What is My Role?

By Alicja Colon

You know that conversation you have with your mom? The one you’ve had about 20 times because she doesn’t truly understand what you do at work. “So… you’re a designer?” she asks.

What Is My Role

Patiently, knowing where this is going, I answer “No, ma. I’m not a designer.” (Long pause)

“Then what do you do?”

Well, here you go ma (and any other interested parties). I wrote a blog post about what I do as a project manager just for you.

I’m a Scheduler

First and foremost my responsibility is to manage company resources, and the most important one is time. From scheduling meetings to milestones, I plot the course of our projects.

During the definition phase of the each project, we assign a range of hours it will take. From there the next step is to see what approach we’ll use: waterfall or agile. The type of project, the requested turnaround time and our team availability dictate which approach we’ll implement.

Next, I break the schedule down in phases; this is often based on past projects. As a team, we continually evaluate these processes to find ways to improve them. I don’t dictate the flow, but rather work with developer and designer to see what is achievable based on their current workload, or even external factors. Working alongside the team, I create the milestones for the project and present them to the client.

As an example, one branding project might have weekly turnarounds, where another project has a looser timeline and can handle 1.5 or 2 week turnarounds. I then place those milestones so they don’t overlap and the team member doesn’t get overwhelmed.

As anyone knows, regardless of your plan, things rarely happen as perfectly as it is drawn out on paper. There is always give and take. When a project gets slowed or springs forward, I manage these fluctuations to ensure everyone involved stays on the same page.

I’m the Voice

Not like the TV show; though if I could sing I would beg Adam to select me. Anyhow, I’m the voice of the client, and of the team.

I attend every client/team meeting, taking notes and asking questions to make sure we truly understand what the client means. Armed with this information, while the team is working on the project during the week, I remind them of what the client said. If I see us going off path, I’m quick (a little too quick sometimes) to let the team member know that based on the client’s feedback we took a bunny trail.

In the creative process bunny trails are okay. That’s the organic flow of imaginative problem solving. Most times those offshoots still produce work that we will include in a deliverable. However, if a project has too many bunny trails, a client will think we didn’t listen to their feedback, follow their direction, or care about their input.

I’m also the voice of the team. Our creative designers spend hours at a time on one element, like a UI screen or a letterform. Tweaking the various elements to be just right on their own and as part of a broader scheme requires a depth of attention that I’m just not good at. Having spent a good number of years designing, I can attest that the longer I spent on a design, the deeper focus I achieved. To try and craft an email after spending exhaustive hours inside Illustrator is just hard to do.

So, instead of the designers presenting their proofs, I do it. I craft an email covering the objective of the round, what the client should look for, points to consider, a changelog (where appropriate) and what the next step is. Also, as an “outsider” I can look at the delivery from the client’s perspective to see what we’re missing, or what I need to communicate.

I’m the Ears

At Focus Lab we strive to avoid the risk and temptation of over-communication. This is something that can happen both internally among the team, and externally with clients. Too many interruptions can be disruptive to the work process. But, we also need to be accessible and quickly take care of questions as they arise.

To do this, I’m the ears for the company. When a client has a question, thought or inspiration, I work with them in communicating it to the team. Sometimes it’s an immediate need, other times I hold off and ask on their behalf during one of daily meetings. Either way, if a client has a need I’m there to help facilitate the solution.

So there you go! You probably know more about my daily life than you wanted. Of course my duties here at Focus Lab are a bit more expansive than this might suggest, but it paints a pretty good picture.

Are you project manager/account rep at your gig? Share about your day. I’d love to follow you. Hit me on the tweeters @alicjacolon.