Some people are born to do a job. Others are meant to define it, then spill the secrets on how you can master it. Enter, Rachel Gertz. All the clues are there: a background in education, time served as a DPM, strategist and writer. A quick wit, contagious laughter and no-holds-barred commitment to make project management—and the digital world—a better place.
On paper, Rachel reads like most project managers: she didn’t set out to be one. An education major, Rachel spent three years working in a high-risk wound care clinic, learning humility and humanity, as she describes it. She then ran a program to educate the public on how to intervene and prevent people from committing suicide. Then she started her life as a project manager and content strategist. First, at a digital agency, then at a company focused on accessibility.
Today, Rachel is Partner and Digital PM Trainer at Louder Than Ten, a consultancy she built with her other half, brick by brick, script by script. Louder Than Ten provides digital apprenticeships to help people run projects and close the skills gap. When she’s not coaching, Rachel’s co-chairing the Vancouver DPM meetup, or speaking and workshopping at exotic locations such as Memphis, Tennessee.
Live & In-Person at the Digital PM Summit
If you’ve seen Rachel take the stage, you know she’s not to be missed. Luckily, you have a chance to catch her keynote, “Static to Signal: A Lesson in Alignment” at the Digital PM Summit this September 4–6 in Memphis, Tennessee. What can you expect from the session? As Rachel tells it,
Your job isn’t what you think it is. Ringing the iron triangle of time, scope and budget doesn’t drown out the complexity of humans working with other humans. Your real job is to create alignment with your folks at work: to bind them together so everyone is pulling in the same direction, fighting for the same things, and uniting for the same purpose.
Register for the Summit and learn how to identify and respond to misalignment, turn adversaries into allies and claim your rightful title as an invaluable catalyst for your team.
Q&A with Rachel Gertz, DPM Coach & Confidante
Looking forward to the Summit, we caught up with Rachel for some Q&A on how she got started, where she sees digital project management headed and what advice and resources she’d lend to DPMs.
What was your path into project management?
I fell like a pebble into a deep lake after starting out as a content writer with a teaching background and oodles of program management experience. Then came running a digital studio with my husband. There’s also something in there about a road trip, a Winnebago, PMing out of Walmart parking lots in Miami and getting lost in a sewage treatment plant outside Boston, MA (all part of that trip).
From there we built an apprenticeship program to close the gap between PM and operations and to help new and existing PMs refine their practice so they can run truly profitable projects all over the world. The future? We believe in processes that elevate our technology industry and we also believe that time is ticking, so we’re doing our best to work with other orgs and people who want to champion a big change.
So, to sum it up, it’s been a wild ride and I wouldn’t give back a second of it.
What do you like about DPM, or the DPM Community?
This is the nicest, most ‘get it done’ bunch you’ll ever meet. I’ve been to loads of conferences and this is the only one where there is no ego blocking the chance for great conversations and friendships. I guess I chalk that up to PMs being great conversationalists and creating intangible outcomes (who can brag about creating a JIRA card?).
What is the future of Digital PM?
More of it, more adaptable, and as the definition evolves, it’ll be a skillset as much as it is a role or title. I predict more product management, more agile, more strategy, and more business analysis skills being vital to doing this role. In the far future, you won’t have a job unless you have the skills of an expert digital PM because masterful human communication will be the only thing we haven’t automated yet.
What are the biggest challenges digital project managers face and why? (Bonus points if you can also offer some advice to overcome that challenge.)
Project managers are hired to run projects. Ironically, the job they are paid money to do is also the one they are prevented from doing daily because they get told not to worry about overages if it’s to please a stakeholder, or to overlook risk if it increases budget or to ignore toxic employees because the most toxic ones tend to do the most flashy work.
To be a PM is to fight every day for processes that elevate your team, the project you run and the industry itself. It means fighting for the choice to do what’s right: not just for your projects, but for your own career and for the future of tech. This is a lonely job, but PMs are magical beings.
Good news? If you walk in knowing this, you become resilient and impervious to anyone knocking you down. Seek out your allies. There are good people who will tell you that your fight is worthwhile and together we will change how tech projects run. We’ll be here for you.
What one piece of advice would you give to a new DPM?
You are more powerful than you think you are. Trust yourself and speak up when your gut is yelling. PS: a business case and a solid rallying cry go a long way.
What’s one takeaway that attendees can look forward to gaining from your session?
Most of your effort shouldn’t go into budgets, timelines and schedules. It should be laser-focused on cultivating alignment on your teams and with your executive stakeholders because when those pieces fall into line, so do your projects. What does this look like? Situational awareness, nimble prioritization and blameless communication.
What sessions are you looking forward to at the Digital PM Summit?
Where can DPMs find the best resources to help them?
I’m biased but we have a great resources section at Louder Than Ten: louderthanten.com/resources.
I’d also recommend you check out:
Active Collab’s blog: activecollab.com/blog/
Deeson Delivery Newsletter: deeson.co.uk/make-good
Find your Tribe, Elevate Your Career & Shape the Future of DPM
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