience, and industry. Once we can “think like the client,” we can make the best possible decisions to guide the project.
  2. Collaboration. Because of the nature of development and design, a lot of our work is done solo. Getting everyone together, especially at the start of an engagement, solidifies the team, puts everyone on the same page, and encourages open communication — which undoubtedly leads to a better project experience.
  3. Customization. Since every project is different, why should they all follow the same standard process? Prior Planning gives us the flexibility to tailor the process to meet the client’s specific needs — instead of locking in a definitive course of action before we’re even familiar with the project. Maybe the initial proposal suggests a site map, but as we get to know the project better we’ll realize that a concept model would be more effective.
  4. Innovation. Rome wasn’t built in a day; awesome web ideas take a little more effort, as well. Getting our best and brightest together to brainstorm on a project before production starts gets the creative juices flowing and leads to new and original concepts that take a site to the next level.
  5. Minimizing complications. Inevitably, during a project, something will go wrong. If you don’t ask all the important questions and identify potential obstacles now, you’ll be unprepared when complications pop up later (which will undoubtedly cost more time and money). Advanced awareness will help you avoid these pitfalls throughout the project.
  6. Problem-solving. “All-nighter” websites usually bear an eerie resemblance to the old site, and you’ll find yourself dealing with the same old problems. Strategy sessions let us think these through and propose effective solutions. If the Contact form wasn’t getting conversions on the old site, rest assured we’ll find a way to improve the new one.
  7. A straighter, speedier project. If you carefully plan your route before embarking on a road trip, you’re less likely to get lost, and you’ll make better time. Prior Planning increases efficiency. The rest of the project will go faster and easier, getting you directly to your end goal without the costly need to stop and ask for directions at each turn.

These 7 reasons alone are enough to justify more strategic activity up-front, and I’m sure there are even more benefits (which I’d love to hear — please comment with your thoughts!). Of course, there are always issues of time and budget, but it is unquestionably worthwhile to make room for Proper Prior Planning if your scope will allow. When you think first and develop a strategy before launching into the production phase of an engagement, you’re more likely to achieve the final 4 P’s: Preventing Piss Poor Performance.

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