Ever wondered how to climb the professional ladder from intern to Senior Vice President?
Pam Butkowski, Senior Vice President of Delivery Management at Hero Digital, joins us to unravel career trajectories for digital project managers.
Whether you’re contemplating a shift in roles, looking to maximize your impact as a PM, or simply seeking inspiration for your professional journey, this episode is charged with strategies to steer you towards success. Join us, and let’s map out the future of your digital project management career together.
- Switching Between Agency and Non-Agency Work [02:51]
- Transitioning from agency to non-agency work is easier than the reverse.
- Agency work is fast-paced and involves juggling multiple tasks.
- Agencies often prefer candidates with agency experience.
- In-house work offers more stability but entails different stressors like conflict resolution and long-term relationships.
- Stress in agency work is constant, while stress in-house may ebb and flow.
- Stress levels depend on the project’s pace and dynamics, whether in-house or agency-based.
- What Comes After Digital Project Management? [05:58]
- Digital project managers face challenges in switching between agency and non-agency work.
- Stressors differ between agency and in-house roles, with conflict resolution prominent in the latter.
- Staying as a senior project manager is valid; growth doesn’t always mean climbing the ladder.
- Career paths beyond senior PM include specialization, program management, operations, or transitioning to client partnership.
- Having open discussions about pay bands and exploring variable compensation can address salary concerns for those staying in the same role.
- Organizations often value experienced senior PMs and may offer alternative incentives to retain talent in those roles.
If you’re content with your current role and enjoy being hands-on, running projects, and having full control, then stay there.Pam Butkowski
- Showing Expertise in Project Management [11:19]
- Project managers can demonstrate expertise through data and storytelling.
- Keeping a log of delivery KPIs showcases performance in budget, timeline, scope management, and risk mitigation.
- Personal PM branding involves identifying unique tactics and approaches.
- Storytelling about handling challenges highlights problem-solving skills.
- Taking notes in the moment helps capture wins and successes, referred to as a “brag a log.”
- Moving Up to the Next Level [15:15]
- Moving up to the next level requires clarity on expectations.
- If expectations are unclear, take initiative to define them.
- “See a need, fill a need” – seize opportunities to make oneself invaluable.
- Taking action and initiative demonstrate drive and readiness for advancement.
- Collaborating with managers to define expectations shows initiative and drive for growth.
I strongly believe that advancing in your career often involves being in the right place at the right time. However, the third piece of it is taking action.Pam Butkowski
- Honing Client Strategy Skills [17:56]
- To hone client strategy skills, shadow client services meetings and collaborate closely with them.
- Speak up when you notice discrepancies between project objectives and deliverables.
- Foster a culture of problem-solving and accountability within project management teams.
- It’s not just about identifying issues but also ensuring they get resolved.
- Encourage diverse voices and ideas within the team, not just dominating conversations.
- Transitioning into Project Management [22:23]
- Focus on essential project management tools like Smartsheet, MS Project, JIRA, and spreadsheets.
- Technical skills like SQL, Tableau, or Power BI may not be necessary for all PM roles.
- Emphasize problem-solving, conflict resolution, and delivery strategy over technical expertise.
- Differentiate between roles: DPMs may not require extensive technical skills, while TPMs (Technical Project Managers) may.
- Understand the specific requirements of the role you’re applying for; not all PM positions demand advanced technical proficiency.
- The Importance of Delegation in Project Management [25:18]
- Delegating tasks to specialists can streamline processes and reduce obstacles.
- Delegation is a crucial skill for senior roles, allowing focus on more critical tasks.
- Emphasize the importance of adopting AI tools for project management to meet evolving client demands and industry standards.
- How to Highlight Experience Without the PM Title [26:28]
- Experience matters more than the job title.
- Pam uses specific examples to demonstrate project management capabilities and problem-solving skills.
- Learning from past experiences, even embarrassing ones, can contribute to professional growth and development.
- The Intersection of Project Management and Design [30:32]
- Hybrid roles combining project management and digital design exist in smaller agencies or in-house teams.
- Content-related roles often involve crossover between project management and creative tasks.
- While not common in large agencies, hybrid roles may still exist in design or other areas.
- Project managers frequently work across disciplines, like QA, development, and client services.
- The Versatility of Project Managers [33:20]
- PMs wear many hats beyond project management.
- The scope of responsibilities broadens with experience.
- PMs handle tactical and strategic tasks, from timelines to product management.
- They contribute to resourcing, account planning, and financial management.
- PMs are central repositories of company knowledge, aiding in onboarding and problem-solving.
- Their role extends to guiding new hires and offering insights into company operations.
- PMs become invaluable leaders by actively participating in various organizational functions.
- Transitioning to Other Roles or Industries [36:41]
- Evaluate roles and industries.
- Reflect on likes and dislikes within the current role.
- Transition based on identified preferences and skills.
- Transitioning may involve trying different roles and industries.
- Moonlighting or volunteering in new roles can provide insight.
- Build a network across various industries for guidance and support.
- Take time and evaluate options before making major career shifts.
- Networking helps understand challenges across industries and roles.
Meet Our Guest
Pam is the VP of Delivery Management at Hero Digital. She’s spent the majority of her career in client-facing organizations leading digital project management teams at organizations including The Nerdery, Wunderman Thompson, and AIM Consulting.
