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Lessons learned from my first year as a digital project manager

By 28/10/2016 February 2nd, 2018 No Comments

Ben Che looks back at his first year in digital project management to share 5 key lessons learned in a rollercoaster ride of the ups and downs of a DPM.October marks my one-year anniversary in the world of digital project management. It may seem like a short time, but I’m not one to equate years of experience directly to aptitude, or the quality of experience I’ve gained, ability to add value or create impact.

The past year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most amazing leaders, creatives, developers, strategists, and QA analysts. I’ve been given the responsibility to reimagine and build internal processes that helped optimize workflow and visualize data that are essential to business decisions. I’ve been given the trust of clients to consult and deliver solutions that would deliver the most value to them.

I am grateful for everyone that I’ve had the chance to fight in the trenches with this past year and counting. There were many fires to put out, many obstacles that we had to conquer together, and many long nights to get the job done. But with that, a lot of laughs shared, amazing end-products/solutions, and many happy clients. Crazy

I’ve had quite a bit of people ask me why I’m in project management and to be completely honest, I fell into it. It was my ticket into the world of digital marketing/advertising – I took it and never looked back.

I won’t say that project management is my passion because it technically isn’t. I don’t think anyone wakes up and says, “I’m super passionate about project management”. I always thought I would find myself in Marketing because I loved storytelling, strategizing, and creativity flexing my mind on how to create remarkable experiences for people.

But here’s the kicker – as a digital project manager, I have been finding myself in the middle of discussions regarding all those things and more. I’m continuously exploring how I can help put the team in the best situation to succeed, how I can collect and analyze project data for managerial use, and how I can drive more value for clients from a strategic perspective (this one takes a bit of time in understanding what the clients’ goals are). I don’t think there’s a better position to be in for tackling these topics besides a digital project manager.

I absolutely love what I do, the people I work with, and the collective growth that I’m witnessing every single day.

In the past year, I’ve learned from many people, many situations, and many perspectives. You can argue that I’m not experienced enough to ‘advise’ anyone, but looking back on this past year, I can consolidate my learnings into 5 key lessons learned:

1. Take the bull by the horns – make decisions for the team

I was initially afraid to make decisions for the team and for the client because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the ‘right’ decision. I quickly learned that being a digital project manager, often means that the team is looking to you for guidance – if you don’t know, then who does? There may not be enough information to make a confident decision, but this comes with experience – and if you lack experience, it comes down to analyzing the situation, understanding the goal at hand, potential consequences for different alternatives, and being able to offer recommendations on the best course of action. At the end, it’s about gathering information, being thoughtful, and taking charge.

2. Take a moment to understand and learn

One reason why I love being a digital project manager, is because I get to work with everyone. It doesn’t matter how much experience someone has or what their specialization is, I always learn something valuable. I understand that being a PM is overwhelming at times – juggling a billion things, putting out fires, writing reports, etc., but taking a moment to understand the technical pieces of what’s going on, how the team is tackling the challenge at hand, recognizing what the client really wants, are all amazing opportunities to grow. As a PM, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from my team – from understanding how the backend and frontend code works for a website and the importance of QA, to getting an exclusive peak at how designers turn a brief into a spectacular visual masterpiece. I’ve always picked up golden nuggets here and there that helps expand my arsenal of knowledge for future projects.

3. Find the silver lining in every situation

There will no doubt be difficult situations, it’s part of the job. However, I feel that it’s these insanely tough circumstances that help push our comfort zone and boundaries. When in the moment, you’ll likely want to strangle someone, but you can also reverse that perspective and treat it as an opportunity to conquer something. Sure, this is an extremely optimistic way of looking at it, but remember, the PM needs to be the one that flashes the light forward to guide the team out of the tunnel.

4. Keep the project heartbeat pounding

I was taught that one key thing about being a great PM is to have the ability to keep the heartbeat of projects thumping. At any given time, you may have 1-20 projects going on at a time, each one with its own heartbeat that beats at a different rate. If at any instance the heartbeat of one of the projects stops – that’s a fail. This means communication, communication, communication. Making sure that all key stakeholders know what’s going on and that the project keeps progressing – on time and on budget.

5. Earn your stripes – build rapport with your team

We all need to earn our stripes – not just for young professionals in the field. I feel that as a PM at any level, you’ll need to build rapport with your team and your clients. Respect and team chemistry doesn’t just happen – it takes time and effort. I would argue that without a team that is determined and willing to go above and beyond, a PM can only do so much. If a PM can build a level of comradery within the team and lead the team into battle, the chances of coming out with a ‘W’ is that much greater. In this context, a ‘W’ represents things such as accomplishing the brief, professional growth, increasing team chemistry/efficiency/effectiveness, and having a blast throughout!

Overall, I’m thankful to be where I am today and am excited for what’s ahead. Not to mention, being able to work and collaborate with extremely talented people that I know, one day, will be leaders in the world one way or another.

One year of digital project management down, many more to come!

Ben Che

Ben Che

Ben Che digs all-things digital and is obsessed with crafting remarkable digital experiences by creatively using data-driven insights. In his young career as a marketer and digital project manager, he’s been lucky to work with a wide range of clients such as Credit Unions of BC, Sound Transit, Destination Canada, Nature's Path, First West Credit Union, and Andrew Peller Import Agency. He’s currently a Digital Producer at Victory, an interactive agency in Vancouver, Canada. Beyond his professional career, he spends his tick-tocks playing basketball and volleyball, eating dangerous amounts of ramen, and always on the lookout for new and unique experiences. If any of the above intrigues you, let's chat! You can reach him at www.benjaminche.com.

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