Get ready to elevate your project management game as we sit down with Melody MacKeand, a Principal Consultant for Partner Enablement at Teamwork. With a career spanning from project coordinator to PM program manager and portfolio manager, Melody’s journey is studded with insights and invaluable lessons. She spills the beans on her unique career trajectory, influenced by her parents’ roles as project managers and fueled by her pursuit of relevant certifications. Listen in as Melody lifts the curtain on the vital skills every PM should hone, unveils the secrets behind her successful transition from agency to corporate roles, and shares the sage advice she’d impart to her younger self.
- Melody’s background and career journey. [0:05]
- A Principal Consultant for Partner Enablement at Teamwork.
- With a career path that spanned from being a project coordinator to a PM program manager and a portfolio manager, Melody’s journey is rife with invaluable lessons and insights.
- Melody had a unique career trajectory, influenced by her parents who were project managers themselves. This led her to seek relevant certifications that have significantly contributed to her career growth. She emphasizes the importance of these certifications as they provide not only the requisite knowledge but also give a competitive edge in the field.
- Skills every project manager should have. [14:01]
- Melody elaborates on the importance of honing essential skills every project manager should possess. One of the significant skills she highlights is organization – not just for oneself but for others. Being organized is vital in ensuring that projects run smoothly and all team members are on the same page.
- One of the interesting concepts Melody introduces is the lightning strike rule. This rule essentially measures project continuity should something unexpected occur. It’s about ensuring that if you were suddenly unable to continue working on a project, would it continue? This is where documentation and organized project management become essential.
Learn how to be organized, not for yourself, but also recognizing that you are a part of a larger structure of projects that need to be managed well, and create internal rhythms for yourself.Melody MacKeand
- Melody’s successful transition from agency roles to corporate roles. [24:21]
- Melody unveils the secrets behind her successful transition from agency roles to corporate roles. It’s a transition that can often be challenging, but Melody navigated it with grace and determination. She emphasizes that regardless of whether one works in an agency or a corporate role, the fundamental principles of project management remain the same.
- In her role as a digital project manager, Melody highlights the importance of creating a nurturing environment within the digital project manager community. She believes in fostering a safe space for conversation and collaboration, which is integral for the growth and development of professionals in the field.
You are a resource to your company, your clients, your projects. And the only person looking out for you is yourself. You will do your best work when you set hard boundaries.Melody MacKeand
Meet Our Guest
Melody has built a career in the project management space in roles ranging from Project Manager, to Portfolio Manager, to Director of Project Management across agencies and NGOs. She now uses that experience, combined with a passion for coaching/training and a deep love of process build-out and change management, as a Senior Consultant at Teamwork www.teamwork.com, a project management platform built for client work.
Project management at its core is about people. It’s about people producing excellent work.Melody MacKeand
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Melody on LinkedIn
- Check out Teamwork
Related articles and podcasts:
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Michael Mordak: Hey, it's Michael from The Digital Project Manager and welcome to today's Member Spotlight! We've managed to string together the biggest and baddest collection of project managers who are out there creating change and challenging the paradigms that exist in projects today. Which is why we're sharing their stories, the personal and professional twists and turns we take while trying to answer the age old question, "What do you want to be?"
Today, we're speaking with esteemed community member and principal consultant for partner enablement at Teamwork, Melody MacKeand. Melody constructed her path as a PM very deliberately. She has pursued certifications, worked as a project coordinator, agency director of PM, in house PM, program manager, portfolio manager, and now as a consultant. Today, we get to hear from her what has worked and what didn't, important skills for PMs, and the advice she would give to her younger self knowing what she knows now.
Melody, so I'm really excited to have this conversation with you because typically what we've been doing so far on our spotlights is we've been interviewing people and talking about how they were following a passion of theirs or some kind of career trajectory. And then through some turn of fate ended up a project manager out of necessity or out of just taking some kind of opportunity and leading themselves there.
But your path is a little bit different because you actually went out and chose to become a PM, you pursued this job. So I'd love to hear more about when and how you actually came to this realization that project management was the career you wanted to follow?