Pam is a self-proclaimed “process junkie” and loves solving problems through process. She’s particularly passionate about building strong PM teams and answering the age-old question about how to deliver agile projects in a client service organization.
As PMs, our role is not to solve problems but to ensure they get solved.Pam Butkowski
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Pam on LinkedIn
- Check out Hero Digital
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. Today's episode is a recording of an event that we hosted through our membership. The community had asked for insights and advice on how to plan your career as a digital project manager. So we reached out to our resident DPM expert on career planning, Pam Butkowski.
In this session, she covered questions from our community about the difference between working in agencies versus working in-house, where to go once we've topped out as senior DPMs, what kind of soft and hard skills to build, and a lot more. If you want to stay up to date on all membership events, and get the opportunity to attend and submit questions to our bench of DPM experts, then check out membership at thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership.
If you don't already know Pam, Pam is the Senior Vice President of Delivery Management at Hero Digital. But believe it or not, she started out her career as an intern and went from intern to account executive, from account exec to media coordinator, to project manager, to senior project manager, program director, director, vice president, and now senior vice president.
So Pam has learned a thing or two about planning a career, figuring out which skills to learn, which questions to ask, and which people to talk to, which is why we're super excited to have Pam here today.
So welcome, Pam!
Pam Butkowski: Hello! Nice to meet everybody.
Michael Mordak: Pam, how are you spending your free time right now?
Pam Butkowski: I have two kids and they are heavy into sports. They're 10 and 7. So all of my free time goes to baseball, gymnastics and dance classes. I know we've got gymnastics tonight, so that's how we're spending the night.
Michael Mordak: Is there a time where we get to have our own hobbies once again? And do you think?
Pam Butkowski: Man, I don't know. But I will tell you, we're really into this whole drop off thing now that they're old enough to just drop them off at the activities and then go do something else. So we're dropping off my daughter at gymnastics and then my husband and I are going to happy hour, getting in a little date, come back an hour later and get her.
Michael Mordak: What we've been doing is dropping off and then heading to Home Depot, which is another way to spend your time.
Pam Butkowski: I mean, equally as amazing.
Michael Mordak: So today we're talking about climbing the ladder in a way. It would be awesome if climbing the ladder was straightforward.
But in reality, it's actually more if you know that MC Escher painting where the staircases are like upside down and sideways and they head in every direction. So it's not always that easy. And it's actually not always an obligation to, I mean, some people are project managers and they like to do that and that's totally fine.
But if you're on this call, you're probably interested in knowing how to get to the next step, whether that's entering PM or looking for something completely new. But you probably have questions, so today we're going to dive into some possible answers. That being said, we're going to dive into our first question and then we'll hand it over to Pam.
So how easy is it for a DPM, a digital project manager, to switch between agency and non-agency work? And then maybe we'll start with that and do the follow up after or lead into it.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah, for sure. You know, it is, I will say it is pure to go from agency to non-agency than the other way around. Agency land is pretty crazy and fast-paced and you're juggling a lot.
And so there are agencies that prefer people with agency experience. The other way around is a little bit more simple, right? A little bit easier to go from an agency to in-house. That said, it's all about how you present yourself, right? Even if you are an in-house PM, you still have clients, right? They work for the same company as you, but they're still your clients.
You are still managing competing priorities. You are still going up against the same challenges that agency PMs are. You might have a little bit less, like at an agency, you have a little bit less like ownership or skin in the game or influence over your clients because you are working for them, not with them, right?
And so I think that's the biggest difference is navigating that you're working with each other versus for one another. But if you present it as, listen, I work with clients. They work for the same company as me, but I treat them as my client. I think it, it is easy to switch back and forth between the two.
It's all about how you position it, right?
Michael Mordak: Yeah, I mean, I guess to lead into the follow up there, I mean, you mentioned they're both equally stressful, but is one easier than the other?
Pam Butkowski: Different kind of stress. So full transparency, I have never worked in-house. I've worked agency and consultancy my whole career.
And so I can really, I can speak a lot to the stress on agency side. In-house though, some of the stressors are more about conflict resolution. They're more about, these are people you work with every day and you're going to continue to work with even after your project is over, right? Your clients go away if you're agency side, but If you're in-house, you're going to work with people for years and years, and you want to tread lightly, and you want to maintain relationships, and I could see how that would be very stressful as well.
Now that said, I have some of the craziest, most stressful projects I've ever seen have been ones that have been run by in-house. When I was in consulting, for example, I led a delivery management practice or delivery leadership practice in consulting for a while, and we had some consultants that we were working with a client on.
As scrum masters, we kind of staff on their team and the whole project was run by their internal team and agency wasn't running it and it was the most chaotic, stressful, fast-paced project I've ever seen. So I think you're going to get a taste for like the pace of the stress and it just the, I don't know, the drive in either place.
I do think it ebbs and flows a little bit more in-house than it would at an agency. We maintain a steady stressful stage in agency land.
Michael Mordak: That's a good point. I guess the reality is it's not going to be easy no matter where you go. I think there's a quick fix to relieving stress by just switching to in-house or vice versa.
