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!
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.
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.
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.
If 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