January 19, 2016
The brightest of project managers always go above and beyond the needs of team and client coordination and timeline/budget management. They immerse themselves in their work and fully align with their colleagues, helping guide the project as it moves through its various stages. They help each team member successfully contribute.
For Engine Digital, the Project Manager role has evolved into an instrumental position that weighs in on strategy, ensuring the work is tracking to its objectives, and maintaining harmony between project team, partners, and client stakeholders. It’s the role of the coach – not simply directing the players, but helping them perform at a high degree, in tandem with their team.
We recently shifted away from the title of Project Manager, opting for a more suitable Producer moniker. The role today focuses on everything a traditional PM might do, but our general belief in makers over managers means everyone in the room must play a role in making the work successful. Through the lens of empathy, and with a collective appreciation of the varied perspectives each team member brings to the table, the Producer is completely engaged in helping us achieve our clients’ goals.
Leading our team of producers across both our Vancouver and New York City offices is Andrea Mead, now in her fifth year at Engine Digital. Andrea brought to the team a substantial resume of work at both global agencies and local boutiques. Since joining, she has helped the agency improve workflow and identify opportunities for positive operational changes. Today, we’re excited to announce Andrea’s recent promotion to our leadership team as VP of Production. In her new role, Andrea will not only provide a much needed female perspective, but she’ll also join the leadership group in continuing to build an incredible agency culture, an efficient and adaptable process, and exceptional client work.
With that, we thought it would be a great opportunity to ask Andrea about her own perspective on what it takes to make a project truly successful, how process continues to evolve, and how client organizations need to approach digital engagements to get the most out of their investment.
Given your deep experience working in the business of digital, how would you describe the current role of the agency in helping clients evolve their own business? What is the true value that digital agencies bring to the table?
Engine is extremely adept at bringing user needs together with business objectives to deliver the right solution. Solving for user needs more often than not satisfies corporate objectives but approaches the solution from a slightly different perspective. An in-depth discovery phase with an experienced agency team also uncovers new opportunities as a part of that process.
I think often times clients have strong high-level strategies founded in business or operational goals that need more structure and substance. Bringing a digital agency to the table to lead discovery activities adds clear definition around the project and drives the detail into the planning to carry the client through to successful execution. We all know what it’s like to not get internal initiatives completely off the ground and I think it’s the same for clients. Having an agency involved creates external dependencies and commitments so things get done.
How do you go about getting the best work from the teams with which you work? Is there a leadership skill you believe works best in providing the right environment for collaboration, or the right guidance?
Everyone on the project team needs to engage from the start. A collaborative working session where the entire team asks questions replaces the standard ‘project kick-off’ in which the team half listens to someone broadcasting information. This enables the team to do its best work. The team comes away from this session with a documented and shared understanding of the key considerations around the project. The business leads and managers provide the answers and information in that session or afterward and then disrupt the team as little as possible, allowing the project team to focus on delivering great work.
The leadership skill that best fosters a collaborative environment is to provide leadership without control. Lead by asking the right questions and letting teams work autonomously to solve problems.
Digital projects continue to get more and more complex. So how do agencies and clients ensure clear communication and knowledge sharing throughout the process of an engagement to get to the best outcomes?
Ongoing and consistent collaboration through participatory workshops. The idea is to continuously narrow the knowledge gap across all aspects of the project. It starts with a shared understanding of everything that influences the project followed by regular client and agency team meetings to size and prioritize the work as it unfolds. In a single word, transparency. Also, write stuff down.
What do you believe is the biggest roadblock for client-side stakeholders in ensuring projects are fully supported for success? What would you recommend all organizations need to do to set up the entire project team (client side included) for success?
Clients need to understand the time and team required on their side to support the project through execution and beyond. They also need to ensure they are looking holistically at operational changes and other impacts of the project across the organization. It’s our job as an agency to help them understand this. Besides our internal teams shared understanding of the project from the start, the client team needs to contribute and align with this principle as well. Everyone on the same page from the start. It sounds simple enough, but it’s often not the case. Then even as things change throughout the project, big or small, at least everyone is working from the same baseline to measure that change.
What defines the right talent for your team?
Good producers are hard to find. I look for disciplined leaders who are also adaptable. Some things in our process need to be followed to a ’t’ and some things not as much. Great producers can see in each unique case where process can flex to create efficiency or accommodate client needs without impacting performance or output. Our organizational structure is essentially flat, so we also need strong producers with a blend of relationship and process management skills. Managing expectations and being able to be candid comes from establishing a relationship of trust with clients. Our producers are also senior relationship managers.
Connect with Andrea on LinkedIn.