Let's yeah we'll push on to the next. So this is another question that actually came in from one of our members who submitted it ahead of time. So they were wondering this member, what comes after digital project management? If we've topped out as a senior at our company or our agency, whatever it is, what else is out there? And then maybe we can speak to how skills from PM are transferable to some other paths.
Pam Butkowski: I love this question because there is a, you mentioned this at the beginning, Michael, about It's okay to be a really strong senior for your entire career, right? It's okay to be a project manager for the entirety of your professional life, if that's what you want.
And there is this pressure to keep climbing a ladder and keep growing and keep getting a new title, right? But that doesn't have to be the only path. And so we actually, at Hero, I love this question because one of the options here is to just stay there, if that's what you like. If you're happy with what you're doing and you really want to stay in the weeds, running projects, you want full control over everything. Do it. Stay there.
I have a couple senior PMs on my team who that's exactly what they want. They have no desire to move into managing it like HR management, not project management, managing a team of people. They don't want to move into leadership. They don't want the stress that comes with not only running projects, but also helping run the company.
And they want to stay seniors forever. And so there are ways to keep challenging yourself and keep growing in that role too, right? So you can become a SME in certain areas. I have one person who wants to stay a senior PM forever and we're turning them into kind of like our healthcare delivery SME. So there are ways to grow even if you want to stay in the weeds.
From there, there are a couple different paths. There's obviously like the program management path. Moving into managing larger engagements, multi-work stream programs, or a portfolio of clients. So there's that path. There's also the operations path, moving more into delivery operations, reporting, tools.
At Hero, our delivery operations team is also responsible for overall delivery help of the entire organization. They run our retrospective committee. They are constantly running reports and finding themes and common pitfalls in big day delivery across all of our practices, right? Dev, creative, data, everybody, like where are we falling down consistently?
How can we up level our processes in delivery to catch those things in advance? So our operations team actually does that. That doesn't even sit within project management. So that's an option as well. And you can see how our skills as project managers directly correlate into the operation side, right?
Process improvements, risk identification mitigation, like all of these things are things that are just ingrained in us. And so that's another path. I think our skills are transferable to a lot of places, the last of which that I want to highlight is quite there with us. There are especially in the more senior realm when we get to like client partner level at an agency.
Some of the best client partners I've ever worked with came from delivery because they understand the challenges that we're facing and they understand how to work with clients to like best set up long term enterprise level engagements in a way that is going to help the delivery team actually deliver them successfully.
So, I think there are a number of places you can go after you've capped out as a senior PM.
Michael Mordak: We actually had an article on this recently at the DPM or our editor put it together and talked about some of the other jobs you can apply to or look into if you're looking to get out of DPM using the skills that you acquired here.
So maybe I will link that in the chat after this, just to give people an idea of some of those jobs that are out there. But one question I had, I actually had that came up during that was for the people who stay in that role and who are just, remaining project managers or senior project managers.
One question you might have is, how do you have that salary conversation? Because at the same time as yes, I want to do this job forever. It's a little bit more difficult to have that conversation about compensation when you're not gaining more responsibility or, climbing the ladder.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah. I think having an open conversation about pay bands with your manager, with HR is the first step, right?
Understanding where you are in the pay band of your role. There is a pay band or there should be a pay band for every role in an organization. You may not even realize that you're in the bottom 10% of it and you have a lot of space there to grow, even in the same role and a lot of room.
Now, if you're at the top of the pay band, then you can start having conversations about like variable compensation. And if you're making the commitment to stay at this company and provide value in a really exceptional way, but stay in this role, because you don't want to move up into another title, you can talk about different bonus structures.
You can talk about have variable comp measured around your KPIs and delivery. In a lot of cases, organizations will be, and because we do, I can speak really candidly. I love when my team members want to stay at that senior level because that's the hardest role frankly to keep people in for a long time.
When you hit a senior level, you're close to moving to a program role and people want to move quickly. And so I love when people want to stay there because that is one of the most valuable roles on the team. You can deliver really hard, complex work and I can trust that you can do it flawlessly. So I love when people stay there and so I will go out of my way to come up with compensation packages to give you extra bonuses, like ways that might not be tied to actual salary because of pay band limitations, but ways to keep you incentivized and make sure that you're still appropriately compensated for the value that you're bringing.
Michael Mordak: No, that's a great point. Yeah, and I appreciate you diving into that.
So yeah, we're going to talk about what are some ways I can show my expertise in project management when we don't have actual work to show like creatives or devs do? And this is another question that came in ahead of time from one of the members as well.
Pam Butkowski: I love this. Okay. So we don't have portfolios. We can't show like we built this website, right? There is no code review for project managers. We show our expertise in our quality of delivery through data. So if we can, if you're interviewing somewhere, you want to prove your value, I keep a, like a log that I did when I was a project manager too.
I kept my delivery KPIs. Every time I finished a project, I said, here's my final budget performance. Here was my final timeline performance. Here was how we managed scope creep. Here are how many risks identified and mitigated before they became actual problems. Like I had my own personal KPIs that I kept track of.
So that if I was interviewing, or if I was asking for a raise, or if I was up for a promotion, I could be like, here is my track record. And you can put those in your resume too in ways like saying 98% of my projects finished on time and on budget. And so we do it through metrics. We like to think of ourselves as, I like to say that my brain works in a spreadsheet, right?
