Redefining the Project Manager


When we hear the title “Project Manager,” many of us think of a specific type of person. The stereotype is a serious, detail-oriented person huddled over budgets, Gantt charts and spreadsheets, typically in very large organization. While in some cases that may be true, as with all stereotypes, that description is very limiting.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Project Management Institute’s 2012 Global Congress in Vancouver, BC. I attended with a client who was sponsoring and exhibiting at the event (I’m happy to report they had a great show). As I attended sessions about project risk management, managing complex government projects, ethical standards, leadership and innovation, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the content spoke directly to me.

Unless you have worked for a marketing firm, the stereotypes about account leads are very different from a project manager. Thanks to shows like Mad Men, we often picture high-energy, fast-talking, creative types with big ideas and snappy copy. But for those of us who lead accounts on a day-to-day basis, creating and selling a great marketing plan is just one aspect of our job.

The core of our role is to coordinate two very different teams – our internal team and the client team. Just like a project manager, we scope out projects, negotiate budgets and coordinate with both teams to create realistic timelines. The best account leads draw on years of experience to identify project risks up front, plan for tight turnarounds and navigate challenging approval processes, the same way that the best IT project managers have contingency plans for network outages.

And unfortunately, the least effective account leads and the least effective project managers also have a lot in common. In the project management world, it is often said that there is nothing more important that being on-time, on-budget, and perfectly “to spec” (i.e. meeting all client specifications). Completing a project on-time, but with budget overruns and an ineffective final deliverable will never result in a happy client, regardless of your job title.

On this topic, there are two books that I’d highly recommend:
101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them by Tom Kendrick andThe Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon.

If you read them both, you’ll find some very interesting overlap, particularly around defining the end goal and working with teams. My favorites messages are about supporting your internal team throughout the project. Inevitability, there will be individuals on your team who have a very different skill set from you and who play a very specific role in the completion of the project. In marketing, he or she may be a developer or a graphic designer. In a complex construction project, he or she may be a specific type of engineer or tradesperson. Both authors stress the importance of supporting that person, even though you can’t directly help with their individual tasks. Whether that means improved communication at the beginning of the process or staying late to order Chinese food while everyone else works, supporting your team helps to ensure that the entire project will be successful.

What other project management tips are relevant in the marketing world? Leave your comments below or connect with us at @Zer0to5ive on Twitter.

Post by Rachel Colello
Zer0 to 5ive Senior Strategist
Twitter: @Rachel990306