This week on the Boagworld Web Show we talk to Brett Harned about the value of digital project management.
Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, a podcast about stuff with Paul and Marcus.
Marcus: Again. Only for this week.
Paul: I know, the last one of the season. It’s like just before Christmas Holidays. I can’t be bothered to finish my work. So it didn’t get a proper introduction this week.
Marcus: Fair enough. The weather this week is lovely. Where are you? You’ve gone off again haven’t you?
Paul: No, I’m at home at the moment. I am going off immediately after recording this.
Marcus: Oh right, how lovely.
Paul: Which I am very pleased about because at this exact moment I am as miserable as sin. I’ve made myself miserable Marcus.
Marcus: How have you managed to do that?
Paul: Well the more I work with clients and doing UX design in the broadest sense, not UX design as in User Interface Design, but kind of User Experience and moving from channel to channel and this kind of stuff, the more I’ve done that, the more I’ve become intolerant to bad User Experiences. And I’ve been fighting with frigging EE this morning.
Marcus: EE? The slowest website in the world.
Paul: Just everything. It’s not just their website, it’s their telephone support. It doesn’t matter what time of day you ring, they are having an unusually high volume.
Marcus: I hope you don’t pay for the extra 50p or whatever it is to go in the quick queue.
Paul: I didn’t even know there was a quick queue?
Marcus: Don’t do that, because I’ve been in it.
Paul: The fact that there is a quick queue makes me angry.
Marcus: Yes and I always don’t pick it and I always get through within 30 seconds.
Paul: Seriously. I’ve been trying to sort out Broadband. I’m moving Broadband to them as they lured me. They lured me by offering more mobile cellular data. If I get their Broadband, they double my mobile cellular data which of course with me and my motorhome travels, is a very tempting offer. So they lured me and it’s just been a bloody nightmare from beginning to end. And so now I am completely intolerant to any kind of negative user experience. So bah to them and the world. And I am actually going to lose broadband connection now, because I cancelled the old one and the new one’s not happened. Luckily I am going to be away and so won’t give a shit.
Marcus: Regarding their coverage, because I have been on EE for ages, and it’s actually quite good.
Paul: Oh yes, EE as a mobile network, I’ve been with EE and they are brilliant, they are really good.
Marcus: But then their website, as an example, it is actually quite useful. Nice big buttons, although there is lots of circular stuff like ‘Pay my bill’ which then takes you to a page which asks ‘Do you want to pay your bill?’ And stuff like that. But it’s so slow. It must be the slowest website in the world.
Paul: Well I would beg to differ, because I’ve been, as you know, I’ve been reviewing…
Marcus: What you’ve found another slow site?
Paul: I’ve recorded it as the lowest score that I’ve ever seen on Google insights which is what judges performance on websites. It’s absolutely hideous. So yes, no they aren’t the slowest in the world. Anyway, this moan has been brought to you by Opera. Did you like that?
Marcus: What happened there?
Paul: Well I was doing a transition there. Because we were moaning and I thought ‘Oh I know, we could make a moan as sponsored segment and that would lead me into…’
Did it not work?
Marcus: So you have three sponsors and one sponsors the moan?
Paul: Yes, so you have a sponsor for the moan, a sponsor for the interview and a sponsor for the shit joke.
Marcus: Sorry I have various people in windows here, pinging me and I’m saying ‘Go away’ while I am trying to listen to you Paul.
Paul: You never listen to me. I am surprised this even disturbs you. While you deal with them, I will talk about Opera then.
Marcus: Ok. Is there more to talk about Opera?
Marcus: They do more than the millions of things we’ve already talked about?
Paul: ….and everything in between. Yes I know, I am just reading what Bruce has written here.
Marcus: That’s not very web-y is it.
Paul: I think he just threw it in to see if I would say it.
That’s it now. I’ve gone to the site and I am now searching on electronics. No. Nothing.
Marcus: Yes, I think you were being tested Paul.
Paul: Shit. I’ve just fallen for it. Wow, it’s got a lot of stuff, this is even better than I thought it was. I got this a bit last minute, just before I started doing the show. So I haven’t had a chance to look through dev.opera.com which is really quite embarrassing. I looked at it years ago, but not recently. Actually it’s got loads of really good articles here. Lots of different writers which is really cool. Oh I am going to add that one to Pocket. Sorry, oh, I’m doing a podcast. Let’s go back to what I am supposed to be talking about.
Yes, so they’ve got loads of articles and it’s worth saying that the articles are browser agnostic, so everything they write about is cross-browser, cross-device accessible so it’s not product pitching, at least according to Bruce and according to anything I am seeing here either. It’s definitely worth having a poke around.
Wow, they’ve got so much stuff!
Marcus: Well I never.
Paul: It just goes on and on and on. A bit like me.
Marcus: Leigh asked on Slack this morning if he should try to find a new hosting provider and Ian recommended that he ought to use his Opera browser to move to MediaTemple where he can send out emails using MailChimp.
Paul: Now see, Ian’s a good man.
Marcus: Which I thought was quite funny.
Paul: That’s brilliant. Yes, so open Opera browser… don’t quite know how MailChimp featured in it. Anyway, enough with the sponsors. Oh no, one more thing, they are always looking for good articles and they pay good money for them as well. So yes, check that out.
You could write one for them Marcus. I am sure you write a technical piece for Opera?
Marcus: Mmm. I am struggling to write pieces full stop at the moment. So there you go.
