10 Ways to Work Better with Your Project Manager
I personally believe that Project Managers are the unsung heroes of the web design industry. At our design agency we are lucky to have two wonderful PM’s who help our projects run smoothly and take of both our customers and team. In return for this help they expect a few things in return to help them do their job better and I hope to explain to you how you can work with your project manager better with these ten tips.
Use Agreed Communication Channels
For every project there are potentially thousands of communications that need to be sent, processed, understood and put into action. When working with your PM have set communication channels to make everything easier and in a set place. For example emails can be used for general updates but actual progress on the project should go through a Project Management system.
We personally use Dropbox to the max for this! It is a wonderful tool when it comes to thinks like adding content and client feedback. Let’s take adding content for example, we first re-create the agreed sitemap as a Dropbox folder structure. The client then puts the content into the page specific folders and once the web designer as finished adding the content it is moved into a complete folder.
For feedback we use easy online forms which are numbered according to the revision. This is then given to our web designer who puts when the change was made and if it was checked in all browsers. The form is sent back to the PM and that revision is done.
Agreed channels of communication that suit both you and the PM are very important so agree them early. Also if you can meet in person! I cannot stress how much more is communicated by being face to face. If you can’t meet in person try and do it verbally/visually via something like Skype.
One last piece of advice is actually to cut down emails to a minimum and avoid massively threaded email communications. This makes it super hard for the PM to track back all the things that were said and agreed so something like Teamwork PM makes this much easier with comments per task.
If you’re Stuck, Ask!
The worst thing you can do it stop. The PM must know you’re stuck and then he can help get you what you need to keep moving forward. As soon as you have run into an issue and done your best to solve it contact your PM and give him an update.
If you are asking for extra time please give an actual time. Just asking for “more time” is useless to a person whose job it is to know exactly how long things will take and if a project is on time.
Your PM is on your side. He or she is there to get the project complete so they will often be able to assign you more time or resources as long as you communicate effectively.
Be Accurate Don’t Guess
When I was a young designer I would often give timings that I knew would please the PM rather than were accurate. Stupid I know and it often bit me hard in the ass. When you are giving your timings please be accurate and even add a little time to give yourself breathing time.
From experience I find that PMs just want to know when it will be done and the reason behind the time. They are happy to accept the time as long as there is a good reason behind it. Things take time and there is no changing that but if you can’t keep your promises and go over time this causes a lot of problems. Be accurate and don’t guess. If you don’t have all the information to give an accurate time then say you will get back to the PM once you have researched the issue further.
Always Check Your Work
I can’t stress this enough, it is not the job of the PM to check your work. It is up to you to do a professional and accurate job. Part of the PM’s job is to do quality assurance but it is up to you that you do what is in the brief to the best of your ability.
Before saying the words “yeah, it’s done” double / triple check yourself. If you are in a team with other designers ask your mate to have a quick look.
- data output
It is easy to miss what is right in front of you when working on a project so ask a second opinion then send onto the PM.
Remember they in the Firing Line
Let’s take a scenario. As we said earlier it is not the PM’s job to check all your work and if you direct copy and paste client content into the site without checking and then the PM sends to the client and there is an error in the content; whose fault is it? The answer is you, sorry but it is. The client is paying for a professional service and yes they make mistakes believe me! But it is our responsibility as designers to make sure what we create is accurate. The problem with this scenario is that it is the PM that will get it in the neck when the client finds the error. You never get the nasty emails direct from the client asking “what the font is going on!” or “what the font am I paying you for?”. Remember the PM is the shit filter between you and the disgruntled client so do your best and always check your work.
Another issue is with progress and timing. If the project is running over then you need to help the PM communicate the reasons to the client. The PM will have to accurately explain in plain English to the client why his website is not ready yet so give your hard working PM as much information as possible so they have the answers the client will be demanding.
Explain Clearly and Listen Carefully
Ever heard of “The Curse of Knowledge”? Essentially you know what you have been working on and it is hard for you to imagine not knowing this. When you are giving up dates be clear on what you have updated, changed or fixed. The PM should be able to look at a list of items and match them up on the website and not have to go hunting for your work. Something are more obvious than others so include things like URL’s and even screenshots with annotations.
