Providing Value as a Digital PM

Being a PM can be a bit of an amorphous position, especially at smaller agencies where the job spans part AM, part contract writer, part QA, operational issues, etc, (See Adam’s blog on role). The many hats may give the illusion of value, but at the end of the day we are hired for one job; to manage projects and do it well. But what does that mean?

After 10 months at Metal Toad, the many ways I have changed what I do, what I thought I would be doing, and how I execute things have evolved immensely. This evolution has lead towards what I believe contributes value vs. filling the space.

Learning from my errors I can say what value is Not...

When I first started as a PM I worked tediously to take notes and make sure to capture everything that was said. Rookie error. But this was in part because I did not yet know what was important to note, and because I was fearful of missing something and I wanted to work hard to continually have my bases covered if someone asked a question later on. What truly spelled trouble here, was that I spent little to no time engaging with the client or giving them the feeling I truly understood (granted I kinda didn’t), but I should at least have made everyone in the room feel like I was trying rather than being the awkward stenographer in the corner.

Getting away from this is a result in trusting your team, knowing that engaging is most important and that any details you may have missed your team probably picked up. More importantly, feeling comfortable to engage with the product owner to ask again. I recently read a great book suggested by our VP of people called “Getting Naked”. The book talks about the ability to overcome three major fears: Fear of Losing the Business, Fear of Being Embarrassed, and the Fear of Feeling Inferior. After reading this book I realized how much C.Y.A I used to do as a PM and providing value is the exact opposite.

Meeting Creator
Providing value comes from the soft skills; understanding the team, the client, and the environment, are key to calling the right shots. This skill is key in booking meetings.

It is easy to create an event and send it out to everyone and force them to deal with it. It is “next level” to understand that client uses Microsoft you use Google Calendar and they don’t jive well with each-other. Causing your busy product owner to feel things are not being scheduled because he does not see them on his calendar is an easy situation to overcome. Remember the small things and find a way to help everywhere you can.

We all know technology has its flaws and user error must sometimes be lumped in the tech pain category, but having a back up plan and being ready to problem solve keeps meetings going and creates huge value. If the call in number is messed up, go to plan B and call-in on the cell phone. Find any way possible to keep the show going.

Remember, being a meeting creator has zero inherent value. Now-a-days most toddlers can hit the few buttons required to set up a meeting. Knowing to not make everything a meeting and feeling comfortable to simply call one-on-one to solve problems provides value in many small ways. This lets the client feel they are in the know and being taken care of, while it also takes away from formality of a “meeting” (which helps jump-start relationships). This is key when there are questions that block the completion of a SOW, expectations around a deploy, or other “off the cuff” 5 minute or less items.

Bugging Developers and Pushing For More Results
The quickest way to find none of your projects are getting done or have the quality you expect comes when TIME is the biggest emphasis and you are continually pushing for more. But when losing those battles, or when in an organic crunch, trusting your team and doing the things you know will motivate them by offloading as many tasks as possible, or preparing information that has clear next steps will insure you will get what you want in the quickest way possible. One example:

I once created a terrible ticket for our Managed Services team, it looked a little like…

“Set up hosting for this site”

If I were to do it all again I would create the ticket with the following information:

SSL Requirements
Projected usage /volume
Type of application - Drupal, static site, django, etc
Preferred hosting solution: AWS, Rackspace, Acquia
Repository name
DNS Information

The difference between these two tickets is often hours of back-and-forth saved that would ultimately delay the actionability of the task.

Let's Make This Social!
While my examples scratch the surface I would like to open this up to all of you.
Please comment on other ways you provide value to your team!
Not a PM? What do you think or would like to see that provides value?
Tweet me @Stevencwinters or use the hash-tag #dpmvalue

After collecting responses, I will follow up with the comments I received.

Date posted: June 10, 2014

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