From Creative to Tech: 5 Lessons for Mobile Development Project Management

From Creative to Tech: 5 Lessons for Mobile Development Project Management

shockoe-project-manager-Rebecca-mobile-development-project-managementMy journey into Mobile Development Project Management was almost accidental. I started my career in television production, first as a producer on a reality TV show and then jumping into production at a large advertising agency, helping to create television, radio, and video projects for national brands. But after six years of production, I started gravitating more towards the internal management of teams rather than organizing shoots and productions. I decided to give project management a try, and from the minute I felt the warmth in my heart of seeing my client’s multi-media campaign scheduled out across all deliverables, I knew I was home.

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
Software Development Life Cycle Mobile project managementAwards 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”
Mobile Development AgencyIn 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
Mobile Development Project Management Creative and Tech 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:

Ensure Success with the Right Mobile App Delivery

4 Tips in Designing a Retail Inventory Management App

5 Ways Shockoe Supercharged Mobile Workflow

3 Tips to Start Using Motion in Design

Project Managment’s Story: Chasing Waterfalls with Agility

Project Managment’s Story: Chasing Waterfalls with Agility

At Shockoe we have the unique (and awesome) opportunity to work with a lot of emerging technologies and methodologies, which is why I’ve always preferred to work for start-ups. There’s less of “This is how its always been” and more “This is new…how can we try to use it?” This is exciting and challenging in a fun way. Not only is my team embracing the latest and greatest in how we build mobile apps, but also in how we manage projects.

If you’re on the project management career track, “Agile” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot. Even though the idea/methodology is not new, it is currently very ‘hot’.  A lot of companies are trying to move from a Waterfall way of running their projects to being Agile. Most of the clients I’m working with at Shockoe have told me “We are used to being a Waterfall organization but we’re trying to embrace the Agile way of running a project”. That, or even if they don’t plan on moving away from Waterfall, they’re interested in our project process and are intrigued to see Agile in practice.

There’s a lot of benefits to being more agile. The big one (for me) is better quality end-results.  This happens because you are not saving testing to the end, but instead incorporating testing and then adjusting based on those tests throughout the life cycle of the project. Secondly, there’s more wiggle room for change. In the waterfall world, if you’re saving the testing until the very end of the project and your business/product owner during testing realizes a bunch of things they didn’t consider and now want changed, you’ll find yourself out of either time and/or money.

Running our projects using Agile lets us reduce risks to the quality and getting last minute change requests. However, getting our clients to move at the same pace as we want to can sometimes be challenging. Right after the project kick-off, we’re basically ready to go. This can be quick for some of our clients, who find themselves waiting on Change Review Board or internal PMO to green-light the project.

What this means is there can sometimes be some initial lag time, which usually gives us time to do “Sprint 0” which is when the initial designs and technical architecture documents are created – so once the client tells us they’re ready for us, we can hit the ground running. This is a good way to mix the Agile principles of continuously analyzing, developing and testing throughout the life cycle of the project, with the Waterfall ones of having a plan set forth before you start creating anything.

This has helped ensure that we’re able to deliver what we set out to, and in a way that makes our waterfall clients comfortable with the process, while still allowing for agility in our project management practice. We have so many examples, this is just one, of how we’ve been able to successfully marry our agile practices with our waterfall clients, and delivered a high quality product that everyone was proud of.

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Dear New Client . . .

Dear New Client . . .

Dear New Client

We are so glad you have trusted Shockoe to help accomplish your business goals.  We understand that for this particular project, you need to design and build a new workplace productivity mobile app for your employees.  Here are some highlights of what you can expect throughout the course of this project.

Project Set up and Kickoff:  The kickoff meeting will provide an opportunity for all team members to meet, review the project scope, timeline and processes, and discuss any anticipated challenges.  Topics covered will include milestones and key dates, responsibilities, recurring meetings, status reporting, how we will work together, and contact information.

Discovery:  Once we’re out of the gate, we will interview your stakeholders and subject matter experts to deepen our understanding of your business model and goals for this project.  A Shockoe user experience strategist will lead this effort and may suggest activities such as market research, competitor analysis, identification of user personas, or a heuristic evaluation of your current application.  Along the way, we will document your requirements and create user flows and user stories.  Typically, a user interface designer is involved in this phase as well so the transition to design is seamless.

Design:  Once we have outlined what your new application needs to do, our design team gets to work.  These folks are the masterminds of creating a top-notch experience for your target audience.  They start by creating mockups (wireframes) that show the key elements on each screen and how a user progresses from screen to screen.  These mockups are easily transformable into clickable prototypes if desired for review by your team or to conduct usability testing with a sample audience.  Beyond that, we bring your screens to life with a style guide and high-fidelity designs.  Together these paint the picture of how the application will look and feel and will include actual colors, fonts, and images.

An agile-like process:  Typically, at some point between the transition from Discovery to Design, we will start to employ an agile approach to the project.  The goal is to share our work early and often so that you have visibility along the way.  Together we can determine the right amount of upfront user experience planning that’s needed before we move into iterative sprints.  Sprints are typically two week intervals where we identify an area of the app on which to focus, we wireframe it, apply the design, and build it.  The sprint culminates with a demo at the end where we share our work and gather your feedback.  Everyone looks forward to demo time!

Development:  The scope of the project determines how many sprints are needed.  No matter how many two-week intervals are involved, the process is the same and all members of the team know what to expect.  Each sprint includes sprint planning, development of the relevant user stories, a day or two of testing and issue resolution, and finally, the sprint demo at the end.

Testing and launch:  After the last development sprint ends, we spend a couple of weeks regression testing, which is thorough testing of the entire app to ensure that all functionality is working as expected and that there are no display issues across supported devices.  Any issues identified are resolved and then the app is turned over to you to perform user acceptance testing.  Fortunately, you will have had access to the app at each sprint demo when the QA version of the app is uploaded to Shockoe’s server for download.  This testing at the end of the project is an opportunity to execute all test cases and confirm the final product is ready.  Beyond that it’s just a matter of planning for submission to the app stores.  Shockoe can either help you through that process or submit the app on your behalf.

We are with you throughout the life of the project and let you know what to expect at each step of the way.  We find that by the end of a project, our collective team has bonded in a way unlike no other.  We are working together to produce something that will make people’s lives better in some way.  And that’s a great feeling.  Thank you for letting us be a part of it.

Let’s get started . . .

The Shockoe Team