When I made the jump to a tech firm six months ago, I discovered several stigmas placed on project managers at creative agencies:
- They don’t know agile, having worked in a decades-old process that is viewed as slow, clunky, and requiring several layers of approval.
- They’re only used to working on large, expensive projects, and are unable to follow a tight budget.
- They’re “snobs” if the work can’t win a snazzy industry award that looks good on a shelf, they’re not interested.
- They don’t know digital or tech, and they can only work on traditional media (TV, radio, print).
But while there’s some truth and mostly fiction in all of these stigmas, I believe that my experience at that large, clunky agency has given me important lessons and ideas that I incorporate into my mobile development project management on a daily basis. And as more advertising agencies move into 2018 and beyond, agile is becoming more than just a buzzword; consultancies must incorporate more SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) mobile project management techniques in order to stay competitive and meet their clients’ needs.
With that, here are five lessons I learned that can be helpful to project managers and team leaders in advertising/marketing and tech:
1. Process should help the work get out faster, and evolve and improve it over time
Agile has become something of a buzzword in advertising, and for good reason. Clients are getting frustrated with the time and cost it takes to get work done. But consultancy creatives have several fears about the agile process: that you can’t quantify the time it takes to get the “big idea,” that clients won’t be able to see work in progress throughout and envision the final product, that daily stand-ups would become too much of a time-suck, and that traditional teams should be structured as a copywriter and art director. A large hurdle for an advertising consultancy to get over is to view the work as an evolving piece, and not a finished product. Sometimes that means releasing something to the client or the public if it’s not finessed to the nth degree, or if it has minor bugs. If you’re constantly updating, engaging, and storytelling, then the focus is more on the brand’s journey over time, and less on one 30-second TV spot. Consultancy teams would also benefit from the structure and accountability that a daily stand-up can provide. Responsibilities are made clear, each employee is accountable for the progress and completion of their own work, and the small team is united in their singular mission of getting the work done. And while Project Managers in both industries keep a full list of functionality or deliverables, tech PMs have more of a voice around Sprint Planning, and work with their clients and team members to determine priorities around features, and keep a fluid backlog of “nice to haves” depending on time and budget.
2. Design should improve the experience, not just impress other industry folks
Awards are a necessary evil for any consultancy. They’re motivating for employees and serve as PR and sales tools, attracting new clients and making them aware of the consultancy’s work. But one criticism of a creative consultancy is that work is often done for the sole purpose of winning an award, and not serving the consumer. Yet tech companies may often lean in the opposite direction, where design is sacrificed at the expense of functionality and performance. There is a lesson to be learned from both. There is always a place for impeccable design, but its end goal should be to improve the user experience and solidify the consumer’s impression of the brand. As a project manager, that means involving UX/UI designers and developers throughout the lifespan of a project. My most successful projects have started in a room where a designer and developer are both throwing ideas up on the board, and continue collaborating on functionality, navigation, and UX throughout the process, even in QA. But that’s not meant to undercut the importance of a developer because all the smoke and mirrors in the world can’t hide something that doesn’t actually work. This is why in the agile process, we’re not presenting a PDF to the client, we’re presenting a functioning piece of technology. The code isn’t just the “back end” it’s as much of a client-facing deliverable as a design presentation and needs to be as clean, thorough, and documented as the slickest consultancy deck.
3. Strategic Planning can set a foundation for development too
The best advertising campaign is built upon a solid strategic foundation, and a mobile app or tech project should be no different.Functionality shouldn’t be added just because it’s a hot trend– it should make sense for the overall brand and their consumer, and deliver on a business problem the same way a piece of advertising would. One takeaway that a tech company can glean from a creative consultancy is the importance of a creative brief that’s rooted in the overall brand strategy. If the design is always driven by strategy in addition to the normal technical requirements, your projects will never feel like just a string of new functionality with no big picture in sight– which is frustrating for UX/UI designers and developers alike. While sometimes our clients in IT aren’t privy to the marketing plans and decisions of their brands, it’s our jobs to help them create a strategic plan and roadmap that bridges that relationship and creates consistency across all platforms.
4. Saying “Yes” doesn’t mean “Yes, right this minute”
In a company meeting recently, our COO Alex was answering questions about timesheets, and stated, “Your nights and weekends should be your own.” I was immediately shocked and felt like applauding (ok maybe I did a little bit). That a statement like that would be shocking speaks to the culture of creative consultancies– you’re expected to be “on call” at all times, and you almost wear your late night and weekend work like a badge of honor. But why? I admit I’m still a bit stumped on this one. Could it be that creatives maintain that conception is not a science, and they can’t predict when lightning will strike? Or that good ideas don’t come until 3 a.m.? Or that marketing clients operate on faster timelines, with emergencies and last-minute media placements popping up quickly? Either way, I have seen some differences after working at a small tech company. UX/UI designers, developers, and project managers all employ “heads-down” tactics that help them to make better use of their time during the day. Also, daily stand-ups and using tools like JIRA and Slack help teams keep tasks prioritized and get work done quickly.
5. But saying “Yes” isn’t a dirty word either
One frustration I hear about project managers in IT and tech is that whenever a new idea is raised, the first answer is “No, it’s not in scope.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being an consultancy producer and project manager, it’s flexibility. Saying “yes” is now innate for me, but how do I make sure that we’re protected as a company and not giving away work for free? It’s still a tricky line to walk, but by ensuring my estimates have room for any bugs or issues that naturally occur in development, I can give us and our clients enough space to get it right, not just done. At that point, a new ask from my client begins a conversation: Is this the right piece of functionality for this release, and will the timing work? Will it make this release that much better, that it is worth the extra hustle? With those questions answered, now we can address the budget: How are we doing overall on our hours? Do we have room to add in extra work, or would this addition cause us to go over? By treating a new ask from a client as a conversation and opportunity instead of a disruption, we can reach the goal that’s shared by creative and tech project managers alike: to create work that we all can be proud of.
Note from Editor:
Our team is all about sharing our “lessons learned” and techniques, here are a couple of other blogs that we think you may find interesting:
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4 Tips in Designing a Retail Inventory Management App