Every time I'm thinking it is in spreadsheet mode, but we are more exceptional storytellers and we give ourselves credit for. If you're trying to prove your value or show your expertise, storytelling. Think of really good examples of I was thrown this curveball and this is what I did with it, right?
A client called me one day and told me that I, we needed to change the scope drastically, but I couldn't change the timeline or the budget. What did I do? And keep that record of things where you're like, God, I'm really proud of what I just did here. If you close your laptop at the end of the day and you're like, man, I had a good day.
I just did this and this and this, write it down. And then also think of the things that your personal PM branding, right? I think all of us have specific, like little tactics or things that we do that are just individual to us. Things that we've learned along the way. Little tactics to help us out in tricky situations.
Make note of those. Right? Identify what those are. For me, I have two major ones that I go to every time I talk about, like, why do you say you're an expert in delivery? I can be like, well, these are things that happen all the time. This is how I deal with them. And they are rinse and repeat. Right? One of mine is, I actually put this in the Slack the other day when we were talking about scope creep.
I talk about the triple constraint or the iron triangle in every kickoff with a client. And I tell them, I can't give you all three. Wish I could. Love you. Can't do it. I need you to prioritize. I need one, two, and three. Tell me which is the most important, which is the least important. Whatever you put in third place, I get to all.
And we're not going to fight about it anymore. And that's one of my little tactics. And I promise if somebody, if I were interviewing a project manager, and they were to say that to me this is how I mitigate the risk of scope creep. I make them prioritize. I'd hire that person. I'd be like, that is a soft skill or a personal tactic to be on my team.
Michael Mordak: Yeah. I love those ways of getting like writing that journal in a way of kind of your wins in, in, in the ways that you excel. And I think that it's an important thing to do it in the moment too, because maybe you're the kind of person who can like retroactively look back and remember every little detail about it.
But I find that having a little like notebook next to me or Word again, or like a spreadsheet open or whatever it is, just allowing you to take some notes in the, in while it's happening, just to make sure that you get everything or written down accurately.
Pam Butkowski: For sure. I actually was leading a women in leadership event yesterday, and somebody used the term 'brag a log' for that log that you keep of like your successes were like, yeah, I write them in a brag a log and I am stealing it. That is a great word.
Michael Mordak: That's fantastic. Yeah. A brag a log. That's amazing.
Pam Butkowski: A brag a log.
Michael Mordak: Wonderful. Okay. Let's move on to the next here. So this one's a little bit more vague, but I don't know how we want to approach this one, but we're going to just jump into it. How do we move up to the next level? So this is somebody who's probably already in their, in a PM role and they're looking to get up to the next one or maybe senior PM and onward.
Pam Butkowski: Know what is needed to move to the next level. That truly like that is the secret. A lot of organizations make it very vague, right? We'll promote you when you're ready. If that is the answer you're getting, I don't know what more I can tell you. You're just not there yet. That's not good enough. And so you have an opportunity in those situations where like you're not quite sure how to move to the next level or you don't know what's expected of you to move from a PM to a senior PM or to move from a senior PM to a program manager.
If that hasn't been defined at your organization, that's an opportunity for you. That's an opportunity for you to step in and say, hey, why don't I help you craft this? Why don't I work with you and we'll write it down because I can't be the only person feeling like this. I'm a huge believer in moving up the ladder or growing your career is a lot about right place, right time, being in the right place at the right time.
But then the third piece of it is taking action on it. Right? One of my like close friends in my professional network she calls it, 'see a need, fill a need'. If you see a need, fill it. And that's how she built her entire career. And now she is running, she's the global head of strategy for a large trust company.
And she filled her, she managed her entire career or grew her entire career just by seeing a need and feeling a need, just making herself invaluable at every point. So if you aren't sure how to move to the next level, and if your company isn't giving you that clarity on what's expected of you, that is you seeing a need and you can help pill it.
If one of my PMs were to come to me and say, I'm not really sure what's expected of me to move to a senior PM role, and I didn't have that written down. If they were to say, my instinct would be to say, Oh, shoot let me work on that. I'll work on that and I'll roll it out. But if they were to say, why don't I help you?
Let's sit down together. I'll do the work of writing it all down, organizing it. I can even have some of the conversations with HR to make sure that it's comparable across other disciplines. I'll take that. I'd be so grateful. And then I would know that that person has the initiative. They're taking the reins.
They have the drive to keep moving forward, not just for themselves, but something that's going to help the whole organization moving forward.
Michael Mordak: I didn't think that last point there is a big one where it's like you're moving from that idea of focusing on kind of what's on your plate and what's in front of you to how can this affect the organization at a bigger scale to be better across maybe not just do even your department, but across the departments as well. Because it shows that you're taking that initiative and looking to make a bigger impact. And then yeah, so we had another question come in from the chat again.
So this one came in from one of our members in the chat here. So I want to circle back on DPM to client services. What are some ways to hone your client strategy skills? And bonus, if we can recommend a course or a book.
Pam Butkowski: Course or book, I have a ton of them. And so I can actually put things in Slack. I'll put things in Slack afterwards.
