The Digital Project Manager Interviews: Rich Quick

  • Name: Rich Quick
  • Company: Successful Sites and Klowd Software
  • Job Title: Owner/CEO
  • Website: Successful Sites

Richard is a web designer with over 12 years’ experience. He wrote a best-selling book on web design, was a finalist at the South by Southwest Web Awards in Austin, Texas and he used to live on a boat. Rich currently lives in St Andrews, Scotland and is planning to take up golf any time soon. Follow Rich on Twitter.

The Day Job

Tell me a little bit about the company you work for

The day job is Successful Sites, my web design company. I am also working on a software startup, Klowd, which is producing desktop software that integrates with web-based services like Freshbooks and Basecamp.

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

For the web design company we have half a project manager (he’s part time, not short) one designer (me… but I may replace myself soon to concentrate on Klowd) and one developer. So, that 2.5 to 1. With Klowd we don’t currently have a Digital Project Manager, but that will change in the future.

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

Chris, our Digital Project Manager, is Prince 2 trained. So we use that… well, he does.

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

Basecamp, MS Project, Basalmiq, Mail and iCal

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?

Well, I started out as a freelancer and grew my previous web design company to be pretty large. Sooner or later someone needs to organise things and it ended up falling on me. To be honest, I was pretty crap at it. Not because I couldn’t plan projects, but because I had so many other calls on my time.

I was also trying to do sales, finance, creative direction, coding, design, PR and cleaning the kitchen. Having worked for so long without a Digital Project Manager and seeing the problems it can cause, I really appreciate the value of a good Web PM. It’s taken me a long time to realise what it takes to be a good Web PM but I’m getting there, slowly!!

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

At the moment, I’m stepping back from Digital Project Manager duties to concentrate on design and sales. See my previous answer for roles I’ve tried to carry out while being a Digital Project Manager as well.

What type of digital projects do you typically work on?

Client side build work. Small CMS driven websites for SMEs and Corporate companies, small online shops and lots of email design and build work for corporates.

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

Currently 1 main project and 4 ongoing HTML e-mail clients. The most was something around 45. That was insane – and the fact nobody got killed was a miracle.

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


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

Finishing off a site for a letting agent. Doing ongoing email design and build work for several high-profile corporate clients.

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

Wake up. Check email. Answer emails. Have lunch. Speak to client on the phone. Speak to developer on Skype.

How would you describe your managerial style?

Laissez-faire. I tend to be very hands off.

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

Email. Jeremy Kyle (nah, kidding!!). Mainly email and occasionally meetings and phoncalls that overrun.

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

I’m not sure I do! Any organisation I do have is down to Things – a great little app for the Mac.

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?

Post sales. This works for the way we work. If we worked like a typical agency it would have to be at the speccing stage.

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

In the past, we’d just take an estimate based on experience. Now, we’ve totally changed the way we work.

We only take on one new client at a time, and we work on their site for 2 (usually) or 3 months. They hire us for a set period of time and we’ll try to do a good job within that timescale.

For ongoing e-mail clients we have a fairly good idea of how long things take, but we change hourly so don’t do specific estimates.

How do you handle unrealistic digital project budgets and schedules?

Just say no.

In the past, I’ve tried to accomodate people’s budgets and timescales. It doesn’t work and it devalues you in the eyes of the client – leading to problems later in many cases.

You’re better off saying “sorry, we can’t do that”. You’ll lose some clients, but the clients you keep will have more respect for you.

As a company owner I often have 2 roles, sales and Digital Project Manager. The skill of a good sales person is to get other people to say “yes”.

The skill of a good Digital Project Manager is to say “no”. Web project management is as much about managing expectations as planning projects. If clients hear “yes” all the time, they think everything’s cheap and easy. If you say “no” they value you more and they’re less likely to get unrealistic expectations which you can’t meet.

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

We only take on one new-build web design project a month. So that covers scheduling. Email work tends to schedule itself and we fit the new-build stuff around it.

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

Speak to the client about their deliverables – it gets them thinking about their side of the coin early – set deadlines for them.

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?

For Successful Sites, I take a less active role in digital project management now. For Klowd I do it all.

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

Sitemaps, wireframes, basic specs and a project deliverables list.

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

We take the approach that the budget and timescale are fixed, so it’s deliverables that are flexible. This leads to less upset clients than if budget and/or deliverables are fixed and timescale increases.

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

Scope creep can only ever really happen downwards on our digital projects, so it puts the onus on the client to meet their commitments and be reasonable over revisions.

What advice would you give for managing difficult clients?

Don’t! Weed them out in the sales process. Be firm – even rude – early on. It’s like being in an abusive relationship. Don’t get into them, and if there’s a risk it might go that way be strong and get out early if need be.

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

We create checklists of things to do. Every time we screw up we add that thing to a check list.

The Big Questions

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

Boagworld is the main one. Also The Lean Startup.

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

Digital projects are mainly about managing the client. Web applications are about managing the management team. Basically, whoever is paying for the project is usually the biggest problem.

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

A Good communicator. Not afraid to say “no”. Not afraid to have difficult conversations. Never says “yeah, we can do that”. Self-disciplined and a good planner.

What are the biggest common misconceptions about digital project management?

That it’s optional.

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

Managing clients and expectations.

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

Essential but hard