The Digital Project Manager Interviews: Ed Richardson

Ed works as head tea boy (Senior Project Manager) at LOVE Creative. When not running through mud in the great outdoors, he can usually be found at his Digital Signals blog (currently undergoing work) or tweeting as DigitalSignals. Follow Ed on Twitter.

The Day Job

Tell me a little bit about the company you work for

LOVE are a creative agency, here to help brands express themselves across many formats with very successful results.

What is the ratio of digital project managers to production staff at your company?

1 to 6

Do you use any particular project management methodologies? If so, why? If not, why?

No particular breed of methodology. We have an in-house digital project process that we use on most projects. I don’t think you can get one glove that fits all with methodologies. I think some people spend too much time trying to get their projects to fit into methodologies.

What online or offline tools do you tend to use for digital project management?

I’ve used many in the past, most of the usual suspects (MS Project being the best known). Here we use Basecamp, Sifter, Merlin and Paprika.

How on earth did you end up managing digital projects? Few people start out with this aim. Tell me how you wound up being a full-time punch bag?

Started off on an IT Helpdesk, moved into infrastructure design, support and project management. Left IT about 6 years ago to pursue digital project management due to a desire to be involved in a more creative process and also to return to a more people facing environment.

Do you just manage digital projects or is your role varied? If so, what other roles do you perform?

My role is 2/3rd technical Digital Project Management and 1/3rd Digital Account Handling I would say. Previously I’d always been asked to fix the IT when it’s gone wrong, I seem to have escaped that at LOVE so far!

What type of digital projects do you typically work on?

Mixed bag, but mostly creatively inspired digital work that might have other associated creative work coming from the agency, with a strong brand awareness message. We like to try and get more out of digital than just thinking website, website, website…

How many digital projects are you currently managing? What’s the most you’ve ever managed at any one time?

Currently managing about 5 projects, I’ve managed up to about 9-10 at one time in previous roles. It’s hard to make any judgement about this with just numbers. Some projects are easy; others take you to the edge and back.

What percentage of a digital project’s total budgeted hours would you typically spend on project management?

Usually more than the client gets billed. We usually bill at around 10-15%.

What digital projects are you working on right now, and what digital project are you most proud of to date?

Dr. Martens 50th Anniversary went few weeks ago and I suppose that answers the other question as well. Also look after Sony’s The Game, but I adopted that when I joined LOVE so can’t take as much credit for it.

Describe a typical day in the life of your role managing digital projects.

Read e-mails, reply to e-mails, call people, make tea, check schedules, catch-up with team on progress, make tea, revise schedules, send e-mails, check functional spec, send e-mails, reply to reply to e-mails, make tea, call people, update online management tools, read e-mails, make tea, check progress with team, make tea, make tea, go home and spend all night trying to sleep whilst trying manage imaginary tasks that my mind has told me are running behind schedule.

How would you describe your managerial style?

I’ll like to earn respect first and then relax and talk freely with the team about my perspective and what I’d like/expect to happen next.

What are the common things that crop up on a daily basis that destroy your planned activities for that day?

Clients demanding resources to be allocated to their projects outside of the planned production schedule that they’ve already been made aware of – and over servicing of accounts.

How do you keep organised personally, given the hectic life that comes with managing digital projects?

I struggle, although I just manage to pull it off. Most of that I put down to the fantastic management skills of my wife.

The Projects

At what point do you typically get involved with a digital project you are to manage? Pre-sales and estimating or only post-sale?

All of the above

What technique do you use to estimate digital projects? Do you use different ones for small and large projects?

Some elements are easier, repetitive, elements that with experience you can guesstimate, others usually involve relatively detailed walkthroughs with the technical team about how we would go about delivering particular aspects. These will definitely vary with the scale of the project.

How do you handle unrealistic digital project budgets and schedules?

In most cases, push back. That can’t be delivered in that time for that price. “We could offer you this for that price…”, “We could probably deliver this in that timeframe…”. Other times it might be an investment decision with a client.

How does your company approach scheduling all the work currently in the pipeline?

We have a dedicated production manager for the whole of the studio.

You receive a new digital project to manage, what are the first steps you’ll take?

Read and understand the information I’ve been provided, and then ask questions.

Do you manage all aspects of digital projects, like design, front-end and back-end development, or do department leads manage production based on requirements you capture?

Yes, all aspects in most cases. Sometimes I’ve worked in collaboration with other agencies.

What deliverables do you personally typically produce on a digital project? Sitemaps, wireframes, functional specifications? Or are these produced by someone else? If so, who?

In the past I’ve produced all of the above. At LOVE our UX Designer usually produces these in collaboration with a Digital Project Manager and the development team – she’s very good at this.

What are all the things that will be defined and approved before design or development begins on one of your digital projects?

Initial Functional Specification (which includes wireframes), delivery schedule, sitemap and of course budget.

How do you tackle the art of monitoring digital project budgets versus progress?

Usually rough calculations in my head based on the time estimated by the team to deliver elements, and current position in the delivery schedule against the time allocated to the client as per the agreed costs.

How do you manage the inevitable scope creep on digital projects?

Refer back to the Functional Specification continually that should have been signed off by the client.

What advice would you give for managing difficult clients?

Be nice, be nice, be nice, be tough

How do you ensure past mistakes on digital projects never happen again?

I carve the mistakes into my bedstead and read them with anger every night before sleeping.

The Big Questions

What websites, blogs and podcasts are you currently using regularly for inspiration?

Twitter and it’s never ending leads to knowledge… There are many other sources that I enjoy when I get the time, oh and get this… I also read books!

What are the biggest differences between managing website projects and web application projects?

Content management.

What do you think are the key personality attributes required to be a good digital project manager?

Hmmmm… determination, calmness and resourcefulness.

What are the biggest common misconceptions about digital project management?

That it’s easy and all we really do is chat on the phone and ask for timelines…

What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of digital project management?

Managing expectations of everyone from the development/design team to the client.

In three words, how would you describe digital project management?

Challenging, defining, rewarding