Glorified coordinator? Clipboard master? List-keeper? Cat herder?
We are all of those things and more. In most agencies the role of the project manager is simply to keep the team on task and the client updated, but for the digital agency of today to truly excel, project manager’s need to be so much more, which is why we use find the term client services to be more apt.
The role of a project manager in a strategy/creative/technology agency is to combine the expertise and experiences of the project manager at traditional creative/advertising agencies, management consultancies and software development companies with the knowledge and unique perspective of what the is happening in digital today is and what it means to consumers. The success in defining this role, hiring great talent and growing the team creates not only value for the agency but for the client and ultimately the consumer.
At SmallTalk, the project management role is built on this blended model. A project manager is expected own the client relationship, run the project, understand the technology/environment and bring their own knowledge and expertise to the mix. The depth of their responsibilities and the level of their autonomy are commensurate with their seniority within the organization. A description of each role is found below:
Ultimately, each Client Owner/Account Director is responsible for their book of business and the clients which comprise it. In delivering solutions to their clients, a Client Owner/Account Director is supported by the project management team. The project manager is expected to manage all day-to-day interactions with the client and to be on point for all client needs and issues. As a project manager grows within the organization, they will begin to manage aspects of the client relationship beyond project management. These tasks vary with the client and the relationship but include advising on marketing and digital strategies, up-selling projects and ensuring that all aspects of the SmallTalk’ offerings are brought to bear for the client. The SmallTalk Client Owner/Account Director is ultimately responsible and always remains available as an escalation point, but the project manager as they grow with the organization owns the client.
One must understand the product one is delivering. In too many agencies, the teams don’t know what a website/mobile experience is, let alone what it means to strategize, design, build or manage one. The project manager must understand at the core what the web is and what the underlying technologies and architectures are that comprise it. The PM is not meant to be the Technology or Creative Lead on the project, but they must understand the product and how the teams build it. This foundational knowledge allows them to deliver.
The fun of our space is that it is constantly evolving, with new technologies available, but the concepts necessary to bring them to life/leverage them, remain the same. True there are great formal Project Management courses and methodologies, but there is still room for talented people of all backgrounds to jump in. The best project manager’s I have worked with did not go to school to become a project manager, rather they come to it through (but not limited to): website production, entertainment, design, technology, etc. It is not simply the skills, but the mindset. This varied background is of tremendous value to an agency as the project manager can bring their experiences and knowledge to bear to influence client strategies and project tactics.
As they lead projects, a SmallTalk project manager is expected to wear many hats, including but not limited to: understanding the vision/scope of the project, project/task planning and scheduling, project documentation, project reports (daily task, weekly summary, closing, etc.), resource management, scrum-master, deliverables review (creative through technical), team redirect, client communication, qa, documentation, project launch, client case-study/consent, billing reports, and more. These are the day-to-day tasks, but the impact comes in being the locus of information for all that is happening on the project. The project manager must understand the SmallTalk Methodology and how to wield it on the project. They must understand the nuances influencing their teams and their client as they have little direct control. They must understand how to remain calm while all of Rome burns as this grace under fire is what sets the great project managers aside from those that are merely adequate. They must embrace their role and learn how to derive learnings from their success as well as failures.