Melody MacKeand: Well, it definitely helps that both of my parents were project managers. So, I at least had an idea that job existed, though they didn't necessarily push me into the position. So, post college, I took a few jobs that were more passion driven, but I knew I wanted to sort out where my career trajectory was headed. And I was aware of project management, so that was one path. I was also looking into business analysis just because I had heard that was at the time a really nice path to go into.
So my approach was getting certifications in both of those areas. So the goal being to both upskill myself so that I could even acquire a position in that field, but then also just getting a sense of what would each of these areas look like so that I could make a decision. So after getting certifications in both, I decided project management was the path I wanted to go down.
So I found a project coordinator position at a digital agency. So it's really helpful to get the education and also a foot in the door with the certification. And then from there, just thinking through, is this the path that I'd like to take? Is this the path that I'd like to continue on? Especially moving immediately into the digital space.
Michael Mordak: As you say it, you can really tell that you are a product of two PMs because it just sounds like you approached it so meticulously, like you had plans for both. You were getting certifications. And not only did you get a certification in project management, but you also had a contingency plan. You had like a fallback in case.
And growing up, like a product of two PMs, was there anything that your parents did where you look back now and you just think, Oh my God, I was being PMed the whole time?
Melody MacKeand: I will say, I do think I've had a life of being PMed and now I have a life of PMing myself. So it's something that I think I've really appreciated about how I was raised maybe less so at the time and more so looking back on it. But even things like I was in SAT prep classes at a probably too young of age, I was doing a lot of extracurricular activities because they meticulously planned, you know, our schedules and what activities that they felt would be really helpful for raising us.
And I can really see the benefit of that now. It created a really strong educational background for me. And also I am a PM, not just career wise, but personally. I am meticulous about planning, time management, budget management. So all of those areas just seep out of me at this point.
Michael Mordak: I have to imagine that a lot of that probably came from your upbringing. I can only imagine your parents were probably pretty strict about, budgets and planning and time management and all that kind of stuff.
Melody MacKeand: Absolutely, yes.
Michael Mordak: Okay. So you got your certification as a PM, got into the project coordinator role. And then since kind of diving into that, talk a little bit about how your career has evolved since then, where you went to next?
Melody MacKeand: Yeah, absolutely. So I continued in the agency world for a few more years working for a few different agencies, which was so fun. I worked with really incredible companies and I worked alongside a lot of very talented people. So I felt very lucky to be in that space and doing something that I was really passionate about, project management.
And doing it in a world that was really creative and interesting. So, loved that season of life, and knew that eventually, there would be a shift again of where I wanted my project management career to head. And for some, they stay in the agency world for their entire career and that's amazing. And for others, they can maybe pivot in house or to a totally different area.
So I was approached by a previous client, a large non-profit for an in house position. And it was an interesting shift career wise, because I was going in house, so moving out of the agency space. It was for a non-profit that I was deeply passionate about. And it was doing more PM adjacent work. So I felt like it was a good opportunity because I had built experience in the PM space to see, "Are there other positions or areas that would be even more interesting to me?"
So I was able to manage a PM platform for the organization, which is actually now where I work. So I also managed creative and digital resources. So really pulling from that agency experience into resource management, and there was also a portfolio manager there. So I got the experience of trying out a few different roles from resource manager to portfolio manager, also doing some one-off project management within those roles as well to keep the skills up.
So it was really helpful to see what areas of the larger project management space do I like and not like and what area do I want to pivot into. And I really grew a passion for change management and process development during that time, that I think had I stayed specifically in a PM role, I might not have had as many of those opportunities.
And then now I've pivoted again to the tech space, to the product space at Teamwork. So it's been really fun to see a different side to the project management world and the agency world. Now helping organizations, helping agencies run their projects more efficiently for the product itself.
Michael Mordak: That's a really interesting story. I love how it almost come full circle in that you started an agency, went in house, and now you're in this bit of a hybrid where you're consulting for agencies. And it's actually really interesting because that's a conversation that comes up quite a bit in our community is that difference between agency PMs versus in house.