I'm going to pull a couple of resources down. But ways to hone your client strategy skills, make friends with people in client services, ask to come to all the meetings. If you're working in like an agency where there's a really clear separation between client services and project management, and if you're more of an internal function, like the client services team takes everything to the client, you are running the team internally.
Ask if you can cross that line. Ask if you can come shadow, if you can be a fly on the wall, make friends with people in client services. If you're in an agency like the one that I've been at where project management is really leading the client conversations, we're driving the delivery strategy.
Speak up. If you see something where you're like, God, we should not be building this thing the way that we're building it. I don't understand the value this is going to bring to the business, like to our client business. Say something and say it to your client, like your client service partner and then going together, right?
Say, Hey, I really don't think like these were the objectives that the client mentioned at the beginning of this project. I don't think that this is going to meet them. Say something and approach the client together about it. If you're interested in crossing over into client services, stop passing the ball. Carry the ball together, make your friends and be a team in front of the client.
You'll pick up on some of those like client strategy, you'll pick up on like how they have outcome-based conversations, not output-based conversations, value based delivery. You'll start to pick up on it over time, but the biggest thing is just to surround yourself with people who are already in the role.
Michael Mordak: I feel like one thing you mentioned there was almost like that, came back to that see something. Say something in a way.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah. See a need, feel a need.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, that's what it was. Yeah, you said it.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, like if you see something going on in your project and it's just not sitting well with you, but it's not your job, that's not a thing.
That's not my job. It's not a phrase that we have in project management. Everything is our job. I've told the CEO of our company this last week. I said listen cause we were having a conversation about some issues in delivery and gaps in what we're gonna do to fill them and common pain points and whatever.
And I kept speaking up in the room. It was our whole executive leadership team. And I kept saying, well, we, we could do that. We should do this, right? This would be a solve. And somebody finally said to me it's not your job to solve every problem. And I said, no, no, it's not my job to solve every problem, but it is my job to make sure that every problem gets solved.
And everybody just sat back and they were like, crap, Pam is getting glossy again. But that's what we say on my team, on every project management team I've ever led. It's not our job to solve the problems. It is our job to make sure they get solved.
Michael Mordak: It's so important. And I think that, I mean, a lot of people just fall into that kind of like bystander mindset where you think, you sit around the table and think that somebody else might say something and there's nothing wrong for a person to just speak up.
And that's something that I learned more and more as I get, through along my career, is that people who simply just say things and speak up are often the ones, who get prioritized. And again, it's not as simple as that. And it's also that action point that you mentioned earlier.
It's like saying something, then also doing something about it. But yeah, it starts, it's starting, it starts with that, starts with vocalizing it to make sure that it's a problem that's been made aware, and then ideally having a plan to, attack it.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah. I do think it's also, I mean, a lot of people who are in our role are type A extroverted. Like we see solutions very easily and we tend to just we see a stage and we jump on it, right? We're like, gimme the spotlight, making sure that the right person is on the stage and in the spotlight. It's not always us, right? I would love to be under a spotlight and on a stage at all times. Just love it.
But it's also our responsibility to make sure that like we're creating the space for other people to use their voice too. It can be really easy for us to dominate a conversation and take over and say, this is exactly what we're going to do. I don't want to hear anything else. But other people have really good ideas and making sure that they have a space to speak up is important.
Michael Mordak: Amazing. A couple more questions coming in from members here, which is amazing.
Pam Butkowski: I love it.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, it really is awesome to see. So we're going to jump through it out. These are, I'm sad, I don't have time to trim these down. So they're a little wordy, but we'll go through it. And this one actually has a bit of backstory.
So I'm going to read a little bit more from the chat here before heading into the question. So this is a person who's new to project management and they're trying to transition into it. I've always been an unofficial project manager in previous jobs where I managed teams, supervised employees and budgets, and I have enjoyed doing that.
However, I have been having some difficulty landing work because my computer skills are not up to date. I'm not familiar with SQL, Tableau, or Power BI. And just for the record, neither am I with any of those things. Software is something I can learn, however, is there a good strategy to consider when job hunting?
Pam Butkowski: Yeah. Tools either. None of them. I think, I'm trying to figure out how to word this because it might come off very nonchalant. Do you even want to know those tools? Do you even want to be that technical and that ingrained? If not, if you're like, God, I have no interest in getting to know Tableau, that role might not be for you.
I think there are different tiers of tools that project managers use, right? Like a baseline, you got to know how to use either Smartsheet or MS Project. You've got to know how to use JIRA. You've got to know Excel or Google Sheets or whatever spreadsheet program, right? But if you know how to use Confluence and JIRA, and Smartsheet and whatever spreadsheet you use as an organization, you could do this job.
Doesn't matter what technology, what platform, what whatever the rest of the team is doing, you can do this. And so that's an MVP. Everything else is like a nice to have. And so if you don't want to get to know these tools, that's, I can tell you, that is way too technical for me.
I've been working in technology my entire career and I, there's no way I'd be like, I think I'm going to wake up today and learn SQL. Nope. I don't want to because I want to focus more on problem solving, on conflict resolution, on delivery strategy, and that's how I've been my entire career. Not just as the leader of a delivery organization, but when I was a PM, I had no interest in understanding the ins and outs and like all of the details of the technology. I didn't understand the risks that came with it, I had to understand high level dependencies of the technologies.
