Galen Low is joined by Brett Harned, Digital PM Consultant and Founder of The Digital PM Summit, to dive into two questions we get all the time: what is digital project management, and how is it different from other types of project management?
- Brett shares the story of that moment when he realized that we needed another word to describe what we do, as project managers. [3:40]
- Around 2011, Brett was a PM in a digital agency, doing really fun work, working on really exciting website redesign projects in the agency world. He was working for a company called Happy Cog® at the time. [3:50]
- Brett attended conferences, like An Event Apart, or other big web development conferences or web design conferences. And he noticed that the content would always be focused on just design, development, UX, content strategy, but never project management. [4:11]
- Brett started a meet up in Philadelphia, which was the first ever digital PM meet up. And he tagged teamed onto another local design meetup and invite them to co-run an event called Bring Your PM to Happy Hours. That’s where he basically got all of the designers to bring their PMs to a happy hour and he started a list. And from there, Brett found his people in Philadelphia. [6:19]
- The project management role is similar from place to place, but there’s the cultural aspect of working in more of a creative environment. There’s also the aspect of like, projects are more flexible because they have to be processed as something that we define. [10:57]
- Brett mentions the PM chat on Twitter. [12:04]
- If your project is something that has a digital interface – if it’s a website, if it’s an app, if it’s a kiosk, if there is something that is both technical and creative, you’re a digital PM. [16:13]
- At this point in 2022, tools are digital. That doesn’t make you a digital project manager. As a construction project manager, you don’t know likely the first thing about making a digital product, because your product is a building or a bridge or something like that. [20:13]
- Many are going to be brought more into technology, because technology’s the future. Innovation is a thing and people are going to have to get on board with it in some cases, but not everyone is going to be brought into creating digital projects. [22:37]
- Brett named his book Project Management for Humans, because there are so many principles in project management that come back to things that people learn very early in their lives. [24:56]
- Project management is hard because of people, not because of the tasks and the principles of PM. [25:33]
Anyone can learn how to create a project plan or create an estimate for a thing. Not everyone can manage the people and the process with ease.Brett Harned
- User experience thinking, starting with empathy, thinking about your users, if you apply that thinking to project management, you’re being empathetic. You’re thinking about your stakeholders, you’re thinking about your team, you’re making decisions and facilitating based on the scope of the project, your timeline, and the people who are impacting it. [30:52]
I think it’s really important, honestly critical, that a PM feels empowered to be the lead of the team.Brett Harned
- Brett’s advice to people who are looking for PM jobs is be sure to interview that company or that team about how much they value project management or what it is they value about project management. [31:33]
- Brett’s thoughts about project management is that, it’s a strategic role. You might not be setting the strategy for a project or a team, but it’s strategic in the way that you’re thinking about the way the team should approach things. You’re strategic in how you’ll get a project done, how communications will work, how you need to adapt or adjust. [32:18]
As a PM, if I don’t have a seat at the table, then I cannot be effective. And if I cannot be effective, I’m not doing a good job. And if I’m not doing a good job, I’m not happy in my role.Brett Harned
- The interesting thing about digital is that we’re always following innovation in technology or chasing it in many instances. So, technology will essentially continue to evolve the project manager role. [37:53]
Meet Our Guest
Brett Harned is a leader in the digital project management space with over 20 years of experience working in respected agencies like Razorfish and Happy Cog, delivering processes and communication tactics that work not only for projects, but for the people involved.
Brett actively writes about digital project management for various publications, has spoken at several events on the topic, and has taught a course on digital PM at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. In 2012 he founded the Digital PM Summit, an event that draws digital project managers from across the world to one location to learn about and discuss the practice of managing projects.
A good project manager can facilitate really good conversations that lead to decisions and approvals and finalizing and delivering things.Brett Harned
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Follow Brett on LinkedIn
- Check out Brett’s podcast: Sprints & Milestones
- Check out Brett’s book: Project Management for Humans
- The Digital PM Summit 2022
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the podcast
- Do Project Management Certifications Matter In Digital?