Paul: Yes, you’ve got really slack. I knew this would happen. I knew it. I am feeling quite smug. I thought that when I left it was like ‘Oh yes, yes, we can just spread the blog in between us, and it won’t take long.’ Yes bollocks you can! I am the only one that cares.
Marcus: I’ve got two posts half written. It’s just finishing them. But there you go.
Paul: Yes, you’ve got to be committed.
Marcus: I’m not. Sun’s out – I just want to go to the pub.
Paul: No, don’t you mean you want to look after your client’s needs first?
Marcus: Absolutely, sorry.
Paul: You are so rubbish at this Marcus. You’re just no good at lying. Try harder.
Marcus: I reckon I am quite good at lying actually. But there you go. I am not going to take that any further.
Paul: No! I want to know where that comes from Marcus. What did you have in your mind when you said that?
Marcus: Just general showing off-i-ness. I’m good at it, and whatever it was I don’t like being accused of not being good at something.
Paul: Ok, right. So interview, let’s talk about the interview. Brett Harned is on this week’s show. Have you ever met Brett? Were you on this interview?
Marcus: I’m not on this interview and I don’t think I’ve met him but then I might have done so I am going to look up what he looks like.
Paul: Brett is the nicest guy…
Marcus: …in the world.
Paul: …out of the whole of the internet. It’s a true fact. He also used to be the Vice President of Project Management at Happy Cog. I love Americans and their job titles. Vice President of the World!
Marcus: I don’t think I have met him, just looking at his pictures. He looks like a nice jolly chap though.
Paul: He is, he’s really nice. So he used to be the Vice President of Project Management at Happy Cog. He then has gone on to become a Digital Project Management Consultant and Coach. I think I need to be a Coach. I say I am a Mentor. Is that like a Coach?
Marcus: It’s the same thing isn’t it?
Paul: Coach makes me think of sport and puts me off a bit.
Marcus: Yes, and let’s face it, talking about things we’re not very good at – that will be one of them Paul?
Now if it was Couch… that would be ideal. I am a User Experience Couch. Come and sit on me and talk about User Experience.
Ok, let’s move on. He’s also involved in the Bureau of Digital and also runs the Digital PM summit. If you are anyway involved in Digital Project Management. This is the guy to follow. These are the events you want to attend. I think Digital Project Managers are a little bit embarrassed about what they do really, until Brett came along and sorted them all out. Made Pete proud, didn’t he. So proud he left.
Marcus: Yes… Aww I miss Pete.
Paul: Yes, I miss Pete. I don’t miss the rest of you.
No, actually I maybe do a bit. But anyway, before that gets gushy…
Marcus: You maybe do a bit? Thanks Paul.
Paul: That’s as much as I am willing to commit to.
Marcus: Maybe? A bit?
Paul: Shall we hear what Brett’s got to say?
Brett Harned on digital project management
Paul: So hi Brett, thanks so much for coming and joining us on the show.
Brett: Hi Paul, I’m doing great – thanks so much for having me and I’m very excited to talk.
Paul: Yes it’s good to have you on. I don’t think we’ve had you on the show before have we? That’s criminal.
Brett: Well I am happy to be here for the first time.
Paul: So what are you up to these days, because you used to be a Project Manager at Happy Cog and then you’ve gone off and done your own thing, very similar to me actually. You’ve gone off and set up by yourself. So what do your days consist of these days?
Brett: I think our paths have been similar in the past few months. So I left my job at Happy Cog at the end of 2014, had a great time there and was there for five years with some amazing people. I essentially decided that I wanted to take a turn into working for myself but also focusing on some of the event work that I’ve been doing with the Bureau of Digital. So I am still working with Greg Hoy and Carl Smith and producing some events with the Bureau of Digital. As you know, you spoke last year at the Digital PM Summit so that’s been a huge project of mine over the past few years. So I am going to continue to devote some time to that. But on top of that I am also working with new clients on my own in a new capacity. Working with small companies on an Operational and Project Management basis, helping them sort out processes and communications and the tools that they are using. It’s been really exciting and fun for me as I have been able to apply a lot of what I have learned over the past ten years about project management to different companies in different scenarios as you know everyone works differently even though we are producing very similar products.
Paul: See now, that’s interesting. When you say ‘different companies’ you’re talking about different web design agencies are you? Are you working with in-house teams as well?
Brett: Right now I am working with a mixture of in-house teams, smaller agencies and product companies as well.
Paul: Oh, interesting. That sounds like a really interesting role.
Brett: Yes, I am really loving it so far. It’s only been three months so I am learning a lot on my own. I’ve never been independent but it’s going pretty well. I really love the work and as far as the Project Management job goes, the thing that I’ve always loved is getting involved with new clients in different organisations and learning about their businesses and the inner working. And so I get to continue to do that which is really exciting.
Paul: Well you may only be three months in at time of recording, but I am only one month in, so you are doing better than I am.
Brett: I’ve got you beat!
Paul: Yea, and I am not going to catch you up either. That’s just the way things are. I need to accept it.
Ok, so the reason we’ve got you on the show is obviously you are incredibly knowledgeable about Digital Project Management. It’s an area that I think is only now really beginning to get some traction. It’s really interesting when you talk to other people isn’t it. When you talk to a Designer or a Developer they just moan about their Project Manager. If you talk to a Client, they don’t want to pay for Project Management. Why is this? Why do people have this slightly dismissive attitude to Project Management, like it’s not a skilled profession? It fascinates me.