But if you don't want to be that technical, you don't have to be. You can find a role where Smartsheet is good enough.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, but that's a really great summary. And I think that I mean, a lot of people in the chat are mentioning as well that they, I don't, not a single person has mentioned that they use those tools at this time.
So I think it just goes to show that unless the role is specifically asking for it, but then I feel like it's maybe not a true PM role. And it sounds like it's a bit of a hybrid that's maybe asking probably too much of you as a PM.
Pam Butkowski: And there's also a difference between a DPM and a TPM. This feels more like a technical project management role.
A DPM role is you don't have to be that technical. So there is a separation there a little bit too. I have a role open on my team right now for a TPM because that person needs to run the whole CICD pipeline for a large scale client. That's something that nobody on my team has the technical expertise to do. And that's okay.
Michael Mordak: Yeah. I think another great point too is I mean, using some of these tools might be something that you can delegate to people on our team that are, that work with that tool or that are specialists in that tool. Because I mean, not only is that, their field doesn't mean that they will be able to take on a lot more easily and with a lot less kind of headwinds.
But also delegation, I mean, we're having this talk about, moving up and looking at getting to the next level in your journey. Delegation is also a really important skill to have for somebody who's senior, because he needs to know when is this a task for me? And when is this a task for somebody else so that I can focus the, the more important things.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah, I will say that if there's one tool that felt too technical for us a couple of years ago, and now we need to start adopting it, it is everything in the AI realm. We need to start automating our project reporting. Like clients are starting to ask for it, even in RFPs. Like, how do you leverage AI in every facet of your delivery, even down to project management?
So that's the one tool that we've got to start wrapping our heads around and figuring out how to introduce them into project management in a more mature way.
Michael Mordak: Yeah, very good point. All right, let's jump on to the next. This is another question that came in from the chat. These are fantastic, by the way. So we're going to go into this one.
How can I speak about my experience when I don't have the job title of project manager? I've worked on many projects in my consulting business and previous jobs, but I don't have the experience managing budget or the formal, in quotation marks, framework in PM work yet.
Pam Butkowski: Then you're a project manager. If you have experience working on projects, consulting on projects, you're a PM.
Maybe just without the title and talk about it like that. You can say that wasn't an official title in like in the organization that I was working with at that time. Right? That wasn't the title that I held, but here are the things that I was doing. In my first project management role that I interviewed for, it was for a company called Nerdery.
I still you know how there are like some things that stick with you where you feel like they're really embarrassing and you made them like these decisions or these things that you tell like, well, 15, 20 years ago, and they're just stuck in your brain and you think about them a lot. This is that moment for me.
I had previously been a traffic manager, and that was the most like applicable role to or like relevant role that I had previously held to project management. And so I was applying to Nerdery for a project manager role. I didn't move into my first PM role at a company that I already worked for. I applied to it blindly.
And when I was interviewing with them, they said, well, how many projects can you run simultaneously? What is the most that you've been able to handle at a time? And I, because I was a traffic manager previously, which like in old school agency days, if anybody is a dinosaur, like I am, like I ran around with job jacket all day long at an agency and marked them up, marked up print ads with my red pen and then gave them back to the designers.
Right? So I, like an idiot said, running 95 projects right now. No, they're 95 print ads, Pam. 95 print ads. And they were like, what? And I was like, yeah, like I have 95 job jackets that I'm running around with. And they were like, no ma'am, that's not a project. But I still talked about how I need to, like in that situation, I needed to set expectations with the designers.
I was building out the timelines. I was providing feedback on their work. I had to go to creative directors and tell them like, this looks like crap, do it again. And I was, I still leaned on the same kind of skills that were required just at a smaller scale. And I got the job. That experience ended up like the 95 job jackets also meant that I can handle 20 projects with ease when I got into agency land.
And I ended up being the place where like they threw the little guys at me because I wasn't cracking under the pressure of a ton of different clients at once the way that other people were because I'm 95 job jacket. And that was what they saw in the interview, right? Like she can handle a bunch of competing priorities.
She can manage, even though there are only three day timelines for these print ads, she's building 95 of them at once. So find things like that, where you can say, this is a skill set in project management that I know I'm going to need to have, and I can do it. And I have experience and I have proof that I can do it.
So it's a long winded story.
Michael Mordak: I think it is so important because I mean, yeah, like these are the stories that we're all living through. I mean, like you said, we all have the stories of the moments where they stick with us forever. And they're like those little subtle reminders about what we need to work on or we need to improve.
And maybe how it's just the lessons that we learned and how to get to where we are.
Pam Butkowski: Funny story. I cannot believe Nerdery hired me. So they also, as a part of that interview process, you take an assessment, right? There actually was a project management like test thing that you take as a part of the interview process.
And I had to Google the difference between front end and back end because I had no idea when I was taking that test. I had no idea. I was like, isn't it just code? The front end. I have no idea how I got a job there.
Michael Mordak: Well, I mean, it worked out well as though.
Pam Butkowski: It worked out.
Michael Mordak: Yeah. I mean, now you know the difference, which is important.
