When you work as a Digital Project Manager in a small web agency it is highly unlikely you will be able to only manage projects and leave the account management responsibilities to someone else, even if there is a dedicated Account Manager.
This is one of the best, and worst, things about working for a small web company. You get to gain tonnes of experience in a variety of areas and develop a plethora of business skills, but, invariably it’s just these kinds of sub-roles that can crop up right when you don’t need them to, and often are responsible for wiping out an entire day that you had carefully planned out in order to stay on schedule.
At this point, it should be noted that when I talk about account management in this article I mean digital account management, and I’m talking about just a small part of the job, not the all-encompassing one that includes wining and dining clients, permanent fake smiles and meeting revenue targets – just the day to day flavour a Digital Project Manager tends to encounter e.g. new business sales and new work requests from clients outside of any projects being currently run.
In this series of articles I’d like to discuss the following:
- Why Digital Project Managers end up performing account management duties
- Why we should all embrace the opportunity rather as opposed to shun it
- Ways to manage the extra unexpected work load
- What makes a great Digital Account Manager
And of course, include a few movie references kowabunga!
I’m a Digital Project Manager, not an Account Manager!
You see the job advert, it sounds tempting, you apply and charm the pants off the interviewer (not literally, that would be highly inappropriate) and you get offered the Digital Project Manager position which you happily accept.
A few months in, with a couple of projects under your belt and good rapports built with clients, suddenly they’re asking you about small little pieces of website work, new mini-projects they have budget for and for advice on what they should do next with their website and overall digital business strategy.
Instinctively you begin to reply promptly and before you know it you’re getting sign-off on new work and new money… well done you, super duper shiny gold star!
But wait! What’s happened here? The sly subtle beast of account management has crept up and is about to devour you and your day – clever girl…
Yes that’s right; as sure as the cowboy hunter dude from Jurassic Park was eaten alive, you’ve slipped into an Account Manager role by accident; but why did this happen, and why does it always seem to happen to Digital Project Managers?
Digital Project Manager, a client’s best friend
Quite simply, you’ve become a Digital Account Manager because you’ve been the primary contact for the client for weeks or months and at this point they probably trust you more than anyone else in your team.
In the preceding weeks or months you have more than likely demonstrated a level of web industry expertise that gives the client a confidence that you are the person to ask about their online business strategy – what a compliment right!?
Digital Project Managers love their ego’s being massaged as much as the next person (it’s not just web designers or web developers, we just hide it better), so why do some Digital Project Managers dislike account management tasks so much when it is clearly evident the client is completely loving and respecting you?
Why Digital Project Managers hate account management
I have come across many Digital Project Managers who completely throw their toys out of the pram when digital account management tasks land on their to-do list, and do you know what, I have secretly done the same from time to time (just not shown it), but the reasons for the hissy fit may not be what you think…
Ok ok, in some cases the reason for the toy throwing is because a Digital Project Manager just doesn’t want to do any digital account management because they feel it isn’t their job, but you’ll generally only find this reaction in larger web organisations, where both dedicated Digital Project Managers and Digital Account Managers are employed.
In larger organisations it’s not unusual to find the Digital Account Manager is the client’s primary point of contact and the Digital Project Manager works more internally, managing the project team, something closer to a Production Manager in my opinion, but hey, I digress.
More often than not the reason Digital Project Managers will try to avoid digital account management duties is because it simply isn’t something they had planned to do in their already busy day and it can put multiple project schedules in jeopardy – that’s enough to rile even the most relaxed of Digital Project Managers!
The 5 minute myth of account management
While it seems obvious at the time that if a Digital Project Manager handles new client requests on a regular basis then something they had planned to get done that day won’t get done, it’s something that is surprisingly, and disappointingly, rarely accepted as a valid reason for a digital project being late.
This is usually because the digital account management duties performed come in dribs and drabs over a period of weeks or months, thus being hard to track. Sometimes it’s a 15-minute phone call, others its two or three mornings compiling new digital project quotes, there’s the little quick e-mail or the new business meeting or two… you know the things I mean, the little bits n bobs that take “5 minutes”.
These “5 minute” things, as I’m sure you’re all aware, tend to take anything from 15 minutes to 2 hours and above because they’re very rarely events in isolation. Yes the initial task may take 5 minutes, but the subsequent actions and waiting for items that come as a result will also take time to process.
