About brettharned

I'm a Project Management Director for Happy Cog in Philadelphia, PA.


If there’s anything I’ve learned in this profession, it’s that nothing ever goes as planned. You can write out a plan, communicate it line by line to everyone involved, get buy in, and a day later that plan will change. You can also write an email and intend the message to be received one way, but the person on the other end takes it a different way. Or, better yet, say something in person and have it twisted or misheard, only to land with someone else and completely confuse important details. Communications are tough, and no one can claim to have them right, because every person communicates differently. So just remember: no matter what you do, you cannot control the reaction to your actions. And that is perfectly fine, as long as your intent is genuine, your approach is honest, and your reaction is swift and corrective.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Digital PM is on the rise

This post appeared today on the ESI PM Perspectives Blog. Thank you to Lindsay Scott for asking me to write the article. I’m pretty happy with what I ended up with, and I hope you will be too. Check it out!

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The world of project management is huge—there are PM practitioners in fields ranging from IT to construction, and more. Whilst our projects vary in size, scope, location, and subject matter, there are threads of the PM profession that keep us connected. Case in point: any good PM is laser-focused on keeping our projects “on time and under budget”. At a very root level, best practices apply across fields (and continents). The thing is, techniques and subject matter expertise change from industry to industry. While it’s really interesting to know how a project manager in another industry might handle an issue, keeping up with relevant topics within one’s own industry is paramount in being the best PM you can be.

The Digital PM Tribe

You might be seeing “tribes” of project managers forming around the globe based on their specialization: IT and Construction are great examples. They share specific knowledge, resources, experiences, and best practices based on the specific type of projects they manage. One PM community that’s newer to the PM scene and is pushing boundaries and making itself known is Digital Project Management (DPM). We’re the new kids on the block. We’re excited about what we do. We have a new voice within the digital community, and we want to be heard. We’re a little different from your average PM. Not better, not worse, just different.

What is a Digital Project Manager?

Sure, Digital PMs are just like any other PM in that we handle project scopes, timelines, communications, and team dynamics. But we take special interest in our niche, which is the process by which we build websites, apps, and other digital products. We face the similar issues to project managers in other fields, but we get especially excited about the things that specifically affect our projects and our teams.

Evolving Technology

Look away for a week and you’ll miss major developments in the digital community. Think about the way you’ve used the Internet and how it has changed in just the past five years. We’re at a point where smartphone usage has climbed to well over half of the population. This means that people are conducting a lot of their online activities—and even business—on their mobile devices. That means that if you’re designing web sites, you’re no longer focused on that large desktop view. You’re focused on an experience that resonates for users on all device sizes in different use cases. Add to that the fact that operating systems are updated often and new devices are being introduced frequently and you get an ever-changing cycle of technology with amazing opportunities to build the next best thing. It’s pretty exciting. Digital PMs need to keep up with this type of evolution and plan for how it will impact the size, scope, length, and most of all, effort of their projects.


New technology brings new considerations when planning projects. For instance, the impetus of Responsive Design brought exciting developments on how content could be displayed in different viewport sizes. That means that there are now design considerations—and accompanying decisions—to be made on three variations of a design. Obviously, that means the scope and length of a project will change. The trickier part is the decision-making process. Do you present three versions of a web design to a client and iterate on it? Or do you design a page, code a page, and iterate? The options are endless, and they change based on what the project or the client might require. As digital PMs, we can’t be rigid about our process. We have to take cues from our teams and clients and follow our instincts on what will be best for everyone. If it doesn’t seem to be working, we have to make adjustments midstream and keep the project moving. That’s right, we have to adapt. We’re flexible by nature. In the end, it’s not about Agile or Waterfall, it’s about what works best for you.

Continuous Learning

I’m just going to say it: your PMP certification doesn’t mean that much to us. Please don’t take offense to that statement, because we respect PMI and the foundational knowledge that comes from the training they can provide. But our community just isn’t keen on certifications or titles. What we do care about is truly immersing ourselves in our work and learning from our teams and our peers. Some say that Digital PM can be taught. But in reality, that is only partially true. You can teach anyone how to build a project plan, write a scope, or run an utilization report, but you can’t teach them how to be continually curious and passionate about the work they do. And that’s a requirement of all DPMs. We’re nerds. We love the internet. We love the people who make great things, and we truly want to be a part of that process. A PMP certification will only get you part of the way there, and it certainly won’t make you a ringer for a job much less an interview.

Communication and Collaboration

All good project managers are good communicators. For digital project managers this goes beyond your typical status report or email. It’s about being an important, respected part of your team. You can only get to that point as a PM by being honest about what you do and do not know about a project, your team’s work, and your own work. The heart and soul of a great DPM is in their desire to work collaboratively with their teams to build plans that work for everyone, brainstorm ideas that resonate, and openly communicate information that will make projects successful. Digital PMs can rule a spreadsheet, lock down requirements, and assure milestones are met, but at heart, we are creative thinkers and creative beings who are immersed in digital.

The Growing DPM Community

There’s an overall feeling of excitement about “finding your people” among the Digital PM community. Most have explored many avenues when it comes to learning and networking, and likely have read the more traditional PM books and blogs. But DPMs are seeking something more—a genuine connection not only through PM content and work experience, but through interests and expertise. And they’re honestly not that easy to find. Stumbling upon a post about Digital PM is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a glorious rainbow. You dive in, swim around for as long as possible, and get out wanting MORE. Right now, we’re lacking “more,” but that is changing daily.

