If you’ve never been a project manager, the world of project management may seem vague and maybe even unnecessary. Perhaps you think of project management as an endless stream of excel sheets and budget chatter. But in fact, project management is crucial to the success of a project and a good project manager can be the difference between a tumultuous project fraught with risk, and a project that runs like a well-oiled machine.
Let’s first break down what project management is and best practices of a qualified project manager. At its core, project management is really about risk mitigation. It’s about setting up a plan at the onset of a project for how it can run successfully, foreseeing any possible road blocks, and finding a way through or around them. Potential problems often arise in any complex project, be it a missed milestone that will impact the next phase of the timeline, a key stakeholder being unavailable for a crucial design review, or a minor request during the user experience phase that may impact technical requirements. Without a project manager’s careful eye every step of the way, these issues can easily derail the project’s timeline and budget and jeopardize its success.
A good project manager constantly checks the health of a project and alerts the team when a maximum timeframe or budget allotted for each phase is nearing a close. Adept project managers will set up a detailed timeline at the onset of a project and will clearly outline the dependencies between milestones and risks associated with missing milestones. They will also make sure that the project is staffed appropriately, scheduling time for each strategist, designer, and developer to be available to work on the project when the time comes. Beyond availability, project managers need to carefully schedule team members with sufficient time to be onboarded to the project strategy, but not so much time that the budget becomes inflated. They are constantly balancing the demands of project success and project budget, ensuring both are met to a client and agency’s satisfaction.
In addition to tracking budget and timeline, successful project managers spend their time keeping clear lines of communication open throughout the project. Besides being the main point of contact, they are the glue that holds all information together and dispense it to the right people. In the case of a website project, distinct phases require different expertise and personnel, but the project manager is present at every step to communicate to the rest of the team. A digital goal or technical requirement may be mentioned at a kick-off meeting and the project manager will flag it and ensure the tech team is made aware. Perhaps a new template is introduced during user experience which will affect the design, it’s the project manager who ensures that adding this new template won’t affect the design timeline and budget. Without a proactive project manager, important communications can easily be overlooked, but first-rate PMs prevent any issues from falling through the cracks.
Organizations should consider a firm’s approach to project management when choosing strategic and creative partners for an engagement. A lot can go wrong if a dedicated project manager isn’t present every step of the way to hold information, maintain timelines and perform budget health checks. Targets can be missed, key milestones may be sidestepped, and launch dates could be delayed. Without someone keeping a strong hold on budget, investment in the project can spiral unnecessarily. And most importantly, strategic goals can be forfeited.
Fearing such risks can naturally make a client wary to relinquish control of the process, but for a project to run smoothly, trust between a project manager and client is essential. Confidence must be built early on, and clients should feel they can comfortably pass the baton to a project manager whose process alleviates their concern and diminishes risks. When assessing potential partners, clients should seek agencies that emphasize the value of their approach to project management, in addition to their creative thinking and technical acumen—for each strength is essential to a successful project outcome.
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