Whether you’re a Marketing Manager who’s been tasked with whipping up your company’s 12-month social media strategy or a tech-savvy sales executive who suddenly finds themselves in charge of developing their employer’s new mobile app, you’re a Digital Project Manager.
In fact, most of us working in digital, regardless of our roles or our places in the corporate hierarchy, are Digital Project Managers, even if we don’t yet realise it.
And, according to Vishy Narayanan, Head of Online for Australian biotechnology giant Cochlear, as the digital world expands and becomes more mainstream, the ability to execute digital projects effectively is becoming “absolutely critical.”
But what exactly is a Digital Project Manager?
At its most basic, a Digital Project Manager is someone who is responsible for delivering a product through digital channels, be it a website, an ecommerce platform, social media, a mobile app, digital content or a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.
“It’s not just about ‘managing’ the project and people,” says Vishy, who ran Deloitte’s national technology practice for about four years, “it’s about being responsible for the final outcome of a digital project.’’
So, how is a Digital Project Manager different from a ‘normal’ Project Manager?
“I think the basic principles of project management are still the same but the time-frames under which you operate are different, as are the number of dependencies you don’t have control over.”
While ‘normal’ projects are typically based around months or, even, years, when it comes to digital, such lengthy timeframes are a luxury.
Finally Digital Project Manager can have dozens of contributors who they have little, if any, control over, anything from third-party software tools and hosting platforms to the content creators or third-party platforms.
How can I be an awesome Digital Project Manager?
You need to be change friendly
“Change often causes traditional Project Managers to push back, but digital is all about change,’’ says Vishy.
Digital Project Managers who understand this will be able to deliver their desired outcome even if something changes mid-way through a project, but those who are change averse, will struggle.
Facilitate the flow of information, don’t block it
“A Digital Project Manager cannot just manage tools and spreadsheets,” says Vishy who has been assisting several digital and technology companies in an advisory capacity. “With the reduced time scales in digital, you can’t wait for information to trickle through the system. Digital Project Managers need to be able to facilitate the free flow of information both inside and outside the project.”
“You must be inquisitive about the digital landscape. I’ve rarely seen a Digital Project Manager who wasn’t a digital user, just as you wouldn’t find too many Publishing Project Managers who weren’t avid readers. If you work in digital, you need to be a consumer of technology.”
It’s about outcomes, not processes
“Concentrate on the outcome you want and how to get it rather than the processes,’’ says Vishy who has trained more than 700 Project Managers during his 20-year career in technology.
“That way, even if the processes change, your eye is still on the final outcome and you’ll find a way to get there, perhaps using another process or another technology, but you’ll still find a way because you’re focussed on the end result.”
“Document everything, especially dependencies on third-party software, plug-ins, APIs or content management systems,’’ says Vishy. “That way, if something changes, you know where to start looking and your entire project won’t come to a grinding halt.”
Use open standards where possible
“This is not always easy or even possible and, though the industry is becoming more open, there are still many standards that are not open. This applies to hardware, not just software. “
Don’t (only) rely on tools to manage your projects.
“Get away from the almost drug-like dependence on project management tools because, if your tools suddenly don’t work, well, you’re stuffed,’’ says Vishy, only half jokingly. “Ultimately, tools make things more efficient but they’re only there to give you a detailed view of what you should already know.”
Instead, suggests Vishy, be a project manager who “walks the floor.”
“Move away from your desk and talk with the people delivering your project. Try to understand their issues because you’ll start to see and solve problems long before they become stumbling blocks.”
At the end of the day, he affirms, “anyone can get people excited about possibility of digital, but only a Digital Project Manager, a good Digital Project Manager, can convert that possibility into a reality – and then do it over and over again.”