Pam Butkowski: I do.
Michael Mordak: Okay. Awesome. We're going to jump to another question that came in from the chat. This is amazing. Keep them coming. Okay. This one, here we go. Do you ever see roles that are a mixture of digital project management and digital design? If so, how do you suggest highlighting both skill sets in my resume or in the interview to land this type of role?
Pam Butkowski: Okay, so you're gonna see hybrid roles like this in smaller agencies or in-house where there is you need to combine roles. I haven't seen hybrid roles like this at larger scale agencies because there is enough work to silo it off and have just project manager, just, right? The one role that I am seeing quite a bit of crossover between project management and like more of the more with like more on the creative side is around content.
So quite a few people on my team are helping with some content strategy. We'll help with site audits, we'll help with developing tachronomy. And then all the way through, we're doing less content creation, but a lot of content offering. And so I'm seeing a lot of crossover in the content arena.
I actually haven't seen a lot in like actual design, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. I've worked at larger agencies. I spent quite a bit of time at Wunderman Thompson and at Hero Digital right now, which is my team is 85 people on the delivery side, like they're a little bit larger scale.
Again, it doesn't mean it's not out there. I would say no matter what, very few people are solely project managers and don't cross into other fence. I like to say that all of, for project managers, when we're moving forward in a project, we are on a four lane highway with dotted lines between them. Like we need to cross into creative.
We need to cross into QA. We need to cross into development, cross into client services and come back to our lane. And so you, no matter where you work, how large of an agency or a company that you're at, you do have skill sets across in other disciplines, whether it's creative or QA or client services or development or whatever.
And there are absolutely ways to highlight those. You can say that you, for me I, I've, I spent, I served as the QA lead on one of the largest projects I ever ran. It was like a $6 million project and I was like deep in QA. Better bet that that's on my resume. Right? Ran QA for a $6 million web native android and native iOS application for one of the largest companies in the world.
Yup. That's on my resume. You can just call it out and see what it is, right? If you're doing design work, put it on your resume. You don't need to say that you did it through the lens of project management. No, you're just doing it and that's okay.
Michael Mordak: Amazing. Yeah. I think you landed that one perfectly. I'm having, I have nothing to add to that one. No, but that's a good point. Yeah. Just throw it on there, if it's any kind of relevant information. Okay. Let's move on to the next question here. What can PMs do beyond managing projects? This actually ties in really well with the last question, I think so. We'll get into this one.
Pam Butkowski: Everything.
Michael Mordak: All right, next question. Okay, let's move on.
Pam Butkowski: No. Really, I mean, I talked about the highway, but I'm just full of analogies. My team hates this. We have a closet full of hats. And like for more junior PMs, the hats are today I'm putting on my tactical project management hat, and I'm going to build a timeline today, like tomorrow, I'm going to put on my strategic product management hat, and I'm going to poke holes in our overall delivery plan, right?
The hat might change in how broad they get throughout the course of your career, but when you become a little bit more senior, the hats become today I'm in QA, today, I am doing a code review. Today, I'm going to go sit down with my design team and I'm going to act as a creative director. And I'm going to say that the homepage design that they're about to go and present to the client cannot happen for this reason, this reason, this reason, right?
Like the hats get more broad the further you get in your career. We do everything, and that's okay. I mean, I said this already, like it's not our job to actually solve all the problems. It is our job to make sure that they're all solved. Sometimes that means stepping into somebody else's lawn and putting a stake in the ground.
Because if we don't speak up and we see something wrong, we're not doing our job. So we do everything tactically outside of projects. We should be helping with things like resourcing. We see everything that happens within a company or within an agency. We can help with resourcing. We can help with account planning.
We can help with financial management at an organizational level. I look at our margin reports for every client and a roll up for our entire organization every week. I need to know what our gross margin trends are for the entire company, even though I just run project management. Because that's in our skill set.
We run budgets for a living. We can help do that for the company. I actually, I think one of our biggest value adds that we bring to any company, like I said, it's the problem solving thing. I do an intro to delivery management for all new hires. Like I'll sit down with every new hire at Xero and tell them about our organization, tell them about what we do as a department or as a practice.
And at the end, I always end it the same way. I say it is my team job to know everything about this company. It's my team's job to know where all the bodies are buried and we need to know where to go to get information. So if you are onboarding into this company, if you, a new employee have no idea where to start you don't know who to talk to for benefit stuff.
You can't get JIRA access to save your life. You don't know where files are saved. My team will tell you where to go because that's our job. And even just like planting that feed about everybody in the company should go to project management as the center repository for all information makes us invaluable.
I've got project managers who are being approached by managing directors saying, Hey, I don't know where to go for this thing. And the PM is well, let me help you. Like we're becoming absolutely invaluable as leaders in the company, just because we're speaking up.
Michael Mordak: Yeah. The PM really is the hub of the wheel announces the spokes and all questions can really go through the PM because yeah, we, we deal with everyone.
Great. Well, we had another question come in and I think this one came in from another member of the chat here. If we're feeling stale in DPM land, including doing most other digital roles, what are your thoughts about transitioning to other roles or even industries?
