How We Do: The Project Management Experience

By Shabnam Gideon

I've been wanting to write a series of project management posts for quite a while, hoping to finally both arrive at and convey to my colleagues my PM "manifesto."

Shub Pm Experience

I've got this mishmash of linear-thinking-meets-circuitous-big-idea-cherry-picking all up in my head, desperate for an outlet and some sympathetic comrades.

For the purposes of this post, though, I'll start by underscoring a couple things our clients and potential clients might like to know about how I and the Focus Lab team approach and employ project management.

We earn nods industries-wide for our branding, design, and development work, and are very thankful to our partners and compeers for that recognition. I'd like to bring some attention to the PM role as a vital part of that work.

As one who's been on both the client and agency side of creative–and often highly complex–projects, I know what it's like to hand your design-project baby over to a team of right-brained design doulas to tweak, spin, and coax into a very public and hopefully long life, and am very aware of the vulnerability and level of trust that requires.

One of the most crucial parts of my and Charisse's role is to make it so you, Dear Clients, feel less like you're giving your project up for adoption and more like you've discovered a long-lost relative who's got the resources to help you raise your kid right. Metaphors aside (and without being creepy), we'd like you to know that we really DO want to focus on the relationship first, knowing full well that's the breeding ground for effective understanding, communication, collaboration, and trust.

I get the impression that it's not uncommon for design to be perceived, and often even executed, as a standalone process, as a set of skills that one might box up, assign a price to, and then hand off like a neat little package. I submit to you, whoever you are, that to make that work good, and have hopes of making it better, you have to intelligently integrate it into what comes before (the client and their needs, strategy, and goals) and what comes after (the projects' destinations, platforms, and ongoing strategy).

Part of the role of the project manager is to aid the client's sense of control. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that I try to make sure the client thinks they're in control. I'm saying that they–you–actually are.

And in my opinion this is of the most important things a PM can do: ensure that the relationship functions on a level where communication is open: to ask the right questions, to allow the client to express their needs fully before design begins, and then to devise a roadmap unique to the project and in which all roads lead to the final goal.

In other words, making sure a process is followed is very different from making sure that a client's needs are satisfied by way of that process.

I think about how to improve myself toward this goal every day. As the go-between from clients to designers to managers to developers to contractors, and as the producer of project plans, content strategies, and PM systems, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the number of ideas and people and their needs that must be attended to, organized, and integrated. It may come as some surprise that I'm actually VERY attuned to how others respond, react, and engage, and giving each person (clients and team members) what they need to feel equipped and informed every day is extremely important and motivating to me.

Thanks for letting me brain-dump part of my manifesto here. I've shared but a glimpse into How We Do PM here at Focus Lab, but I hope this starts conversations with and around our clients and friends. 'Til next time!