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Project management • August 2016

Float like a butterfly, sting like a SME

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Float like a butterfly, sting like a SME

Amanda Di Dio
This article was contributed by
Amanda Di Dio

A project manager doesn’t stop at timelines and budgets—it’s a role that relies on communication and detail.  On a daily basis my team looks to me for guidance on details of the project scope, client needs, and movement through deliverables. 

But what makes a really strong project manager? What foundational elements allow PMs to float through project work with ease?  Outlined here are 4 fundamentals I’ve adopted along the way that can help any project manager become more effective.

1. Take the time to know the content of your project. You’re in the driver seat!

Running project work without truly knowing what it is that you’re creating is a recipe for project disaster.  Trust me, I’ve been there.  What’s helped me avoid situations like those is getting my ducks in a row with my internal team when kicking off my project.  Creating a project brief that distills deliverables and clearly outlines client expectations is a huge help—and be sure to call out key questions along the way, because you aren’t expected to know everything. Set up time to meet with your team leads and resources to walk them through your thinking step by step, and get into the habit of making that your process.  The more familiar you are with the project work, and truly understand what is that you’re creating, the better subject matter expert, or “SME,” you will be to your team and clientele.

2. Know what it takes to get the work done. Watch, listen, and learn.

Crisp timelines, efficient meetings, and tasks result from knowing your team as well as the work.  I always make it my mission to gain a clear understanding of what it takes to get the job done.  By doing this, I’ve not only benefited myself and my timeline, but I’ve done right by my entire team.  I’ve learned that what may be the simplest task to me may not be for the people delivering the work, and that mind share is crucial.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, sit in on working sessions, or have your designer or developer walk you through their approach, thinking, and methodology.  Taking these simple measures will help you grow and refine your understanding of the level of effort needed for your client’s wire-frame or landing page to be developed.  This approach has helped me drastically, and pushed the quality of my team’s work to another level.

Taking these types of initiatives will also get you closer to understanding how your teammates operate, in addition to their communication styles.  Remember, communication is key—everyone absorbs and processes information differently.  Lean into this approach, and trust me your team will thank you for it.

3. Be the Quarterback. Take the time to think 5 steps ahead.

Keeping track of so many moving pieces can be challenging, especially when timelines are tight and budgets are lean.  When I was first starting out as a budding project manager in the agency world, my mentor at the time instilled this idea of putting yourself in the position of a quarter back, and it’s really stuck with me.  As the one who is “passing the ball” to my team, it’s important that I know what their next move is and will be.  Your road-map to the end goal should move and breathe naturally through the work that you’re planning to complete. Ensure that your players are aligned and set up for success against your onset plan.  Setup a weekly team huddle or daily scrum to make sure that the lines of communication are clear. There shouldn’t be a moment where either your team, account manager, or client has a doubt with where you are in your project work. 

4. Challenge yourself. See what’s going on.    

Step outside the boundaries of what you think project management is, and extend yourself to really get to know what the industry is up to. Go to that marketing conference, design convention, or content writing workshop.  Enrich your bounty of knowledge, and you’ll start to relate to your work on a deeper level—compelled to solve your clients’ challenges.