A few years ago, very few people in the digital/web industry were talking about how projects were managed. It was all about the latest design trend or pattern. While that type of content and knowledge sharing is essential in the industry, it was clear that there was something missing. Today, if you search for Digital Project Management (a title that was coined only a few years ago) on the web, you will find blogs, books, quotes, and even conferences. The tribe truly started to form around the inception of the Digital PM Summit, a conference that started in Philadelphia, PA in 2013 and is hosted by the Bureau of Digital. It is now a yearly event that brings hundreds of Digital PMs from all over the world together to talk about what matters most to them.

The follow-up on that conference is even more than the conference itself. Attendees leave inspired to start local Digital PM Meetups, write articles, set up new Twitter accounts, present what they learned to their teams and companies, and set up blogs where they enthusiastically share their experiences and ideas. It’s all so exciting, because each day a new personality introduces him or herself to the community—and that only makes it stronger. At about three years in, this community is in its infancy. In years to come, you can expect to see and hear much more from Digital PMs.

Join the Excitement

As a PM practitioner, you know that there are amazing resources like this website, organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI), conferences, books a plenty for those who are hoping to sharpen their skills and keep up on new techniques and best practices. Do a Digital PM a favor and share one that you think applies. Sure, we’re the new kids on the block, and we’re a little different, but we’re always looking for a new friend and would love to exchange ideas and resources.

DPM-logo-smallIf you are interested in finding out more about Digital Project Management, Brett will be speaking at the Digital Project Management event DPM:UK in Manchester on the 28th and 29th January 2015


Are you on twitter? If not, sign up now! Twitter is a great resource for project managers. You’ll find experts sharing their advice, articles, blog posts, event information, and more. Plus, there is a weekly “event” on Twitter called PM Chat where project managers from all industries gather and talk about specific topics. Tomorrow’s topic will be Digital Project Management, and I’ve been asked to co-host.

So, log on to Twitter tomorrow and look for questions and responses from @pmchat @brettharned (me) and @G0GetterVette (co-host) and also follow the #pmchat hashtag to watch other responses come in. Here’s a sampling of questions:

1.) What kinds of projects do you manage?
2.) How is managing digital projects different from other industries?
3.) How important is project leadership in your industry? (Technical knowledge vs. soft skills)
4.) Are the PMs in this industry PMI-certified? Do companies require certification? What can compensate for lack of experience?
5.) What tips can you give to new PMs who want to go the digital industry or to experienced PMs who would like to jump into the digital industry?
Your responses have to be short…it’ll certainly be a challenge, but it’s fun and a good way to hear quick points of view on varying topics. So join us tomorrow at Noon Eastern/11am Central on Twitter.


Communication Tactics

I’ve got another question for you:

At what points in projects do you face communication issues? And how do you resolve them?

This time I’m going to provide an answer: An issue that I have often encountered happens early on projects, even before work starts. We can win a project with a client and they sign a contract, but as it turns out in some cases, the client’s lawyers either hand off or sign a version of the contract that isn’t the same scope that was initially presented to them. So, we can get into our work at a reduced scope (based on negotiations), and by the client’s expectations, we are under delivering or planning for less work right from the start. What a bummer.

So how have we adjusted our practice to make sure that our team and our clients are on the same page when it comes to the contract or the scope document? In an initial internal kickoff meeting, we will sit down with the document internally and review it. That will help us to plan our work. In a separate call, we will sit down with our clients and review the scope document in detail. I’ve found that this simple communication tactic helps to clear the air and set expectations early on. It’s simple and doesn’t take a long time. On top of that, we’re re-stating what’s in a signed document, so there is never any argument about scope. We get it out in the open right away. That’s a relief for everyone.

So what are you doing to keep communications flowing with your team, partners, or clients?

When Digital PMs Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real

2014-08-01 11.34.00 amI’m really looking forward to joining my friend Rachel Gertz on a Louder Than Ten Q&A on August 15 at 3pm EDT. This project that Rachel and Travis Gertz have come up with is great, because it provides another platform for digital project managers to talk more about their work and share and exchange ideas in real time. Sure, Twitter and bloq Q&As are great, but a live chat with interactive audience questions takes it to the next level. It makes it more timely, relevant, and fun.

Of course we’re going to talk about digital PM topics, but we’ve both agreed to just being real. Anyone can talk about tools, process, and blah blah blah…and we do. But this time, we’re going to dig deeper and talk about what makes us tick, not just as digital PMs, but as people. How do you deal with the pressure of projects, personalities, conflict? What makes you you? And how does that impact your work? The tough stuff. The Real stuff.

So, RSVP, submit a question or two, and get to know us. It’s all about this community, man. We’re waiting here with arms outstretched.

You’ve Got Issues

I’m working on a little something and I’d love to hear from my friends (you). It’s simple. Just answer this one question in the comments below.

What is the one issue that you face often on projects?

Maybe there are two or three. Share them, please. And, if you have the time or the inclination, share how you resolve the issue. If I’d like to use your response for my project, I’ll get in touch.

Thank you!

An update on #dpm2014

2014-06-03 11.48.29 amThe past few months have been very busy and extremely rewarding. I’m happy to have three more Digital PM Workshops under my belt. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a ton of friendly, talented digital project managers in Austin, Portland, and Minneapolis. At the same time, I’ve been working with the Bureau of Digital Affairs team to plan the 2014 Digital PM Summit. I’m elated with the plans so far! Continue reading