Project Management for Digital Dummies

“Welcome to the new job we need you to (insert a bunch of tasks you’ve never heard of),” We’ve all seemingly heard this before and we’ve all probably replied confidently with, “I’ll get right on it.” While externally you’re active listening like there’s no tomorrow, internally you may quickly become a hot mess.

But wait! there are things you can be doing from day one that will stop you from weeping in the broom closet after someone asks you where that document you’ve never heard of is and why that guy in the black t-shirt still hasn’t replied to their email.

Below are my five biggest lessons I’ve learnt over my first weeks working as a project manager in a digital agency.

Get organised:

Emails are flying everywhere and people are always talking to you. While it’s nice to be popular it can also be a bit much when you don’t know the difference between what you need to do and what you just need to know about. So ask. Find out if there’s an action to be done and if so who’s responsible for it. You’ll learn a lot about what your colleagues should be up to. Which is handy because on top of managing your to do list – you’ll be helping make everyone else’s.

So what’s the best way to get organised? Once you know who’s responsible you’ll probably want to make a to do list for your own stuff first. For me, I know that a lot of this is more the result of coming up with a system for my emails.

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, has some great advice on managing his emails. Ranging from how to get less of it to knowing how to make it work for you. He says it better than I could here

I take it a bit further and use ActiveInbox, which is a handy little Gmail plugin, to manage my emails. It lets me turn them into a to-do list; a to-watch list and a waiting-on list and sorted by when I need to move on them. This really works for me and let’s me get to inbox zero daily (if inbox zero works for you). I have everything I have to watch and action right there in Gmail and can search my archive for everything else.

So where do you go once you’re on top of your own to-do list?

…Everybody else’s.

Work out your project management software

If you’re like me you’re probably using a new project management software to record and track how you’re progressing to your project plans. We use AffinityLive at ThunderMetric and that works for us. It lets us set out our projects against which clients we’re doing them for, we can also raise tasks against the projects and record any activity we make on those tasks using built in timers. One of the big challenges for me has been that we’ve only recently started using this as our primary project management tool. This has also been a great opportunity to work out how best to use this for our needs rather than change how we work to fit the tool. For more complex projects that run over several months it’s a great tool for agencies.

Affinity live screenshot

Conversely, I have friends who work client side who swear by Trello to organise not just their work projects but also their otherwise shambolic lives (sorry guys, but it’s true..). They love the flexibility and leanness of it as well as the really fun visual side of it.

This isn’t to pump up or rundown any software over another – it’s more to say figure out what works for you and your team and then figure out how to bring in, or use existing software to enable that.

Take Ownership:

By this I don’t mean walk into the office and steal someone’s chair (although kudos to you if you do that – it takes cajones). This is more about finding opportunities that you can own straight away and prove your value. You’ll feel more valuable and build confidence off the back of some quick wins. By doing these little things you can also learn the businessreally quickly.

For me one of the first things I took charge of was getting our blogs and social media back on track (hence this post). Often it’s about looking at parts of the business that the team are passionate about but that always fall down the list of priorities. These types of jobs are also great for learning about the history of your new workplace and make you feel like part of previous successes

I’m also spearheading a case studies section for our website. Do I know what I’m doing here? absolutely not, but I have the space and enthusiasm to do something that hasn’t been done for whatever reason. So I’m going to fake it ‘til I make it and ride out the first couple of weeks while you’re finding your feet.

Communication:

Communication, like the tango, takes two and is actually a great way to dodge unnecessary work in the long run. By being precise and seeking clarification you can stop information asymmetry and simplify the complex. By doing this and seeking the same from others you’ll actually end up with less work in the long term and a whole lot less stress because you’re sure of what’s going on.

By asking for all the context you avoid the awkward situation I had when I went two weeks having separate conversations about the same thing. I never realised that one person was referring to what the issue was and the other was referring to where it was happening. Needless to say I didn’t understand either of them and kinda felt like an idiot.

Nobody likes meetings that drag on, even worse if they don’t go anywhere. You want your meetings to be like a Michael Bay movie – full of action. You also want your meetings to make sense, so, unlike a Michael Bay movie. How do you make meetings work for you? Make them shorter and make them about only a few things. We were doing weekly meetings and a lot of things were slipping through the cracks. We’ve stolen and modified daily standups from the agile methodology. Now we’re all on top of each other’s work and collaborating much more effectively.

Technology

Here’s where the digital dummy bit comes in. If you’re a project manager and it’s your first time at a digital agency without a technical background there will be stuff you haven’t even begun to understand.

I’ve learned to make frenemies with Google. Google is like that impossibly cool kid at high school who is so cool they’d even help you out if you worked up the courage to ask them even you kind of resent them for being so awesome at the same time. Okay, I had a complicated dynamic in high school…

Anyway start a notebook of acronyms/terms to Google later you’ll probably need those. Also, if you haven’t used Google Analytics much it can be a bit overwhelming. But like the impossibly cool kid at school once you approach it and start talking it’s all pretty chill pretty quickly (note: don’t actually talk to Google). It’s also still overwhelming with how much cool stuff it can do. So you’ll need to work out what you want to get out of it. If you’re looking for a way to quantify the good work you’re doing for a stakeholder then Google Analytics is the holy grail (or at least an excellent starting point). Try and get a feel of how your agency already reports analytics to clients and reverse-engineer them. Then rebuild them: harder, better, faster, stronger.

…and finally, don’t beat yourself up if you screw up. You’re going to get things wrong and you’re going to miss things – that’s human and you’ll get better at it once you’ve learnt everybody’s names and what it takes to get freelancers to reply to your emails.

TL; DR:

  1. Get organised – come up with a system for your emails.
  2. Project management software – figure out how to make it work for you, not the other way around.
  3. Take Ownership – take on tasks and get some quick wins to feel valuable
  4. Communication – cut down on future work by being as clear as you can and seeking as much clarification as you need.
  5. Technology – Google is your impossibly cool friend in so many ways.