- Write A Project Plan That You’re Proud Of
- Anonymous Advice For Digital Project Managers
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.
Galen Low: Digital project management isn't real.
I hear that from a lot of people. And honestly, it's a complex conversation to have. Is digital project management different from just project management? Or is it just another buzzword to make things seem different when they're actually not?
And also if you self-identify as a digital project manager, who are you and where do you fit in when it comes to the future of project management?
Whether this is something you've been asking yourself or something that you find yourself defending, keep listening. We'll be exploring what it truly means to be a digital project manager with one of the forefathers of the digital project management community.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with the Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
All right. Today, we are diving into two questions that we get all the time. What is digital project management? And how is it different from other types of project management? So, with me today is one of the forefathers of what we know today as digital project management, Mr. Brett Harned.
Brett, thanks for hanging out with us today.
Brett Harned: Hey Galen, thank you for having me. Excited to be here on the podcast.
Galen Low: I'm excited to have you here. Excited to have you here after being on your podcast. Fair trade, fair trade.
Brett Harned: Yeah. We'll see which one comes out first.
Galen Low: Yeah, exactly. Now it's a race.
Brett Harned: I'm guessing it's gonna be yours.
Galen Low: Well, listen, actually, just to plug your podcast for you, Sprints & Milestones is an amazing podcast.
We're diving into stories of at least in this season, mistakes that project managers have made and the lessons they learned from them. So if you want any cringy stories that are entertaining, but also insightful, keep an eye out. I'm sure, I'm, I'm looking forward to it. I'm gonna listen to every episode because that's exactly the kind of thing I like.
It's just like driving by the car crash and going, ooh.
Brett Harned: But then learning something from it.
Galen Low: Yeah. And knowing that, you know what? As project managers, you know, we are not infallible. We make mistakes, but it doesn't mean we're not great. In fact it might be the thing that makes us great.
Brett Harned: Yeah. And this season is really not just only project managers, it's people from kind of like all over the industry. So, some interesting stories. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some interesting stories, some really interesting people. And a lot of lessons learned and honestly like a lot of common themes within project management.
Because let's, let's face it, like everyone's a PM on some level. Right?
Galen Low: There you go. That's, that's what we're gonna dig in today, for sure. But yes, absolutely. And projects are tough. They, they put us into situations. I mean, if we're not leading projects, a lot of us have been involved in a project and they're tough.
They're not all the same people you normally work with, the, the way things are done, the processes, expectations are all a little bit different. The pressure's on, right? There's this big, like this big huzzah that is a project. And is it gonna succeed or fail? It's very high pressure. It's very dramatic, actually.
Brett Harned: Yes, can be. It definitely can be.
Galen Low: Oh, it's awesome. Well, I'm definitely gonna keep an eye out for some of those stories because I'm always interested in, in those different perspectives.
All right. Well, let's dive into digital project management. So, just to set the scene for our listeners.
In the circles that I travel in, you're one of the people who started to define
digital project management
as being different from other branches of project management. Could you tell our listeners just the story of that moment when you realized that we needed another word to describe what we do?
Brett Harned: Yeah. So it's kind of like a few things around this for me. I guess at the time, and I guess this was around like 2011.
Maybe even before that. I was a, a PM in a digital agency, doing really fun work, working on like really exciting website redesign projects in the agency world. And I was working for a company called Happy Cog® at the time. The company was really kind of like invested in its employees learning and development.
And, so I would go to these amazing conferences, like An Event Apart, or, you know, like other big kind of like web development conferences or web design conferences. And the content would always be focused on just that - design, development, UX, content strategy, never project management. So it would go to these like amazing expensive conferences.
And while the content would be relevant to the work that I was doing, it never felt 100% relevant to me. So I would leave having learned something, but not having learned something that was gonna help me be a better PM, necessarily. I mean, of course you can kind of like extrapolate that stuff, right?
