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  • Sylvie


  • Louisa Muhsin

    Nice post, I’ve got similar experiences from account managing in PR / marketing. A big chunk of the job is managing expectations – that of the client, your boss, the performance and outcome of the project.

  • Christa

    Thanks for your blog, Sam. I’m a rookie web project coordinator at a small, private web development and design company. It’s a new position at the company, and I am new to the field. Translation – there is substantial deficit. In the post above, you said “I’ve seen rookie Junior Web Project Managers transform into kick ass fully fledged PMs simply by asking questions and having the hunger to learn.” And in the article about hiring Web PMs, you said, “a Web Project Manager really needs to understand the complexities of web projects in order to run them well, and although not necessary, having experience in a wide range of digital skills is advantageous.”

    Given the above, I’d like to ask:
    1) What is the basic list of digital skills that you think are most beneficial that a new, inexperienced PM work to acquire?

    2) What are some resources that you’d recommend to obtain said skills?

    3) Have you been in a situation where management wanted you to implement a project management software tool? Regardless, what is your take on using such softwares i.e. in your experience do they really assist facilitation of the project process or do they mostly get in the way i.e. require devs to do non-dev “busy work”?

    I’d very much appreciate any feedback and insights you’re able to share. Thanks in advance.

  • Matty

    Hey Christa – in my opinion a good pm tool will make everyone’s life easier. It can become the place where all the project info is gathered. There are so many tools out there, you might need to try a few before you settle on one.

    Great article Sam, I’m still working on my boss to send me out to Philly :)

  • @Christa, great question. My answers are…

    1) Start with an basic foundation knowledge in the web and how it works e.g. what HTML is, how CSS is used in conjunction with it. What a web server is and how files sit on them and are requested by users. What a database is and how websites use data stored in them.

    Really just the fundamentals and take it from there. What you’ll find is that over time you’ll start seeing the theory in a practical context on projects you’re exposed to and conversations overheard – slowly but surely you’ll start to piece things together.

    2) Resources wise… wow so many. The ideal way to learn is to do. By this I don’t mean you should try and write a web app, but set yourself a really simple goal of writing a static site with a couple of pages. To do this you’ll be forced to live on Google while searching how to write basic HTML, then what CSS is, how to display an image in a web page – leading onto how do you get the page online i.e. what is a web server, and so on.

    Alternatively, read, ask, read, ask. Watch videos on YouTube, read books, read articles.

    A technique I find more useful than generic reading is is when you hear people at work discussing a technology, ask them to explain it to you, at lunch if needs be. Most will love that you’re asking and be happy to teach you.

    I’ll often say to people to explain it to me like they would a child as I have no idea about it. Some are surprised to hear me ask, but I see no point in trying to pretend I know everything – you always get caught that way – better to be honest, ask, show hunger and enthusiasm, and maybe look it up on your own too.

    Also, read “A Practical Guide to Managing Web Projects” http://www.fivesimplesteps.com/products/a-practical-guide-to-managing-web-projects – some great advice in here.

    Also, get on Twitter and read tweets on the hashtag #webpm and #pmot. Get on LinkedIn and join the Web Project Managers and other groups. Ask questions there, read other’s questions and the replies – just immerse yourself :)

    3) Web project management tools are the subject of a zillion articles and debates, but it’s always the same answer – no tool will manage a web project for you.

    I spent many years genuinely believing that there must be a tool out there that does everything I need, but there isn’t. Some are great at one thing but fail at another. Others are great but don’t fit the methodology your company uses. With some they take more time to keep up to date than is worth it – the list is endless.

    The truth is if it works for you and your team, it’s fine, whether it’s a spreadsheet or a full on web project management tool. The only danger of this philosophy is you never change, adapt or try anything new. Thus my advice is to test all new tools you hear of yourself.

