Project Management in a digital agency

by Barry on March 11, 2010

Image from PicApp

I am often asked by members of my team, job candidates, recruiters, clients, and client prospects what are the most important aspects of a Project Manager in a digital agency? The top three things that I look for are Project Managers who acts as risk manager, provides flexibility while protecting the agency, and are integration experts.

1. Acts as Risk Managers
Project Managers need to view themselves as a risk manager. This can be difficult as most Project Managers believe that their most important task is to act as the protector of the schedule and budget. My view is much more holistic. Although managing the schedule and budget are components of a Project Manager’s job, their primary responsibility is to manage risk. They need to anticipate everything that can go wrong on a project, and make sure that what can go wrong is mitigated. A Project Manager can come up with thousands of excuses why their project can fail. Their job is to make sure that the project does not fail and that it is delivered successfully every single time.

To make this happen, Project Managers need to think of themselves as risk managers. This can be a paradigm shift for many Project Managers, especially those who come from a producer background where their role is frequently more of a schedule mover, and not as a traditional Project Manager.

2. Provides flexibility while protecting the agency
Project Managers must flexibility while protecting the agency. This is a very difficult concept since diametric forces are at play. It is critical for the Project Manager to provide flexibility to the creative team during the ideation / conception phase so that the team can come up with the really big “big ideas”. It is these big ideas that wins clients, propels an agency to greatness, wins awards, motivates the team, generates buzz, and makes outsiders want to be like them. In providing this flexibility, Project Managers need to be expert problem solvers and negotiators. They need to find solutions to problems, rather than just saying “no” to protect the schedule and budget.

The difficulty is how to remain flexible while ensuring that the project risks are impacted, and that schedule and budget are protected. This is done by setting boundaries, working with the team to understand theirs needs, making sure that the technologists on your team are connected and have voiced feasibility concerns, and ensuring the senior management is aware when the boundaries needs to be pushed so that they can make executive decisions.

3. Integration Experts
Delivery digital projects in a digital world is much more technically-complex than it has ever been. While you may be able to support your core competencies using in-house staff, more and more digital projects means collaborating and integrating with outside vendors and partners. You may also use outside resources to augment your in-house staff.

Using vendors and partners brings an additional level of complexity. While Project Managers are used to managing scope, budgets, schedules, and quality, they now need to do so with an outside entity that has different motivations as they are driven by their own schedules and profit margins. The Project Manager has to be an expert in selecting vendors, negotiating contracts, and ensuring timely payment. Managing quality is one of the key risk areas as the vendor’s and partner’s method of ensuring quality may not be at the same level as the agency. This is especially true when using smaller shops.

There are various types of vendor and partnership situations:

- Use of a local design or production studio. Typically done to increase capacity or provide specialization that the agency may not possess. Although it may be slightly more cost efficient to use a local studio, you will not obtain large cost savings compared to doing the work in-house.

- Use of freelancers. Done to increase capacity or provide specialization. Freelancers are great for augmenting staff during the busy periods so that when work slows down, the organization will not need to layoff their full-time staff. However the downside is that freelancer usage can be very expensive and needs to be managed tightly or you will have out-of-control costs. This can be one of the biggest wildcards when looking at an office’s P&L so it needs to be tightly controlled.

- Use of technology partners. These partners provide a niche product or service. The vendors can vary widely from the big names (e.g., Google with Google Maps), the specialized media vendors (e.g., PointRoll, Eyeblaster, and EyeWonder) to the technical niches (e.g., Interwoven with their CMS platform and Oddcast with their avatars). Pricing for these vendors vary widely depending on their pricing strategy. Google Maps, for example, is free, as they get their revenue from advertising. The media vendors don’t typically charge agencies since their revenue stream comes from the media placements. Interwoven and Oddcast are expensive since their revenues comes from their product sales and support.

- Use of near-shore or off-shore vendors. These vendors are selected because of pressure to reduce the price or increase profitability. The costs can be dramatically lower however using these vendors carries significant risk Look for a future posting where I’ll go into detail about using off-shore vendors.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

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