Brett: Well I think for a couple of reasons. First our industry like you said, is just starting to recognise the role as a role that is important and critical to the success of projects. I think that a lot of organisations, particularly smaller organisations like the ones we’ve been involved with in the past, place a little bit more importance on PM as they are focused on a good client experience and keeping the team happy. I think other organisations are small, starting out with just a Designer and a Developer and they are cranking through work and they are doing a great job and have always had success doing it and have kept things on the rails so it’s hard for them to make that shift into add another salary, another head to a company when it comes to something that they have already done for a while. So I really do think that it comes down to the mind-set of the people who are running the business. I also think that people tend to generally think that Project Management is something that people can step into and maybe they do because they aren’t successful in other areas.
Which I think unfortunately can be true with some people. I think that the difference there is that in many other industries, Project Management is really put on more of a pedestal because there are standards to follow, there are courses to be taken and we just aren’t there yet in the Digital Industry but I think we will get there in the shorter term.
Paul: It is very fascinating. I like the fact that you are saying in other industries they consider Project Management a highly skilled area. Do you think Agile has been part of the problem here, because there is so much talk about Agile at the moment amongst the Design and Development Community, and I think with a superficial glance you could say ‘Agile does away with Project Managers, we all self-manage’. Which obviously isn’t true in reality but do you think that is maybe part of the problem here?
Brett: No. Honestly I don’t. I think first of all, a lot of people talk about Agile but they don’t really understand what it actually means. I think to most people Agile means ‘we’re just going to get it done quickly’. They just don’t think as much about the Agile manifesto and the background, all of the principles of Agile. I think for use in the Digital Industry it’s hard to run a project 100% Agile. Particularly if you are working as an Agency. Maybe if you are an internal team it might be easier, certainly if you are a product team it might be easier.
I think the thing that always comes into play is Client work. And working with Clients and making decisions on important things like UI and Graphic Design. I think the thing that people don’t realise is that Agile was started as a methodology for Product Companies. So they weren’t working as Agencies when they were creating this process. So for me, I always think there’s this squishy area in what we do and it comes with UX and Design and Big Blue Sky ideas. And it’s hard to sell big ideas when you are working in a rigid methodology. I’ve actually spoken with some Agile coaches about doing Agile work within an Agency because I’ve worked with Developers who are really interested in moving to that methodology. And I would never close that off, as a PM I would always open up opportunities to find different ways of working. But when I spoke to Agile coaches—I ended up speaking to two just to make sure one wasn’t giving me whoops—they told me the methodology just isn’t right for Client Services work. So my gut instinct was right.
So I think it’s really all about adapting your process to a few things. So it’s adapting your process to the scope of the work, the deadline, the people you are working with on your team and your Client’s needs. So I’ve always pushed this idea of an adaptive process where you create a process or a plan that works around all of those factors.
Paul: As you go into new organisations, as you are doing now and you’re having to introduce them to the kind of work you do, are you seeing that people are fairly open to that or are you having to sell the need for Digital Project Management?
Brett: I think they are open to it, when they hire me to begin with.
Paul: I guess, yes. I guess it’s almost the people that aren’t hiring you really, that are the problem ones.
Brett: I think they are open to some things, they are scared of others, if that makes any sense. I would never push this adaptive methodology on someone if they are working Agile and they are thinking they are doing it right. What I would do, is talk to them about what could be improved or what the pinpoints are and step in from there. But generally they are looking for help because something just isn’t clicking.
Paul: So are you seeing a lot of people coming to you, wanting help in this area? Or is it one where you are having to help people recognise the need – does that make sense?
Brett: Thankfully, for me, I’ve started with a few Clients who recognise the need on their own. I think I am going to have to start identifying other places or ways to make my services know. But it’s been cool too, that I’ve, over the past couple of months, have met a couple of people doing similar work to me. So I do think that there is a need out there for agencies to find somebody with the right expertise to help them be more productive and effective.
Paul: So that brings us on to demonstrating the value of what it is that you do. Which obviously you have to do to potential Clients that are taking you on, but also any Agency has to do with the Client. They have to explain why there is this Digital Project Management line in the proposal and why it can’t be taken out. So how do you go about doing that, how do you go about selling the value of the kind of work you do?
Brett: Sure, so for me it’s a little bit different. But I would rather talk about the value of a PM to a Project because I think that my service helps push that forward. I think it depends on the person and the company but at a minimum I think there are a few things a good PM should be. They should always be the keeper of the timeline and the budget. The person who is controlling those details and staying constantly on top of those details and keeping the timeline and the budget within the boundaries. And when there are issues and potential risks on projects, they are looking out for those two things. And they are communicating those issues out to their team and to the Clients and they are resolving them. Sometimes they can resolve those issues on their own, sometimes they need the team to help them resolve the issues.
I think a good PM is also a great communicator. This is critical, probably should have been my first point. But they are the people who are responsible for team building and making sure everyone on the team acknowledges and knows what they are responsible for, is on track with the project, is paying attention with what’s happening on the project. Not only during their phase of work but making sure they are engaged from early on so if, for instance, a Developer is part of the project, it’s making sure they are tuned in to what’s happening with UX and design and so when it comes to their time to build up a project that they actually know what the details are and the decisions that were made. So a PM can help to keep them engaged.