    I like to setup test projects in them to see how they feel e.g. create team members, work types, projects, phases – whatever the tool allows you to do. Often after a matter of 30 mins I find a problem that means it wouldn’t work for ‘us’. But occasionally you find one that seems to be great and the next step is to try and trial on an low-risk small-sized project to see how it feels.

    As @Matty says, there are so many out there and when you find one that works for you it’s awesome, and that is the only criteria for what is good or not.

    Hope this info helps for you, but feel free to reply more if you have any more questions :)

  • John Brissette

    Nice take. However, it’s a little black and white to say either say Yes to every client whim, or give a flat No. A solid PM will say Yes, and illustrate how it will impact delivery, and see if they (the client) are willing to let the project timeline slide. In my experience, most clients would rather deliver on-time. This is where agile sprints seem to work. Then you can realistically see how many changes you can fit into the two-week sprint. “Sure, we can do that for you, but we’re already X weeks down the pipeline, so this change would mean X more weeks of development.” In order to stand your ground, you need to listen to your designers and developers on how long its really going to take, and what won’t get done while you’re fulfilling the client’s req.

  • @John, of course you’re right in that the ‘client management’ book says to never say no, but to use the “yes but” technique you describe, however I’ve found in reality this can wear thin if you keep saying it to the same client.

    But either way, the instances of ‘yes’ I’m talking about are more likely when the client is a big one of yours (and they know it) and quite simply they don’t care too much about scope creep – for the sake of a good account, a good Web Project Manager will know which battles to fight.

    The principles of Agile do allow for change and by definition instill the agreement that if something gets prioritised in the backlog then something must be de-prioritised, but that doesn’t stop silly requests being made or Product Owners making decisions i.e. the need to sometime agree to something that the production team really disagree with.

  • HOO

    ouch! ouch!! ouch!!! – I like the post but in reality, we need to extend the baton to the sales rep who goes out there to offer the souls of the project team to the client all for the sake of COMMISSION in the first instance.

    In my past experience, I have witness the sale of projects diminish the motivation and willingness of project team. On few occasions, I have been handed projects of £8k+ estimated cost which was sold to the client at a lovely bargain of £1.5k. Within this projects the clients was promised the world and included in the package was an option for the client to command the project team to jump and all they say is “how high”.

    So no matter how much Project managers are criticized or insulted you need to remember although it is believed there is a fine line to saying NO, we have to be extremely careful as making the client unhappy after been promised the world by a salesman or sales team could end in an unpredictable manner.

  • @HOO, thanks for the response. I totally know what you mean, I’ve been in this exact situation more than once and it really does suck!

    However, in all of these circumstances I would encourage the same course of action I took… to speak up, explain the maths to people, explain the downsides and negotiate / talk with whoever it is you need to in order to do one of two things:

    1) Stop the crazy selling / under quoting.

    2) If you can’t because it’s a key client (or other unavoidable situation), ensure you and your team are held to account to what the budget SHOULD be and not what is being charged.

    If a client is given a great ‘deal’ for 1.5k but the work will take 8k, make sure 8k is set as your teams budget internally. If your employer is expecting you to actually deliver 8k of work for 1.5k, you need to have some serious conversations with your bosses and think about your next move.

    Try and get involved in the selling side a little more. If not possible, build a rapport with the sales manager, educate them on the impact of their decisions to both you, the team and the business as a whole.

    This is not an uncommon situation, but what is common is it’s you who has to do something about it.

    If all else fails and you cannot, there is no reason your team should see you as shit. If you explain to them the situation, they may think the company is shit, the salespeople or whatever, but they will not think you are. This one on you shouldn’t ‘soak up’ as part of your role in my opinion.

  • Hi, I’m a Software Engineer currently working as a Web Developer, I have to say I love project management, I have study PMI and even frameworks like SCRUM and to be honest I found this post as pure gold. I have to thank the author because my next goal is to grow as Web Project Manager, I just like to search for references and experiences from professionals that work currently as PM.

    Hope someday to get that job, greetings to everyone and thank you for sharing your experiencies to the world.

