Metal Toad Project Manager Profile: Adam Edgerton
As part of our project manager application process, we ask applicants to respond to a number of questions about themselves focused on their approach and philosophy when it comes to project management.
The questions themselves have been repurposed several times. The concept and some of the questions were initially introduced by Matt on our team who was inspired by speaker Q&A posts on the Digital PM Summit blog. We incorporated them into our application process as the initial pre-screen questions we send qualified applicants. Beyond that, I'm also using a similar set of questions for my new PDX Digital PM meetup and community project!
Given that we ask our applicants to respond to these questions, I figured it was time that our PM team does the same. I'm up first, and the other members of our team will have their responses posted soon. Without further ado, learn a bit more about me!
What makes a stellar digital PM?
A stellar digital PM masters the careful balance of fulfilling all stakeholder needs on a project. That includes the classic PM iron triangle of scope/budget/timeline and protecting the needs of the agency (if they’re an agency PM), while at the same time managing expectations to arrive at the finish line with a shipped project that meets or even exceeds client expectations. Along the way, a stellar digital PM communicates so well that questions are answered before they’re even asked, fire drills are a non-issue because problems were identified so early in the project that they were easy to resolve, and everyone’s expectations are realistic because the project team understands the client’s goals, while the client understands the agency’s business reality.
Per my Successful Digital PM blog post series, there are also a whole bunch of skills and traits that are inherent to being a stellar PM. But even more than that, the knowledge around the technologies and processes in play during a project are crucial to steering the project clear of obstacles. Luckily, that knowledge is teachable, but it takes time; a stellar PM at one agency will take some time to become a stellar PM at another agency.
What was your path to becoming a project manager?
I seemingly fell backwards into project management, but in retrospect, the writing was on the wall the whole time. I was a computer geek in high school, and web technology has always been a hobby and a passion. I went to school for business and marketing, and then wound up in a marketing department at a tech company. I found that I was the person who could talk the dev team’s language and gained their respect as a result. That meant that I wound up not only a marketing team coordinator, but a project manager across departments working on marketing development initiatives and ultimately new product development.
I found myself enjoying the project management aspects of my job more than the marketing aspects, and the progression to Metal Toad was a natural one given the ability to learn from managing a huge number of diverse web and digital projects on the agency side.
What do you love about being a project manager?
The thrill of a new challenge every day keeps me coming back. I feel lucky to be naturally cool under pressure, and it pays off in the PM role. I can’t help but smile when I take over a seemingly doomed project and come up with a plan that gives me confidence to say “we’ve got this” and then execute on it. Learning to change the rules of engagement and find a win out of a seemingly certain loss is extremely fulfilling. When you’ve mastered that, it’s like you’re Neo in the Matrix and you just figured out bullet time.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to a new digital PM?
Get the fundamentals down (process, skills, methodology, etc.), but then really dig in and learn what it is your team does and how they do it. Learn your product and service and offerings inside and out. When it comes to digital, know enough programming fundamentals to talk tech with your dev team. Be able to translate that tech talk to your clients, some of whom will likely be more technical than you, many of whom will be much less. You can be a great project manager, but if you don’t pick up on the specifics of the project you’re managing, you’ll struggle.
Again, a great starting point would be my Successful Digital PM blog post on knowledge.
What has been your biggest challenge as a digital PM?
My biggest challenge as a digital PM has been an organizational one. I’m happy to say that Metal Toad does a great job of looking out for the well-being of our clients and we do an amazing job of shipping, and shipping on time. But sometimes that comes at the expense of our budgets and scope. I’ve worked to educate the organization on ways to bring a project to wraps with our budget intact and the client satisfied, but there’s still work to be done.
We use the analogy of the spoiled student in school getting their way with a passive teacher because that student is overly demanding, while the outstanding students that make the teacher’s life easy get the short end of the stick. We have to be careful to avoid doing the same to our clients; being a pushover for demanding, unprofitable clients impacts our ability to be a great agency for clients that are great to us (which luckily is the majority of our clients).
What is the one tool you can’t live without at work? Why?
I’m over Excel and its clunkiness, but I’m definitely a spreadsheet person. Tools are great, but I use spreadsheets as a prototyping tool once a process is defined. See: Hey Project Managers! Let’s Not Talk Tools. Sometimes we graduate from a spreadsheet to a specific tool once we find that the tool’s feature set is close or exact to our needs, but in the majority of cases, the added overhead of another PM tool isn’t worth it versus keeping things light and lean in spreadsheets with lots of reusable templates to choose from.
How do you succeed at managing projects where you’re unfamiliar with the technologies being used?
I rely on 1) my development team, whose members I trust immensely, and 2) my high-level knowledge of technology concepts. While programming languages abound and environment configurations continue to get more complex, there are fundamental recurring patterns throughout web development and DevOps that can be relied on to at least know how to ask the right questions if you don’t have the answers.
What’s the most important thing you must do to manage and motivate humans successfully?
As a project manager, showing you have skin in the game goes a long way. Since you manage projects without directly managing the people on the project team, motivation is your primary tool. To get that motivation buy-in from your team, showing that you’re one of them is key. Praise them for their knowledge. Make it widely known that you couldn’t do the project without them. If/when the going gets tough, make sure you don’t abandon the team or give the perception that you’re cruising while they’re suffering. Most importantly, don’t place blame when you should be finding solutions and learning how to improve for next time!
How do you recover from a bad day?
Sports and athletics have long been a major outlet. I’ve raced bikes for a number of years, and simply going for an evening run releases stress and gets some good endorphins flowing. Beyond that, having listening ears from friends and family for an occasional healthy venting session is an important outlet. When I say healthy, I mean looking for solutions and ways to improve the situation rather than lamenting your misery.
Do you have any reading or listening recommendations that serve to inspire or inform digital project managers?
Yes, and it's getting big enough that it warrants its own blog post. I think I'll get together with our team on that and put together a combined post. Looking at the publications and blog posts by the speaker list from this year's Digital PM Summit is a great place to start.