A good PM in terms of communication will conduct status reports with the team, status meetings, status reports and meetings with Clients, to make sure everybody is in the know with what’s happening in the project at all times.
Paul: Sorry to interrupt you, but it’s almost like to some degree you are a translator between these different people which have got very different perspectives on the project. The way the Client sees it is very different to the Designer and Developer and so on. So there is a need to translate what’s going on there. I think what you are talking about with Client communications is a really important one as well. I once saw a well-known Web Designer who shall remain nameless Tweeted ‘What does the Client want from me? To build their website or constantly give them email updates?’ And the truth is they want both – we provide a customer service don’t we?
Brett: Yes and I think that goes back to what do you as a business owner, or what does your company value? And if Customer Service or Client Service is part of that, then having a good DPM in place is really important. Because you do want the Designers and Developers to focus on their tasks and do really solid work.
Paul: I took you off track. You were talking about communication and I think you were about to move on to another aspect of the value of having a Project Manager.
Brett: Yes, I think another place where a really good DPM can offer value is to help upon the quality of work. Making sure that things are reviewed, that you are questioning the kinds of things that a Client might bring up. Taking meeting notes and understanding and observing what’s happening in a room when you are presenting a design can be really, really important. And you can have a PM do that. If you have a PM who is sitting there and observing and taking good notes, when they come back and you’re working through the project they might pull up a thought that came up or glance that somebody gave in a meeting or a comment that someone made, and that can help you make the work better.
I also think good PM is so mired in the details that having them proof-read documents and review things is just really helpful.
Paul: Yes, I know what you mean about. As somebody who has been a Designer for years, I would go into the meetings and present the designs and you are so focused, as the Designer on making your presentation clear and presenting your vision, that you’re not in listening mode. You’re not taking in what the client is saying, you’re not picking up on body language and all that great stuff. So having someone else sitting in the room, I think that is a major skill for Project Managers is the ability to really listen and understand what people are saying.
Brett: I completely agree.
Paul: Because I am terrible. I would be the worst Project Manager in the world. I talk a lot and am really bad at listening, so yes. So that brings us onto what kind of skills you need as a Digital Project Manager. Listening skills is obviously one. But what others?
Brett: Well I mean there is the age old hyper detail, that kind of thing, that I totally agree with. But honestly, my whole thing, ever since I started talking about Project Management publically has been ‘Just be human’. Don’t be a robot.
I worked in a really large Agency setting for quite a few years and I always felt like I was pushed behind the desk. I was the person who was only responsible for the details. And that just wasn’t me. It’s not who I am. Yes I am very detailed, but not being part of a project was really problematic for me. And not being able to engage with the people was problematic for me. Because people make a big percentage as to what makes a project successful. If people aren’t happy, then it’s not going to go well.
So I think being human means being a good communicator, being present and being part of the project. That makes a good PM and those are skills to have and maybe they aren’t skills that can necessarily taught but I think that over time if you are part of a team and you are able to observe dynamics you can figure out where you fit in and where you can help.
Paul: Yes, it’s a real balancing act that I think most Project Managers have to make between accommodating the needs and desires of the people within the team while at the same time being assertive enough to encourage them in the right direction and go where they need to go and do what they need to do.
Brett: Yes definitely. It’s so much about personalities. You are handling so many different personalities just within the setting of one project. Forget about within two companies that you are handling, if it’s your Agency and then the Client that you are working with. But just knowing how to communicate with those very many different personalities and communicating the right information at the right time in a way that is human and sort of assertive but also walks the line of motivational, it can be really, really difficult.
Paul: I actually am not a great fan of the term ‘Manager’. We talk about Digital Project Managers, but to me Managers conjure up the left overs of the Industrial Revolution where you had low paid, low skilled workers that had to churn out work and were unmotivated. So you needed these Managers to sit over their shoulder and tell them what to do and keep pushing them. I think really Digital Project Managers are as much as facilitators and leaders as anything else, would you agree with that?
Brett: I completely agree. And I do have a hard time with the title. I think while at one point it sticks to an industry standard in terms of Project Management, because that is one aspect of what’s done. I don’t really love the term Manager, especially as it connotes that you have some kind of seniority or power over someone else. That isn’t the case for many Project Managers. Let’s face it. In bigger organisations there are teams with Managers and then there’s a Project Manager, and where do they fit in and what kind of power do they have within the organisation? Usually it’s not much.
But there are a lot of Agencies out there who are coming up with different names or they are calling their PMs, Producers.
Paul: Oh that’s fascinating.
Brett: Yes, it definitely ranges.
Paul: The reason I reacted to that is that I was about to say, I remember in the very, very early days when I first started in the web. This would have been min ‘90s and up to the end of the ‘90s, we used to have Producers rather than Project Managers because we nicked it from the Film Industry and the role that the Producer plays in the creation of a film, which is a much broader role than perhaps a Project Manager is. Yes, so that’s really interesting. It’s from the past.
Brett: There is another Agency that recently named their Project Management role as Project Designer.
Paul: Ahh, that’s interesting.
Brett: It would be interesting to know what a Client thinks of that role. What they perceive the role to be. But I am with you, it’s kind of all over the place when it comes to that role and what people do and how it really fits into an actual title. It’s not as easy as Designer or Developer.