Pam Butkowski: I said this earlier about the tools thing. When I was like, you don't want to use those tools. Is that something that you're interested in? I would suggest pushing back rear desk, looking at your entire role holistically and figuring out what you like and what you don't like. Hone in on these are the things that I could do every day, day in and day out.
I could do this as a full time job. And then figure out that first thing. But I think we've all gone through ruts where we were burned out. We don't know if we want to do this anymore. We're tired, like it feels repetitive. How many more timelines can I build? Right? We all hit these ruts. And in some cases, pushing back and saying, what do I actually like about my job?
What are the aspects of my role that I love? Pulling those apart from the mundane feeling stale, the things where you're like, I am so exhausted by this crap. Pulling out the pieces that you love and then figuring out if there's a way to just do those as a job is where I would start. There are other industries and like roles for sure that you can move into, like moving from agency to consulting is a really easy transition.
I actually, I went through this when I left Wunderman Thompson. I left Wunderman Thompson in 2020 as the head of product management for the Midwest region of Wunderman Thompson. And I was feeling a little bit fail. I was feeling like I've been running PMLs for a while. How many more SOWs can I review, right?
That I pushed back and I said, what do I really like? And I said, I like solving problems. I like stepping into a mess and fixing it. I like coming into like a tangled web of delivery and saying, let's introduce insanity. So I went into consulting. I said, I think that can be a job. I could just be this expert in delivery consulting.
I can go to organizations and tell them how they should be up leveling and maturing their delivery tactics and their practices. And I went into consulting and I was so bored because it was all at my pace and it's there wasn't anything pushing me and I didn't get thrown any curveballs. Like I was the expert in everything and that was no fun either.
I wasn't challenged anymore. So I went back to agency because it turned out after I left, the thing that I really liked was chaos. And so now I'm back and I'm never leaving, but it's okay to take breaks. It's okay to try something new and decide you don't like it, figure out what you like and focus on that and try something else.
Michael Mordak: That's amazing. And I think like taking the time to do that is an important step. And obviously there's a bit of hesitancy when you're looking at something like that, because maybe you're in a role where you've got things comfortable, you've got a good salary, maybe you've got good at working at it, or it is, and you're a little bit hesitant to throw that away.
I mean, this is, I'm not encouraging anybody to go and quit their job, but I mean, just saying as long as you've taken the reasonable steps, you, you will be fine on your feet. There are PM jobs out there, especially for somebody who has the experience. And so sometimes it requires, just taking a step back, like you mentioned, and just looking at things and then figuring out, do I need to try something new for a little bit, test the waters, and then reassessing once you've had that time.
Sounds I mean, going from Wunderman Thompson to consulting really figure that out and so we were able to get back into it. And I think the lesson is you didn't have to start, lower down the ladder again, obviously you just went back to a similar position that you had before.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah, I mean, it was a lot of, again, right time, right place or right place, right time, right? It's not like I woke up one day and said, Hey, I think I'm bored. I'm going to go into consulting. It took a long time. It took a while to find the right place, find a place where I was going to have autonomy, where I could focus on being a firefighter, where I could do more of the strategy, where I could stay in a leadership role.
That takes a while. And then when I realize that consulting wasn't a fit, that took a while too, to find the right place to move on and go back into agency. Doesn't happen one night. Don't, the biggest piece of advice especially in the economy and the state of the world that we're in right now, don't flip a table and quit your job. Take the time. Take the time to find the right thing.
I mean, y'all we're PAMs. We can handle any kind of pain for six months at a time. Like we can do this. Even if you hate your job, don't rage quit. Not right now in this market, but power through and then find something that's right for you.
Michael Mordak: Yeah. The other term that I love that I heard was like moonlighting. So basically, yeah, just hang off the side of your desk for a bit to see, okay, if maybe I'm feeling stale here, maybe that's not for me. Well, what is it that thing that you might do otherwise? And spend some time doing that on the side, where you can maybe volunteer in that space or get a little bit of time in that space.
And then, yeah, over the course of three, six months, whatever it is, feel it out and see what, what feels more right. And then, constantly evaluate and assess what you think is right for you. I think it's a big first step to take.
Pam Butkowski: Yeah. I think I mean, you're all already doing this cause you're here, but also just building a network too. Understanding what it's even like in other roles and under other industries. I've had three networking breakfasts in the last week, like in really different industries. I mean, I talked about that person earlier who runs global strategy for a trust company.
Like she works in finance that has nothing to do with what we do, but our challenges and the woman in leadership are the same. And our we both have kids at varying stages in life. They're like ages and their challenges are the same and like how we navigate those while we're navigating our professional lives, build your network of people who are going to help you figure out what you want to do and help you get through it.
Michael Mordak: Awesome. I'm going to summarize everything today with a quick takeaway that I think wraps up a lot of the conversation, which is look at what interests you. Look for the gaps, solve them. And I think that if you take away anything from today, that's some topics that we touched on through many of the questions.
I want to take a second to thank Pam for her time to go through all these questions where we just pepper her with all sorts of different questions about careers and where we can go. And Pam, thank you so much. Everyone really appreciates your time.
Pam Butkowski: Thank you.
Michael Mordak: I hope you enjoyed our Member Event on career planning with Pam. She has a lot 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. You can learn more about membership on our website at thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership.
Until next time, thanks for listening.