With the fifth annual Digital PM Summit closing in (October 15-17 in Las Vegas. Register by September 30), I thought it might be nice to talk a little bit about what DPM is, how the community is growing, and what that means. Spoiler alert: I’ll also talk a little bit about this during opening remarks at the event. But read on, because this goes far deeper.
What is a Digital Project Manager?
Sure, Digital PMs are just like any other PM in that we handle project scopes, timelines, communications, and team dynamics. But we take special interest in our niche, which is the process by which we build websites, apps, and other digital products. Add to that the fact that we think strategically about how to apply process and deliverables to our work in order to facilitate decisions that meet project goals and get the best out of our teams given specific project constraints. We face similar issues to project managers in other fields, but we get especially excited about the things that specifically affect our projects and our teams.
We celebrate digital project management, because it’s what we do. But the world of project management is huge—there are specialty PM practitioners in just about every field. While our projects vary in size, scope, location, and subject matter, there are threads of the PM profession that keep us connected. Case in point: any good PM is laser-focused on keeping our projects “on time and under budget”. At a very root level, best practices apply across fields (and continents). The thing is, techniques and subject matter expertise change from industry to industry. While it’s really interesting to know how a project manager in another industry might handle an issue, keeping up with relevant topics within one’s own industry is paramount in being the best PM you can be.
The Digital PM Tribe
You might be seeing “tribes” of project managers forming around the globe based on their specialization: IT and Construction are great examples. They share specific knowledge, resources, experiences, and best practices based on the specific type of projects they manage. At about five years in as a formalized community, Digital Project Management (DPM) is pushing boundaries and making itself known across the globe. We’re the new kids on the block. We’re excited about what we do. We have a new voice within the digital community, and we want to be heard. We’re a little different from your average PM. Not better, not worse, just different.
Look away for a week and you’ll miss major developments in the digital community. Think about the way you’ve used the Internet and how it has changed in just the past five years. We’re at a point where smartphone usage has climbed to well over half of the population. This means that people are conducting a lot of their online activities—and even business—on their mobile devices. That means that if you’re designing web sites, you’re no longer focused on that large desktop view. You’re focused on an experience that resonates for users on all device sizes in different use cases. Add to that the fact that operating systems are updated often and new devices are being introduced frequently and you get an ever-changing cycle of technology with amazing opportunities to build the next best thing. It’s pretty exciting. Digital PMs need to keep up with this type of evolution and plan for how it will impact the size, scope, length, and most of all, effort of their projects.
New technology brings new considerations when planning projects. For instance, the impetus of Responsive Design brought exciting developments on how content could be displayed in different viewport sizes. And now we’re designing experiences for screens of many sizes and places (VR, anyone?). That means that there are now design considerations—and accompanying decisions—to be made on three variations of a design. Obviously, that means the scope and length of a project will change. The trickier part is the decision-making process. Do you present three versions of a web design to a client and iterate on it? Or do you design a page, code a page, and iterate? The options are endless, and they change based on what the project or the client might require. As digital PMs, we can’t be rigid about our process. We have to take cues from our teams and clients and follow our instincts on what will be best for everyone. If it doesn’t seem to be working, we have to make adjustments midstream and keep the project moving. That’s right, we have to adapt. We’re flexible by nature. In the end, it’s not about Agile or Waterfall, it’s about what works best for you.
I’m just going to say it: the PMP certification doesn’t mean that much to us. If you have a PMP or are working toward it, please don’t take offense to that statement. As practitioners, we respect the foundational knowledge that comes from the training provided by the Project Management Institute. But our community just isn’t focused on rigid directives on “how to” do things, because every digital project is different—or they change mid-stream. That makes applying a “one size fits all” process to every project difficult for us. We’re more focused on learning about tools, tips, and tactics that will help solve some of the problems we face every day. And sometimes that comes through work itself; we care about truly immersing ourselves in our work and learning from our teams and our peers.
Some say that Digital PM can be taught. But in reality, that is only partially true. You can teach anyone how to build a project plan, write a scope, or run a utilization report, but you can’t teach them how to be continually curious and passionate about the work they do. And that’s a requirement of all DPMs. We’re nerds. We love the internet. We love the people who make great things, and we truly want to be a part of that process. A PMP certification will only get you part of the way there, and it certainly won’t make you a ringer for a job much less an interview.
Communication and Collaboration
All good project managers are good communicators. For digital project managers this goes beyond your typical status report or email. It’s about being an important, respected part of your team. You can only get to that point as a PM by being honest about what you do and do not know about a project, your team’s work, and your own work. The heart and soul of a great DPM is in their desire to work collaboratively with their teams to build plans that work for everyone, brainstorm ideas that resonate, and openly communicate information that will make projects successful. Digital PMs can rule a spreadsheet, lock down requirements, and assure milestones are met, but at heart, we are strategic thinkers and creative beings who are immersed in digital.
The Growing DPM Community
There’s an overall feeling of excitement about “finding your people” among the Digital PM community, and that is apparent at every Digital PM Summit. Most have explored many avenues when it comes to learning and networking, and likely have read the more traditional PM books and blogs. But DPMs are seeking something more—a genuine connection not only through DPM content and work experience, but through interests and expertise. And they’re honestly not that easy to find. Stumbling upon a post about Digital PM is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a glorious rainbow. You dive in, swim around for as long as possible, and get out wanting MORE. Right now, we’re lacking “more,” but that is changing daily.
Just five years ago, very few people in the digital/web industry were talking about how projects were managed. It was all about the latest design trend or pattern. While that type of content and knowledge sharing is essential in the industry, it was clear that there was something missing. Today, if you search for “Digital Project Management” on the web, you will find blogs, books, quotes, courses, and even conferences. The tribe truly started to form around the inception of the Digital PM Summit, the conference we started in Philadelphia, PA in 2013. Now in it's fifth year, we're bringing hundreds of diverse Digital PMs from all over the world together to talk about what matters most to them.
Attendees leave the Summit inspired to start local Digital PM Meetups, write articles, set up new Twitter accounts, present what they learned to their teams and companies, and set up blogs where they enthusiastically share their experiences and ideas. It’s all so exciting, because each day a new personality introduces himself or herself to the community—and that only makes it stronger. At five years in, we’ve grown a lot, but this community is in its infancy. In years to come, you can expect to see and hear much more from Digital PMs (or Producers, Account Directors...whatever their official title may be).
Join the Excitement
The fifth annual Digital PM Summit is only three short weeks away. We’re almost at capacity, so registration will be closed on September 30, 2017. If you’d like to attend, register now and join in on the learning, sharing, and networking at the M Resort in Las Vegas, October 15-17.