Paul: No, no. Talking of Clients as you were there, and Client perceptions. How much do you adapt your process to the Client? Because you get very different types of Clients. You get some Clients that expect you to go away and magically make everything happen with no involvement from them whatsoever and then at the other extreme you have those that want to sign off on every little detail that comes along. How do you adapt to those different kind of visions of how the project should run?
Brett: I think a DPM can do their own set of research, so typically there is an early part of the project where you are doing stakeholder interviews, maybe some user research and figuring out what the audience is. I think at the same time a PM can do their own parallel research with the Client team to understand what the dynamics are of the group, with the organisation as a whole, what projects they’ve done in the past and how easy or difficult it’s been to get a project done like this in the past, and why? There are a lot of questions you can ask. Go into stakeholder interviews and observe the conversations and then there are conversations you can have directly with the Client liaison or Project Manager on the Client side just to talk through how your project is actually going to get done. And then I think once you have that background information and have a sense for how they work and how the project is going to be executed and viewed as successful on their end, you can take your toolkit of deliverables and styles of working and maybe even your PM toolkit in terms of how you are reporting status, how you are updating your project plan. How you are communicating is huge. Then adapt that to what you think is going to work for them. You can always tweak that throughout the course of the project to make sure that people are happy.
I am a big fan of getting continuous feedback and just checking in with Clients and saying ‘How are things going? How do you feel the project is going? Even aside from just the deliverables and if you are happy with the work, are you happy with the way we are communicating? Are you happy with the way that the team are responding to your requests?’ So I think in general just again, adapting a little bit but always going back to what you know best in terms of your toolkit of tactics is probably a good way to handle it.
Paul: You’ve used the word adaptive quite a lot. Earlier on you talked about adaptive Project Management methodology. What do you mean by that? Can you give me some examples of how you adapt per project?
Brett: Sure, I think at a high level I just mean don’t be rigid about the way that you get things done. Because if you are rigid about your process or the way that you have to conduct a status call or have something weekly, it doesn’t mean that the people you work with want to work that way. And as the PM you have to adapt to that. See I used the word again! Adapt to the way that they work to be sure that you are going to be successful. If you are trying to force something on someone, it’s going to make the process so much more difficult. So I think for me the things that I would adapt to are process. So if a Client comes to us and says, ‘We work Agile’. I would say ‘Ok, let’s talk about what that means to you and how we can backend our process and what we have to do into that process.’ Or if a Client says ‘We have thirty five stakeholders that need to sign off on every deliverable’. I’d say ‘Ok, let’s talk about what the deliverables are, what the hierarchy of those stakeholders are and how we can negotiate through the project and not kill six months in just reviews.’
So there are a number of things you could have to adapt to, but again it’s just about having conversations and making sure you are meeting the needs of the Client as well as project. And when I say the project, it’s the budget and the timeline.
Paul: I can so tell you are a Project Manager there. The way that you said ‘Ok, how can we deal with thirty-five stakeholders…’, while I on the other hand would have said ‘F-Off!’ and run out of the meeting.
Brett: Yes, it goes back to that human aspect. You have to be very, very patient with people and at the same time, have somebody to vent to. Because it can get really, really frustrating and it’s a little bit Customer Service. I think that if a PM has worked in a Customer Service role in their past life, it can probably help them be a little more successful.
Paul: I do think having that person to vent to is so important. When I came over to Austin with you guys and although I was ill a lot of the time, so I didn’t take part in a huge amount of it, but it was obvious there was a real desire to connect with other Project Managers. I went across with Pete who is a Project Manager at Headscape and obviously you know Brett. That was the first Project Management…oh no, he’d been to one in Manchester…but it was there that he really began to be proud of his own job. That he wasn’t this isolated person that worked alone or with one other Project Manager, but was actually a part of this much bigger community and everyone was struggling with the same problems. It wasn’t that Headscape had been getting it particularly wrong and that Happy Cog had been doing a great job, you’d all been struggling in different ways with the same kind of issues. So that community is such a great thing that you are building up.
Brett: Yes, I am so excited to hear stories like that. I think for me, the community was something that just didn’t exist, that I wanted. Working for a great company like Happy Cog you do get to attend a ton of events and learn so much, but you hit a point as a PM where you think ‘Wow, this is so cool, I am learning so much about UX and design and code, but there is really nothing that applies 100% to me’. So for me, I just started at a meet-up level and started to see if I could meet other PMs in the area. And that started to take off here in Philadelphia, and then I thought ‘wow, we might be able to pull off a conference’ after I gave a conversation talk at South by Southwest. And there was a line out the door. I thought ‘wow, people are really actually interested in this, I am not alone.’
And then I started to think that there really is a kind of community and then we had the first Digital PM summit. The vibe was just so much about ‘I can’t believe I am talking to people who care so much about the things that I care about, the things that happen to me every day.’ It almost felt like therapeutic for a lot of people, and you found little groups forming and then you saw more meet ups happening across the states and then DPM UK happened the next year and the same vibe was the same vibe. People were just so excited to be in a room and hear presentations and have conversations about topics that interested them and really could help them better their work. So yes, as you can tell I am so excited that this thing has taken off and that I’ve been able to be a part of it.
Paul: I think that we’ve almost answered the next question, or certainly one big part of it, which was ‘what advice can you be giving for those acting as Digital Project Managers?’ And I think a big part of it is meeting up with other Digital Project Managers, get talking with them, get engaged in the community.