Did something not get done? Was there an issue that the PM was not aware of? Do you think blame will help solve any of these two factors? No! So give solutions when you are reporting issues or when the PM notices something you missed. When I was starting out as a designer at EPIC in Brighton it was drilled into me “right first time” and to never give excuses only solutions. E.g “ I couldn’t not complete the form because I didn’t know the fields. Once you tell me the amount and type of fields I can get the form done in about 2-3 hours”.
Now to you developers, when explaining try to imagine teaching the issues to the PM. This way they will understand things much better and be able to communicate more effectively to the client. From my experience developers often use a lot of technical language so dumb it down to clear accurate sentences that client could understand. E.g. “We will need to add additional break points using media queries to make the site responsive for iPad mini” can be translated to “The iPad mini is a slightly different size so we will need 4 hours to adapt the design”.
Lastly when the PM is giving you feedback write it down. If you try to keep it in your head then you will probably forget. Listen carefully and ask questions to clarify and repeat what has been asked of you. I know this may seem childish but we all know how many moving parts there are in a web project so it is easy to forget. Keep a notepad handy at all times.
Factor in the Unexpected
When you are giving your times factor in things popping up that you didn’t expect. For example maybe a plugin that you are planning to use does not work on Internet Explorer. When you are trying to estimate times make sure you research the potential issues first. Again back to the plugin example install it locally and check it out and have an idea of how long will take.
PM’s do not want to know that you can’t do something they want to know when it will be done and what you need to get it done.
When you are looking over a project use your experience to point out things that were overlooked or potential issues. That way the PM can factor this into the project timeline and deliverables to the client.
Remember the PM is on your side so work with him or her to factor potential issues so the project keeps moving forward and the deliverables are realistic and attainable.
Report Your Progress Regularly
At our agency we require all our resources to report the progress on their projects at the end of every day, not just when they complete things. Speaking from a client management point of view it is vital the agency has constant communication to the client on the progress and this information comes directly from you.
Using the agreed communication channels send an update at the end of each working day “Homepage is 60% done. Outstanding is the services content which will take an additional 2 hours”. This way the PM knows what you are working on, what to expect and how long it will take.
Progress can be reported in many ways but we find lists by email and annotated screenshots where needed are the best. Also this makes it easy for the PM to copy and paste into a new email to the client and reword accordingly for a weekly update.
Share Your Expertise
The best PM’s are a jack of all trades (in my opinion) but master of none. They need to have an overview of all the processes that make up a project but by sharing your expertise they will understand better the implications of what is required from a client.
Let’s take a scenario, the client asks that the website uses a non standard font. If the PM does not know the implications of this he may promise this taking a few hours work and no extra cost. As a designer you know if they are using a non standard font that is not available on the Google Font directory they will probably need a license. If you share these kinds of tips with your PM he/she will be better equipped to let the client know the time and potential cost implications to requests.
If the PM knows more about what you do he can help you do your job better by not promising things to a client that are not achievable.
Be Transparent and Available
The days of dark IT departments with nerds desperately trying to protect their jobs by being vague and inflexible are gone. You can find anything out on the web these days and access to other experts is just a forum post away. You cannot hide behind “you wouldn’t understand” anymore dear designers/developers.
I have consulted in some companies where the designers and developers saw their PM’s as the enemy always asking the impossible and requiring them to work harder than they want. This complete lack of transparency harms the project which harms the client who is paying your wages. Being transparent makes everything run smoother and it will help build respect for the hard work you do.
When asked to do something over the spec then communicate back why this is an issue and what additional time or resources you need to make it happen. Be open to why things took longer than expected. Maybe you had to learn something that you didn’t expect. For example I recently ran into an issue using @font-face that I didn’t expect. I told the PM why it was an issue and how I solved it and he then told the client who understood and things moved forward.
Being available is again in tune with agreed communication channels. Be on time! If the PM needs an answer because the client is screeming down the phone give him the respect and time to give the answers he needs to allow you to keep on working and getting the project over the line and payments in.
Conclusion; Love Thy Project Manager
Work with them, they are part of your team. They are the ones feeding you with clear requirements to make sure they have the tools to know what you need to know to do your job.
Communicate clearly and regularity.
Working together makes everyone’s jobs easier. I wish you luck on your projects and next time you speak to your PM say “thanks for the hard work and let me know if I can do anything to help”.