These “5 minute” things are usually quoted as such by a person who will not have to see the action through to the end, and over the course of a digital project’s lifecycle, perhaps 3-6 months, they can all add up to days worth of lost time that can ultimately cause digital projects to be delivered late.
A typical digital account management scenario
For example, to take a request from a client to quote on a couple of small new pieces of work that are separate from the current digital project and thus not a change request, assuming they are in some way bespoke, will take you a good deal of time because you will probably have to do the following:
- Talk to the client to see what they want / what they’re trying to achieve
- Talk to the web development team to see how it would be best to implement the request and how long they would estimate it to take
- Speak to the web design team to get an estimate for the work required
- Create a structured quote that also accounts for any other tasks that will need to be completed as a result of the new requests e.g.:
- Create mini-Sitemap
- Create mini-Functional Specification document to eliminate ambiguity and scope creep
- Create crude design mock-ups
- You’ll then need to factor in the potential new work into the project’s existing schedule and your web agency’s resource availability, in order to let the client know how / if the new work would affect the current project milestone dates
- You’ll then need to write a mail, send the quote and be prepared to answer questions about your proposed solution
- There will no doubt be time needed to negotiate price
- Once agreed, you will have to send off the formal documentation and await sign-off
- Once signed off you will have to schedule the resource needed to complete the work, brief all team memebrs and send updated project schedules / milestone dates to the client
Then, and only then is the digital account management duty over and as you can image, all of this takes time, the time you had almost certainly had allocated for something else.
No doubt there are many out there who would just “throw together a quote” and say yes to the client immediately, but I’m a firm believer that if you’re not following a structured process for taking new client requests and producing quotes then you’re immediately running big risks of over selling, under quoting and / or missing critical requirements – and I guarantee this will invariably result in someone needing to spend more time to fix than you would have estimating, and leave the client peed off which all would agree is bad digital account management!
Of course some will argue that this is the job of the Digital Project Manager, and in most cases I would agree, after all, who best to understand the requirement, estimate time and adjust digital project schedules than the Digital Project Manager? Plus, how often have we whined about an Account Manager who has sold some new work to a client without taking into consideration the current schedule, resource allocation and fact that you can’t build “a mix of Facebook and YouTube” for £3k?
However, if it happens frequently enough, and isn’t a change request to the current digital project, it can severely disrupt a Digital Project Manager’s personal schedule to the point where projects are suffering significantly and thus it’s always best to have someone to delegate too if possible – the perfect person being a dedicated Digital Account Manager.
As the seasoned Digital Project Managers out there will know all too well, one day lost can potentially cause days or weeks worth of delay to a digital project. It could be that you’d scheduled designers or developers to start work the next day which was dependent on you finishing the creative brief or functional specification and getting sign off from the client that day, and they were only available to review and sign that day and won’t be again for four or five days – disaster.
When account management makes projects late
While it’s incredibly frustrating to be berated by your manager or client for a digital project being late, if you know part of the reason is due to you dealing with unexpected account management duties, mention it.
But be aware, if you mention it, it’s best to be prepared and able to produce some kind of evidence or log, of not only the time spent on digital account management tasks but also the new revenue earned for the company, just in case it’s a particularly sensitive project and you run the risk of being crucified, burnt, hung, drawn quartered and fed to the Sarlacc Monster in the Great Pit of Carkoon, rather than simply ‘sighed’ at.
Aside from keeping records of your work time to cover your arse when being thrown to the wolves, it’s also a good habit to get into so that you can begin to analyse your time and see just where it’s going and how long it tends to take you as a percentage to manage digital projects – you can then use this information to assist you in identifying bottlenecks in your processes and estimating new digital projects, as I discussed in my article Estimating Time for Digital Projects More Accurately.
Hopefully, this first article in the series explains why Digital Project Managers always seem to end up performing digital account management tasks and also why many dislike it. My counterparts out there will already know all of this, but perhaps it may offer a different perspective to others who work alongside Digital Project Managers…
However, now the rant part of this series is complete, and I have all my fellow Digital Project Managers agreeing in unison about how ridiculous it is to be expected to handle new work requests on top of their day job, in Part 2 I’m going to upset you all by talking about why Digital Project Managers, despite it having the ability to seriously de-rail your projects, should actually embrace the opportunity rather than shun it and some techniques you can adopt so you can deal with the strain it puts on your workload.