Paul: Is there anything else that you would add alongside that? A lot of Project Managers have never been trained to be Project Managers, and even if they have they haven’t been trained to be Digital Project Managers as really that’s only recently become a thing. So what advice would you give them?
Brett: There’s so much advice, but I think the first is to be assertive and to be present. Don’t just sit back and observe what’s happening on a project. Know that you are a valuable part of the team and that you can help a project be better. If you are making good relationships or building good relationships with your team and with your Clients then you’re building relationships based on the quality of your work and your point of view and your point of view is helpful in making a project better. I think so many Project Managers feel pushed to the side-lines because there are companies and people who care a little bit less about the project details, so they feel like ‘well I am just being a burden on the team, so I am just going to step back’. The problem with that kind of mentality is that then not only is the company or your team members, not only are they making you feel pushed aside, but then you end up with that perception that you are pushed aside and you don’t matter that much.
I gave a presentation at Web Design Day in Pittsburgh a few years ago. It was to a room of Designers and Developers which I love doing, because I love putting out there that Project Management is important, and if you don’t have PMs here’s some tips to be a better PM yourself. Because those things I’ve learnt are not taught at Colleges, Universities, anywhere and they are valuable skills for anyone to have. So I gave this presentation and a guy comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘that was really great. You know what? I have never worked with a really good Project Manager’.
And it felt like somebody stabbed me in the heart. This is what we have to change, we have to change this perception because there are a lot of good Project Managers out there, but they don’t have a voice. So again it goes back to being assertive and being honestly proud of your role.
Paul: This is something that I am bad at with Project Managers. I pity any Project Manager that has had to manage me over the years because I am not a details person. I am the opposite of that. Nothing annoys me more than getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty detail. I’ve had to learn over the years that actually that is absolutely crucial to the process. I remember once coming out of a meeting with one of our Project Managers at Headscape and turning to him and saying ‘I bet you wish I wasn’t in that meeting because I’ve just changed the whole project and taken it off in a completely different direction?’ And he turned to me and he said ‘As long as you realise that’s what you’ve done, I don’t mind. As long as you appreciate the challenges I now face, I actually really enjoy solving those problems, I enjoy making your ideas into reality, as long as you appreciate what I do in the process.’
And I thought that was really an honest answer from him, obviously he had felt ignored by me at times, or underappreciated. And there is a real danger of doing that with Project Managers, because they are the ones that are pushing you over the stuff, they are the middle man that gets stuck between the client and the designer. I’ve got so much sympathy and so much respect for people that do the role, if I am honest.
Brett: That’s really nice to hear. It’s not surprising to hear that somebody would do that. I think a good PM gives their team the space that they need and picks up the slack where they feel like they can step in. And that changes from person to person and team to team.
Paul: So, it’s interesting isn’t it, as to how people get into this field of being a Digital Project Manager, because you don’t feel—perhaps I am wrong—but I don’t feel that people at school when they are asked at the Career’s Fair what they want to do, do they say Project Manager, or is it something you just stumble into?
Brett: I think things have changed. I definitely stumbled into it. My way into this was right out of College I worked for a start-up company as an Editor. I was an English and Fine Arts Major at College so I graduated and basically had no direction. I thought I wanted to be an Editor. Somehow I found a job as an Editor at a start-up and they taught me everything from HTML to Flash to Photoshop. All things that I was not taught in the late ‘90s in College. So I stepped into that and I’ve always loved writing but I just wasn’t able to find a job writing where I was continuously happy. Things always felt really repetitive. I did find that when I was writing I was also organising and really managing all of the details around the projects that I was writing. So I was writing online Newsletters, I was writing web pages and features and things like that and I was early on, working on my own to pull together assets and create pages. And then later on, I started working on print projects, I started working with Designers that get projects done and then later on getting back into the web more heavily, and working with Designers who had more specialisation in the web. As you know the specialisation got stronger and stronger as the years went by and the web was used more. So I fell back into this role where I was writing and managing projects and then I was recruited by an Agency who wanted me as an Account Director. And I loved it, but then I was recruited by a larger Agency who said ‘I really think you’d be strong as a Project Manager’. And to be honest Paul, I had to ask no less than three times, what the difference was between an Account Director and a Project Manager.
They finally talked me into it and I was completely overwhelmed when I started out. I could not believe the level of math and accounting. It was mind-blowing to me, as I had always been more high level and strategic and always loved being in that spot. But I learned so much in that Agency setting that I was able to apply the creative skills that I had to the detailed side of my brain and fit into the role that made sense for me. Anyway, that was a really long roundabout way of saying, back then there was no way and lot of people who are my age just fell into it. Now it’s amazing there are courses at Colleges.
Brett: Yes, I’ve taught a two-day workshop a couple of times here at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia so students are learning the skills, Universities are starting to pick up on it. When I spoke at DPM UK in Manchester there was a whole group of students in the audience with their Professors who were interested in Digital Project Management, so I do think it is changing, that the role is starting to become more recognised in the industry. I think that’s pretty cool.
Paul: That is very cool. And your story as well, as to how you got into it. I am hoping that there are people out there listening to this, who have reached a point and are dissatisfied in their existing role, be it Designer or Developer or whatever within it, and will seriously consider Digital Project Management as a career path as I think it is very legitimate, and good and exciting career path that contributes a lot to the web design process.
