Change is inevitable. From the way people consume your product, experience your brand or even interact with you as a person, the only thing that doesn’t change is the certainty that it will happen.
When scoping out a web project, where clients rarely know exactly what it is they want, change can mean increasing costs, extended project timelines and mounting stress on both sides.
This is where the project manager comes in.
A lot of people think that having a project manager in the mix complicates things. Don’t they just add a layer of process that gets in the way of actually creating something? Don’t they make the company less adaptive to change and more like everyone else?
This is a common misconception and is usually down to bad experiences with poor project managers who put the process before the people.
When done right, the inevitability of change becomes something to look forward to rather than be fearful of.
Everyone says they put the customer first. They shouldn’t.
The team comes first. What a lot of agencies forget is that the customer is an integral part of this team and by involving everyone in the process, decisions are made based on collective knowledge and not one isolated group’s assumptions.
The way we run our web projects here at Impelling, the client isn’t just an external agent. We go to great lengths to form a project environment that allows us to understand them, but also for them to understand us.
Our client’s Director might be the one making the decisions, but is she going to be using the site day to day? Does her admin assistant use it more? Should that assistant be part of the project team?
Our developer may have done a hundred projects like this before but does that mean he’s stuck in his ways? How do you tell the most qualified person at making websites in the room that they need to do it differently? The only way is to bring them into the discussions so they fully understand and hopefully empathise with the drivers behind decisions.
Servant first, leader second.
A lot of people go into project management as they see the word "manager" in the title and get excited about telling people what to do. They have already failed. The project manager’s key role is to bring all the right people into a setting that bonds them together and foster a shared understanding of what will make the project a success.
If this is executed well, decisions on the project will be made collectively, both sides feel invested and everyone involved will want the project to succeed.
We do this by running interactive workshops where all the stakeholders are encouraged to play a part in adding their experience into the melting pot. By doing this, we find that clients often find out things about their organisation that even they didn’t know.
The project manager will facilitate these discovery sessions, keeping them on track, hoovering up the actions, learnings and requirements as they go along. He will then capture these in document form so that all core agreements and decisions can be referred back to later.
In this setting, the project manager can use a number of techniques, from planning a structure of the workshops, to creating user scenarios. But it also means things as simple as making sure there is enough coffee for everyone when it's needed. Everyone needs to feel comfortable so they open up and this means removing as many barriers as possible.
Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s the truth.
By establishing this environment of collaboration from the beginning, as we move along the project uncovering more and more about how everyone operates, a solution is unearthed that everyone feels they have played a part in.
The client feels like they have been understood and have had creative input, the designers and developers understand the motivations behind what they are doing, and as everyone moves towards a common goal, they are driven to do their best work.
This approach is obviously just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to project management, hundreds of tips and tricks to get you ahead of the game, but it all starts from these very basic building blocks.
If you get this bit right, you will establish trust with the client, getting rid of the "us and them" mentality. When change happens, and it will, both sides will be much more adaptive to it and everything else becomes a lot easier.
Richard Groves, Operations ManagerRichard is a Project Manager with years of experience in large scale corporate events and now IT and Web. He is qualified in PRINCE2 2017, AGILE and is a certified SCRUM Master. Read more posts by Richard Groves