Is there anything that stands out the most to you that really draws the line between those two? Is there anything that maybe you found more attractive on one side of that argument versus the other? Do you prefer in-house versus agency?
Melody MacKeand: Great question. I think the agency world is fun and exciting and chaotic and oftentimes working in-house can almost be appealing because of its normalcy and maybe lack of chaos.
But when you work in-house, you recognize that is just the reality of project management across the board. So I think both sides can see or think the grass is always greener, but there are more similarities than there are differences in that space. And even for the organization I worked for in-house, we really treated our projects as if our programmatic teams were clients.
As if our resources are creative, our digital resources were shared across those clients. So in a way it was almost functioning as an agency internally. So I appreciated that in the sense that I had that experience and background, but also seeing how that pivots in a world where you don't have clients coming in the door with budget.
You have program teams that work alongside you in many ways that have requests of you. So I've seen the good and the bad of both sides, and I wouldn't necessarily say I would choose one or the other. I think the agency space is really phenomenal, especially when you're young and starting out, because you're getting a lot of contacts.
I'm still professional contacts, friends with previous clients. I've obviously gotten a position out of it and moved across the country because of that. So I think it affords a lot of really interesting opportunities to be in the agency space because you are working with a lot of different organizations. Where when you're in-house, you're not necessarily going to get those types of opportunities.
Michael Mordak: I think that you approach that in a really practical way where, you're pulling that insight of treating in-house almost as like an internal agency and in a way and approaching it from that sense. And it just speaks so directly to some of the conversations that we've been having in our Slack channel recently about that question exactly.
So it's a really useful insight that I think those people will get a lot from and not just the people in our community, but anybody who's listening to this as well, obviously.
Melody MacKeand: Yeah. And I think in the in-house world, there's its own set of risks and issues that managing your team like an agency can help solve.
I mean, one of the biggest issues we saw in-house was the sense that resources are readily available and basically free because they are your colleagues. Where in the agency space, you have finite contracts, scope, budget and you stick to that. So I think running an in-house team like an agency can really lend itself to better scope management, better time management, better management of resources.
So they're not over allocated and burning themselves out because it can always feel like there's always work to be had and there's always people to do it, but there's no restrictions on that. So I think running with an agency mindset can be really helpful internally for those reasons.
Michael Mordak: I'm going to pull it back a little bit because I feel like we're almost getting too in the weeds about that.
And I really want to focus this on kind of some more high level stuff. But I'm going to add on to a number of things you've been saying so far. Obviously the, having two parents as project managers, you probably grew up with a lot of exposure to, skills and concepts that would help you eventually in your role as a project manager later on.
But were there any other kind of traits or things that you experienced growing up, maybe from previous jobs that you had, that you were able to pull into project management to help you excel in that space when you started?
Melody MacKeand: When people think about project management, it feels very ambiguous. Like you have these terms like projects, scope, timeline, but project management at its core is about people. It's about people producing excellent work. It's about people having their own organizational goals that they're trying to hit. And we're each coming to the table with, fears, frustrations, opinions. And I think a lot of project management is just people management. And a lot of what I experienced prior to the project management space was working alongside very different people who are very opinionated and can bring their own personal frustrations into work conversations.
And I think a lot of that really translates into the PM space because people coming into project management thing, I have to almost study the field. I have to know how to execute a project well, or how to run a perfect timeline or how to stay under budget. And those things exist and they can be learned.
But the core of it is how do I work with my resources with my team? How do I work alongside my colleagues who have conflicting priorities? And how do I work with my clients who have very specific needs and are never afraid to tell you. So I think a lot of that, whether it's growing up, whether it's previous jobs really was about how do you interact with people and how do you show up well.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, that's a really great point. I mean, I think that it points toward those soft skills of just being able to read a room really, and know who you're dealing with and understand all the things that, you know, they kind of insets with that person and how they can communicate or how you can communicate well with them. So obviously you've got this very well-rounded background, but I'm going to try and poke some holes because I know that there are always flaws somewhere.