Brett: I totally agree, and I think there are always outlets. I have had a few people ask me ‘What made you stop writing? How come you aren’t bored now, not being a little more creative?’ And I always tell them no. Firstly there are always outlets outside of your career where you can be creative, right? Second, I still work in a creative industry and I am part of that creative process day in and day out so I get a lot of gratification out of that.
Paul: And also, I think a Project Manager has got a lot of creative input onto a project. If there is the right relationship between Designers and Developers there is going to be a lot of ideas suggested and some of those ideas will get taken on board. And in addition to that I think there is a huge creative element in how to engage with people and all of the soft skill side of things, of working out the best way to engage with people to work with them, to get the most out of them. That is creative. I think sometimes we have a very narrow view of what creativity is, in my opinion.
Brett: I totally agree.
Paul: Anyway, we are kind of running out of time. I did have one more question, but we will have to save that for another time. What I do want, before we finish is to ask you if there are people listening to this, who are feeling inspired, or a Project Manager who feels the need for a community or someone considering moving into this field or somebody looking for a bit of help, where can they start? Tell us some of those links that they can be looking at.
Brett: So there is always my website. Why not start with a little bit of self-promotion. [Brettharned.com](http://brettharned.com/, I’ve been blogging there for about five years about Digital Project Management. There’s a new website that I started with—I will call her my co-blogger—Rachel Gertz, it’s called Everydaydpm.com. Basically it’s a blog where we are disseminating articles and inspiration to Digital PMs every day of the year. So we’ve got something coming out every day which has been a lot of fun and we are three months into it.
Obviously my friend Sam Barns has been doing this a long time too and he’s got some great stuff on his blog. It’s called thesambarnes.com.
Otherwise there are tons of places where PM content is starting to show up, which is exciting. It’s like a list apart in Smashing Magazine and Nat Magazine also, I’ve written there, Sam has written there, Rachel has written there. It’s exciting to see this stuff spread out and gain a little bit of traction.
Paul: What about meet ups and conferences?
Brett: Oh absolutely, it feels as though there are new meet-ups popping up in every city. I would say if you are trying to start a meet-up in your city then feel free to get in touch. Follow Digital PMs on Twitter. Twitter can be a really big place to meet people – that’s how Sam and I met. And then I think conferences, those are popping up all over the place. Mainly what I am seeing now is in the US and the UK. I am hoping those spread out a little bit more. Obviously I run the Digital PM summit here in Philadelphia. We bring that back to Philadelphia this year in October 12th and 13th. And that will be at DPM2015.com or just go to BureauofDigital.com. And then there’s DPM UK that’s dpmuk.com/. They are popping up all over the place, which is great too. Thanks for reminding me of that.
Paul: And if you are rapidly trying to scribble all of these down, don’t worry, I will be putting them in the show notes so you can get access to them all.
Thank you so much Brett. That is absolutely wonderful and it’s been really good to just to talk about the value of what is a really important but undervalued role. So it’s great to have you on the show and we will no doubt get you back in in the future.
Brett: Thank you, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Paul: Ok, so that’s the interview with Brett. Told you he was lovely, told you he was cool, told you that he makes Digital Project Management a little bit cooler than it was before.
Marcus: Using the word ‘little bit’ again?
Paul: Yes, I need to stop doing that don’t I. No I am very excited about the various conferences he runs. You would enjoy going to them Marcus.
Marcus: Yes I would.
Paul: It’s all kind of business-y, PM-y, strategy-y kind of stuff rather than Design-y and Develop-y.
Marcus: I quite like Design-y conferences because they get a bit kind of pie-in-the-sky-y which I like. It’s only the Developer stuff that I just go meh to. But yes, I should and would like to go to a PM conference but going to conferences always seems to be, I was going to say bottom of the list, but that sounds as though I don’t want to go. I really want to go, but there is always something else to do. I love conferences when I go to them, absolutely love them.
Paul: That’s why you’ve got to book them up so far in advance.
Marcus: Yes, because you think ‘that would be no problem at all’.
Paul: Yes, I can plan around it and stuff, and you never do, and it’s always chaos at the last minute and you are panicking and you end up having to go out some of the talks to answer emails and stuff, but at least you are there.
Marcus: Exactly. Yes, I need to think what’s the next conference I should go to, Paul?
Paul: Oh I don’t know! I don’t keep an encyclopaedia thing in my brain, do I?
Marcus: Alright then, what’s a good one?
Paul: Well, the Digital PM Summit is a really good one. Oh I know one you can go to. It’s called The Big Do. I’m speaking at it. It’s not far as well. I am just working on finding it because I seem to have lost it.
Marcus: The Big Do?
Paul: I want to go with The Big Do, but that might not be right. Now see, this is the problem when I try and wing it.
Marcus: I found it.
Paul: How come you found it so quick?
Marcus: I can do searches Paul.
Paul: You can use the internet?! Wow!
Marcus: Friday May 15th.
Paul: Yes, come to it. It’s only in Oxford, it’s not far.
Marcus: That sounds great. My only slight concern is the fact that I’ve got these three trips coming up abroad.
Paul: You see, immediately you are making excuses.
Marcus: Well, I just don’t know when they are yet. They haven’t been set.
Paul: It doesn’t matter. Book a ticket anyway. It’s not even very expensive. Why can’t I find this, and you seem to be able to. Seriously it’s hidden from me. It doesn’t exist.
Marcus: Shares the link with Paul…there you go.
