An ode to project management (and MacGyver)
Project management is one of the most undervalued skills in the marketing/communications industry. It’s an attitude I’ve encountered a lot over the course of my career, even within agencies themselves. “Oh, but it’s just project management…”
It’s an attitude I used to have myself.
I think it’s partly because project management doesn’t enjoy esteem of “hard” skills like coding or design, but just because it’s a “soft” skill it doesn’t make it any less valuable.
Over the festive season recently, when we were on skeleton staff, we wanted to make sure that there was always a Pomegranite available if anyone needed help. On most days there was at least one project manager and one social media strategist on call. But for two days when we felt it would be most quiet, it was just Nicole, our Head of Social Media, sailing the ship, which she did extremely well. Even though, Murphy’s law, quite a bit of website work cropped up.
At our first big meeting when most of us were back in the office in January, we did a handover, catching each other up on what had been handled over the break, and Nicole – who is one of the most capable people I have ever met – remarked that she had the utmost respect for project managers, because it’s not easy.
It’s not just juggling time management and ensuring that there’s never a block in workflow as a project is passed from client to designer to developer to client to developer, etc. It’s the more subtle skill of translation, understanding what it is that a client wants (especially when they may not have the technical vocabulary to articulate it), and communicating it to a developer in a way that allows the developer to get straight to work with a clear brief.
You’re like an air traffic controller, as Liz likes to say. But one who speaks multiple languages and is able to problem-solve at a MacGyver level, usually under quite a bit of time pressure. (As I write this I have a sudden vivid memory flash of sitting next to my gran on the couch as she chain smoked, white-knuckled, yelling, “Come on, ducky!” at the TV, where a bomb was about to explode.)
But while you’re busy MacGyvering, you’re not just working on one project at a time. You’re working on 10. And while you’re doing all the juggling and translating and problem-solving, you’re also making people feel seen and heard and understood and appreciated. Because, something that’s taken me a while to learn, is that the mark of a truly skilled project manager is not just delivering excellent work on deadline to a happy client. It’s doing all that while putting your team under the least amount of pressure possible, and giving people the space to do their best work – despite tight deadlines.
At Pomegranite, that flow of energy within the team is extended even further most of the time, as we like to bounce ideas off each other even, or especially, when someone isn’t involved in a project.
I asked our exceptional “air traffic controllers” what they think we do a bit differently when it comes to project management at Pomegranite:
Melissa: “While each client is assigned one project manager, we regularly engage with one another to bring the team and their expertise in on projects. Whether chatting through digital trends during our Friday skills shares, sharing our latest projects during our show-off sessions or getting the team together for a brainstorm, we have the invaluable resource of each team member on hand to contribute as and when needed.”
Jesse: “Pomegranite’s project management style is great because you’re never alone on a project. Besides having our amazing directors behind us, we also have the expertise of our amazing, multi-skilled team to be able to bounce ideas off of at any stage.
It feels great to lead a project, but to never be alone out at sea.”
Tom: “At Pomegranite, every project (whether big or small) gets a dedicated manager. That means a lot for a client, because it makes them feel heard, no matter the size of their budget. It’s that personal touch that sets us apart.”
In my experience, project management is the glue that holds everything together. It’s the difference between a good client experience or a bad one, and it’s that relationship building that keeps people coming back to you – or telling their friends and colleagues about you.
PMs – we appreciate the hell out of you!