So what are some ways that maybe when you came into the space, started working or even before then you knew you needed to upskill and what were those areas you needed to work on in order to try and advance, through your career and get to the next point?
Melody MacKeand: A lot of people would assume project managers are naturally very organized people, and I maybe exist in more chaos than the norm of project managers, unfortunately for my parents.
But I think that was a big area of growth for me early on was I know in my head how all my projects are doing, what I need to accomplish, what my daily to-do's are, and I can manage all of that in the chaos of my own brain. But that does not allow for others to know what's going on. And even in the most kind of extreme example, I was in a car accident a few years ago, mid project, and someone needed to know exactly what was happening in that project to be able to pick it up very quickly.
So, I think learning how to just be organized, not for yourself, but also recognizing that you are a part of a larger structure of projects that need to be managed well, and creating internal rhythms for yourself. And I will say this is something I probably will have to work on for the rest of my life.
I've tried so many different tools. I've had post-it notes on my desktop reminding me to be organized. So I think a lot of that, it's not coming naturally for me, but it's something I really had to work on of documentation, making sure that I have all the information readily available in ways that other people can see it and that I'm managing my work as well.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, documentation is a big one. And just one thing that made me think of right away is we had someone come and speak with us about, I think it was called the lightning strike rule, which is similar to what you described there. Basically, if you were to walk out of the office onto the street and you got struck by lightning, would the project continue?
Where they'd be able to find everything they need, would they be able to just to know where they are, what the next steps are, and then continue on, obviously, after a relevant grieving period. But it just really is an important point. And I'm glad you brought it up cause I mean, myself personally, I relate to that as well.
Understanding the chaos like that's going on up in my head. But then trying to find a way to either like find a place to document that, bring it to a place where it's organized and others can understand it and we'll be able to access it if they need to. So that's a huge part of it.
Alright, so knowing everything that you know now, obviously you've come through this journey, you grew up with parents who PMed you growing up, you got your certifications in project management and kind of made your trajectory through your career, and you've obviously learned a lot of lessons along the way.
So I'm interested to know what advice would you have now for your younger self who might have been starting out?
Melody MacKeand: Yeah, lots of advice and a lot of grace for the versions of myself that existed in the past. I would say first, always putting yourself first. I think I learned that lesson over and over again, especially when I was younger in my career.
I mean, you are a resource to your company, you're a resource to your clients, you're a resource to your projects, and ultimately the only person looking out for you is yourself. And you will do your best work when you set hard boundaries. And when you're young, you feel like you have something to prove.
But there's always work to be done. There's always clients to communicate with. And it's really easy for it to impact your personal life. And I personally have let my professional career affect my personal life, my physical health, my mental health. So now I am very aware of having those boundaries because if I put myself first, I am bringing myself more fully to work and ultimately I'm a better employee and a better colleague.
So that can look like not checking your email at night or over the weekend or having a hard stop in your day. Now I have an obsession with boxing and I love being able to transition from work to personal time with a workout. And I think my younger self could have benefited from having those types of boundaries in place.
Michael Mordak: That's awesome. Yeah. I think it's so important. And sometimes I feel like you're just speaking to me directly because these are just things that, I need to remind myself of every day of setting those boundaries and trying to take in, reminding yourself to have a lunch break, for example, is an important one.
And then, trying to make sure that you're ending at a certain time, which I find that gets more difficult when, when you get into this remote work situation as well. Because a lot of us are working from home now, and it's just so easy to, stay on to answer one more email or one more Slack message or whatever it may be, and it just leads you down a rabbit hole.
So another super important message, and I'm glad you brought that up.
Melody MacKeand: Yeah, I'd also say, I think a big lesson I've learned over the years and I wish maybe my younger self would have known from the start is to not take things personally and assume the best intentions from others. So I think getting back to the conversation of project management is really about people at its core.
We really are bringing our full selves to our work, the good and the bad. And when you're younger, you take things so personally. You have a project that fails, it's a personal failure. You have a client or colleague that's upset, it's a personal attack. And I think if we just take ourselves out of that space, if we offer ourselves a little bit of grace in the situation and assume that people are coming from a sense of wanting to collaborate, wanting to work together, wanting to solve the issue at hand, you're not only better at what you're doing, but you're actually enjoying it more.
