Keeping up with the latest digital PM trends

Written by: Karl Sakas

Ever wonder if you’re “doing it right” when it comes to your digital marketing agency’s business processes? Some things—like web standards and payroll tax compliance—need to happen a certain way. But other processes can be more flexible—including digital PM.

Agile vs. Waterfall? Basecamp vs. MS Project? There’s more than one “right” approach to project management—the key is to find the hybrid of PM processes and tools that works for your agency.

To build my best-practices toolbelt, I recently traveled 1,300 miles to Austin to join 70 project managers and agency owners at the first Digital PM Workshop, led by Brett Harned and Matt Riopelle and presented by Greg Storey and Greg Hoy of the Bureau of Digital Affairs.

More than one way to handle PM at your digital marketing agency

Project plans on wall: More than one way to solve the same problem

Most problems have more than one PM solution. You need to find one that works for your agency.

During an early exercise—where people collaborated to create project plans based on their combined experience—I was struck by the variety in how the two dozen teams chose to organize and solve the problem. (right)

Yet there were also many similarities—every PM listed their assumptions, every team wrote a project timeline, and everyone talked about the team resources they’d need. Some used lists, others used Gantt charts, and others used flowcharts.

Ultimately, everyone wanted the same goal—plan a successful project—but they all got there 20 different ways.

Other important digital PM takeaways

During the workshop discussions and hallway chatted, these points stood out, too:

  1. Not one of the ~50 agencies represented is doing 100% Agile or 100% Waterfall—so stop worrying that you’re doing a hybrid approach to project management.
  2. Everyone struggles with challenging clients. (Get my free eBook on expectations management!)
  3. “You can’t manage expectations you don’t set.” (via Matt Riopelle)
  4. Basecamp and Harvest came up as popular tools, as did Evernote.
  5. It sounds like ResourceGuru might be the magic bullet for company-wide team scheduling. Have you tried it yet?
  6. “When someone comes to you for their first digital project, or because a past one went badly, educate them first.” (via Matt Riopelle)
  7. Define your process before you pick your tool.
  8. Don’t change tools just for the hell of it. One agency was on its fourth PM tool. In my experience, it’s better to make things work and change only once it’s clear you no longer have the right solution. There are major “switching” costs, in terms of project errors and lost productivity.
  9. Send your PMs to the local digital PM meetup… or support them in setting one up. They’ll stay up to date, and it’ll help you recruit future PMs as you grow.

Want more? See these recaps:

Helping your digital marketing agency

Want to go to a similar workshop yourself? The Bureau of Digital Affairs is bringing the Digital PM Workshop to Portland, Minneapolis, and New York. And they’ll have their second annual Digital PM Summit in Austin from October 6-7, 2014—I know I’ll be there. [Update: I’ll be speaking at the Digital PM Summit, on “What Thomas Edison Can Teach Us About Digital PM.”]

Great content, great networking. If you don’t go, at least send your PMs. But be ready to make some changes when they get back!

Question: What are you and your team doing to keep up with the latest trends?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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