Paul: Thank you. How did I not find that? So it’s The Big Do. Who do they have speaking? Let’s look at the speakers. Rob Borely is going to be there and Brett. Brett’s going to be there. And me!
Marcus: And you!
Paul: And Sam. So all the cool kids. I am sure these other people, by the way, are cool as well, I just don’t know who they are. So be there. Be there or be very square. How much does it cost you? Buy tickets. I am booking you up now.
Marcus: Thanks Paul. You pay, and I’ll owe you the money.
Paul: The standard ticket price – £40.00
Paul: Yes. So even if you didn’t make it, you could still throw the money away. You wipe your mouth with £40 don’t you?
Marcus: Yes Paul.
Paul: With your pop-star background. Probably use it to do drugs or something.
Paul: That’s what you do isn’t it?
Marcus: Right you carry on Paul. Do your drug stories.
Paul: I think it’s now time for me to talk about MediaTemple.
Because this is the last episode of the season, and MediaTemple has been sponsoring us for five episodes so what we are going to do is…
Previously on the Boagworld show… I am going to do a recap if everything I like about MediaTemple in one nice summary to summarise it all up. So here we go.
Now remember, I host with MediaTemple. I pay these guys money. My money out of my pocket. Well actually strictly speaking, I pay Headscape who pay MediaTemple but that’s neither here not there.
But anyway, they’ve got amazing support. You can pick up the phone to them. They are super helpful, incredibly quick to respond, very, very impressed with the support.
They are super-scalable, so you can adapt your website, hosting arrangements up or down, very, very simply, very easily. Got so much time for that.
They offer a huge range of services, from the basic build-your-own website tool that they provide all the way up to virtual private servers and then on to dedicated boxes and that kind of stuff.
They will help you migrate across onto their hosting, and they are really helpful about that – trust me, I know. And if you want it, they will also help manage your server over the long term as well for security updates and plug-ins and all of that kind of stuff. And don’t forget as well, they will roll Google apps also into this to deal with email and that kind of thing.
So a really nice rounded, reliable package. Are they the cheapest on the market? Probably not. Are they the best? Probably are, at least in my opinion. To make them slightly more cheaper, you can get a special discount as a Boagworld listener by using the Promo code BOAG for 25% off of your hosting and you can get that by going to Boagworld.com/MediaTemple and enter the promo code upon sign up. So there you go.
Thank you MediaTemple, thank you Opera, thank you MailChimp, thank you TemplateMonster. Thank you everyone else for sponsoring this season. It does make a huge difference, you sponsoring the show. Perch, I forgot Perch. There will be other as well. It makes a huge difference sponsoring the show, because it means I have to work less. And that’s great.
Do a joke Marcus. It’s got to be a good one. End of season joke, go out on a big bang. Go!
Marcus: How about I do two bad ones?
Paul: No. Oh it’s painful. Go on then.
Marcus: Breaking news. A mummy covering chocolate and nuts has been discovered in Egypt. Archaeologists believe it may be Pharaoh Roche.
Paul: What is it, your chocolate jokes at the moment.
Marcus: Well it is just after Easter. Thank you Leigh for sending me that one. And I’ve got an even worse one. Although it will actually make you laugh. This is from Kevin Hopwood.
I turned on a cat the other day. Don’t ask meow.
Paul: I quite like those two jokes. I approve of both jokes. I’ve noticed a thing. Meg who transcribes the show is very nice to you. Because every time, you tell a joke, she always puts in brackets underneath [Laughs]. Right. Even when I don’t laugh, she just inserts that we have been laughing. Its lies. She lies! She couldn’t be a legal transcriber, not with that kind of attitude. (Transcriber edit: Hey!)
Marcus: No, very slap-dash. (Another transcriber edit: Hey! Hey!)
You actually check it, I am impressed. Only very superficially. She can write any old rubbish, I wouldn’t know. Now what’s going to end up in this week’s show? (T Edit: Oh so tempting…)
Now, next season. Because not next time, next season. We get a holiday, Marcus, yay!
Marcus: We don’t really, we get a holiday from the podcast.
Paul: Yes but I have got to start preparing for next season. So I don’t get a holiday, only you. The next season kicks off on the 21st May. We are going to be looking at running your own Web Design business. I am going to try and arrange a variety of guests. So not just like the interviews that we have done for this season, but to come on the show from beginning to end and be a part of it, like Leigh is from time to time, and no doubt we will get Leigh on as one.
So because we are looking at running your own web design business, we want your questions. What questions do you have about running your own web design business? You can either follow the blog because I am going to be asking on the blog different questions at different times or you can Tweet me at @Boagworld and I will include them in the show and we are going to kick off our very first show on Web Design career choices. So whether you are starting out in Web Design and trying to work out how to get into it or whether where to go in your career, that will be what we will be talking about in the first episode. So any questions about that, or any other things about running a Web Design business, let us know and we shall do our best to find someone intelligent enough to answer them.
Marcus: We can do lots of reminiscing. When I started in the business…. And all that kind of stuff.
Paul: We can sound like that Monty-Python sketch can’t we.
Marcus: Yes.. and ‘kids today…’
Paul: ‘don’t know they are born with their JQuery libraries…
Anyway, that’s it for this season. It’s been a great privilege and pleasure. Thank you very much to all of our guests for coming on and making this show slightly more coherent. And thank you for our sponsors and thank you most of all, dear listener, for making the effort to listen to our waffle. We will see you again on the 21st May, until then, have a good one.