And I think now with my experience, I have so much more fun at work where I think when I was younger, it was so much more of a struggle because I was bringing all of these things in personally, that really were best served by leaving them.
Michael Mordak: That's awesome. I love the one point you brought up about taking things personally.
If somebody says something a certain way or whatever, like gives you a little bit of feedback or criticism, because I mean, in your work, you might be doing those things to something else that I could to a deliverable that somebody else has put forth and you're not doing it necessarily from a place of, to be rude or to be mean or to, to pick on somebody, you're just doing it because you're wanting the best for the project.
You're wanting to collaborate, like you said. But it's funny when things turn around how personally we can take it and, how we seem to think that everything is a reflection of our work when we hear feedback about something. So I'm glad you brought that up as well. That's a really good point.
Melody MacKeand: Yeah. And I would say it's so common to assume when someone maybe sends a harsh email or a harsh chat that you've done something wrong and they're upset with you when in the same token, you can do the same thing to someone and it's because you've had a frustrating day or you haven't slept well the night before.
And I think taking yourself out of that and also recognizing that if there is feedback to be had, that is helping you become a better employee, that is helping you do your job better. And even on the flip side, I think I've learned a lot about giving feedback over the years. I think when you're younger, it feels a bit aggressive, maybe, especially being a woman in the workplace, not wanting to necessarily be as blunt or direct with your colleagues, especially.
But I think over the years, I've really learned about the value of being able to give someone the opportunity to hear that feedback and make a change. And even in the review process, I had a manager previously who had a rule of if you are giving someone peer feedback in their annual review, and you have not said that feedback directly to their face, you cannot put it in the review.
And that was really good for me to hear if I have something that I need to communicate to a colleague, I need to communicate it directly to them and offer them the ability to make a change before it's escalated. And again, it's getting back to we're all people, we all deserve grace and how we're working alongside each other.
And we all deserve the opportunity to change. And I've been given a lot of grace over the years to change. And I've made a lot of changes in how I manage my work and I manage myself. And I'm really thankful that people took the time to give me that feedback. I want to offer that to other people as well.
Michael Mordak: It's just, it's such an important point and so understated, I feel. Also, if you give those people that space and that opportunity, then the only thing that's going to happen is they're going to give it back to you. And they're just going to be so much more receptive to you and your opinions and that kind of thing.
And it just builds those relationships with people. You can have a better working relationship with your colleagues than to have some kind of turmoil between you, because it's not going to end up well for your own mental health. Because if, you know, if you have some kind of resentment at the workplace, you're not going to want to be there and it's going to impact your life in general.
So it's always better to just open up and be mindful of how that's going to affect them and how it's going to affect you as well. This has been a really great conversation and insight into kind of this, like I mentioned, a bit of a different path where, not everybody falls into project management.
Some people deliberately choose this and approach it. And I think that the way that you've structured your trajectory by seeking out certifications and, trying out a coordinator role and then, trying out agency first and then moving slowly into in-house, like, I think that is a really interesting path and something that I think that anybody listening to this will really find helpful to their own journey. And hopefully they can relate to that and a lot of the lessons that you learned along the way.
And ideally they hear those lessons and take them to heart and avoid some of the mistakes that, can occur by trying and trialing everything every single time.
Melody MacKeand: Absolutely. Yeah, I really appreciate the time today.
Michael Mordak: Awesome. Well, I'm glad you made it Melody. And I'm just looking forward to continuing to talk with you in the community and hearing all the insight and experience you have to share with the other members there, because I know that you always come from a place of knowledge and like we talked about, holding space and allowing people the best opportunity to learn and move forward. So thank you.
Thanks for tuning into our Member Spotlight with Melody MacKeand. She has so much more knowledge and insight to share with you. So come chat with us in the Slack channel along with our entire community of digital project managers. We'd love to have you. You can learn more about membership on our website at thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership.
Thanks for listening!