  • Alexandra

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I am also new to the world of web project management, actually project management in general, and have very little technical knowledge. This article was extremely helpful and comforting to read. Christa, I appreciate the questions you asked as I was going to as the same, and Sam, THANK YOU for the excellent advice and guidance!

  • @Alexandra, thank you for commenting and so glad you liked the article :)

  • 1) blowing smoke up clients @ss during meetings, promising the sun moon and stars and then under quote.

    2) Not setting proper boundaries for clients > the unlimited changes scenario.

  • Raz

    Brilliant article, rings close to home.

  • Lourdes

    Great article, I am also relatively new and would’ve asked Christa’s exact same Q!s:)

  • John

    I’ve had some doozies not mentioned here. I had a PM take over a project for another PM who had another project that needed said PMs expertise and then proceeded to ride me hard right from the start. Everyone who worked with me knew I worked mostly 50 hr weeks for the time of my employment and busted my a** but this PM accused me of not wanting to work extra to make the client happy among other things.

    Having years of experience dealing with PMs I’ve only ran into maybe 1 or 2 that were any good at their job. Most PMs don’t truly, I mean not at all, understand anything about technology. They also don’t respect or empathize with their team, they don’t stand up for you to the client, they will sell you down the river to make themselves look better to the client, they will take credit for your work without passing the kudos on, etc. Another one I’ve seen before is the PM not being available when a decision needed to be made then berating the person who went ahead and made the decision because it needed to be done. PMs are spread too thin most of the time and will have many projects going on at once, at least in my area. Sometimes they are in all day meetings for another project and can’t help you when you need it. Now, this last example is not a fault of the PM it’s a fault of the organization that’s spreading the PMs too thin but it’s another thing that upsets workers who have to deal with PMs. A good PM is a great thing but in my experience these are few and far between.

    It’s also amazing how poor the communication skills are for most PMs. If you are a PM YOUR JOB IS COMMUNICATION. The act of keeping projects on task requires communication with the team to do so. The thing PMs don’t understand is that if you are good at your job, and honestly to me this means more that you are good to the team because as a very experienced person in IT I know how long something will take and don’t need a PM to tell me, then the team will bust their a**es for you. Devs will work extra hard for you if you are good to them. PMs most of the time start each and every project in a way that positions themselves as the enemy of the dev team. The PM should be on your side. My personal preference is the Agile development methodology where the PM role is pretty much distributed across the dev team. This makes the team have better synergy and depending on the type of project and the way your organization uses and understands Agile may or may not completely eliminate the PM role.

    Closing thoughts – PMs, love your dev team and they will love you back. Treat your dev team like the enemy and you will be hated behind your back.

  • @John, thanks for the excellent comment! The first kind of shit digital project manager you talk about is depressingly common, but in my experience tend to exist more in the larger agencies than small ones, but they do exist everywhere.

    As for the others, yup, seen them all too, but one thing I would suggest is to try and put your anger to one side in these situations and make an attempt to talk to these PMs in a 1:1 situation.

    Offer help rather than slate them behind their back and you may turn some shit ones into some good ones. There are many who will dismiss you if you even try this and they can just piss off as far as I’m concerned.

    However some will appear to be shit but really appreciate the help. From a digital project manager’s perspective, it would be amazing to have someone help them understand the frustrations of designers and developers.

    In my experience, the best kind of devs are those who are able to bridge the gap between technical and business and the same goes for a part that makes up good digital project managers.

    I always think it’s worth a shot, even if you suspect you’ll be ignored… one trick I found works well is to make it very clear that they can ask you ANY question in private about ANYTHING technical, even what appear to be stupid questions.

    All too often I find the shit digital project managers are actually a little intimidated by devs and their technical knowledge and compensate by puffing out their chest, as opposed to doing what devs actually respect which is admit they don’t know and take the time to try and learn the basics… so find out if your shit digital project managers are dickheads by offering support :)


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