So from there I was kind of like, well, where are the people I want to talk to? So I went to PMI, went to local chapter. And honestly, just didn't feel like it was a fit from the second I walked through the door. You know, it was more of a cultural thing at that point, you know, kind of like being the guy that came from the agency, walking through the door and like jeans, right?
And everyone else is like an older white dude in a suit. Just didn't feel like it was "my people". So from there I decided, you know, maybe what I needed to do is start a meet up. And at, by that point I had been kind of writing and speaking about project management. I did a, one of my earlier talks was a talk at South by Southwest.
And I was just amazed by how many people came to that session. There was a line out the door like, it told me, my people are out there. People are interested in project management and there's something to this, right? Like this is kind of the digital space. That was the other thing about PMI. It was really cool.
I'm, I'm not like dogging PMI by any means. It just wasn't relevant to me and not like the work that those people were doing. Wasn't as flexible and creative and different as what I was doing in the agency space. So, essentially, what I did was I started a meet up, started a meet up in Philadelphia, which I think was the first ever digital PM meet up.
And basically what I did was I tagged teamed onto another local design meetup and said, Hey, will you guys like co-run an event with me and it's a Bring Your PM to Happy Hours. And that's where I basically got all of the designers to bring their PMs to a happy hour and I started a list. And from there I found my people in Philadelphia.
And, and that, that meetup, still like kind of carries on, you know, COVID kind of ruined all of that, but hopefully it'll come back. And then from there, you know, I was kind of like, wow, okay, this is a, a real thing. Like we're getting pretty good traction. The talks I'm doing are getting traction. Maybe there's a conference in this.
And at that time at Happy Cog®, we were kind of exploring and really kind of like incubating the idea of the Bureau of Digital. So we started to do events for agency owners, and I kind of identified PMs as an audience and, uh, my boss, Greg Hoy, at the time I was out to lunch with him and I was like, Hey, you know, here's an idea.
I think if we ran a conference for project managers, it could do really well. And he was super cool about it, like right away, he was like, let's do it. Let's figure it out. So I had the benefit of working with the organizers of An Event Apart. They kind of came down to the office in Philly, kind of explained to me how they programmed their conferences.
They gave me a sense for how to figure out budgeting for conferences. And then we went for like tours of venues. So we kind of like figured it out. I figured out what I wanted the programming to be, or at least what the schedule would be. And we announced it, we put tickets on sale and it sold out in 30 days.
And I was like, whoa, okay, so this is for real. And then the next year we did it the second time and we more than doubled that, that event size. And this year it'll be the 10th one, which is exciting. It'll be a smaller, smaller event because, you know, COVID and people are kind of not necessarily going back to events 100%.
So we're gonna do a hybrid event. It's gonna be at the first place that we did the, the first digital PM summit at WHYY in Philadelphia, which is a, a television radio studio. It's where Terry Gross records for NPR. So yeah, I'm excited. I, and I've gone way off track with that answer and probably have gone much longer than you wanted me to, but that's kind of how it all started for me.
Like, that's, that's really kind of like, for me, it was always about like, where can I find my people? Where is the community? And I think I, to some degree just like wanted a little bit of validation that like, what I'm doing is what other people are doing. The challenges that I'm having are the same that other people are having, or maybe people that I meet could kind of like offer a different perspective, on, on how they're doing stuff and it's definitely done that and a ton more.
Galen Low: I love that. No, you know what? That's the perfect origin story and I'm, I'm, I'm glad you went there. Three things I wanted to pick up on from that.
One, that notion that, yeah, I've been there, we've kind of gone to conferences and we don't like see ourselves even, you know, you go to a design conference and yeah, it's absolutely, you know, interesting. Right? UX conferences, even like, like, uh Druple Con or something like that. And you're like, yeah, this is great. But like, you know, the PMs aren't necessarily seen as "part of the team". It's like not in the programming.
And then the second thing is that, actually, these people are out there. Because you had a meetup where it's like, yeah, bring your PM to happy hour. I love that by the way. Uh, and then had a summit that obviously had, had a lot of demand. So in other words, there is this sort of pull, this gravitational pull of like, okay, we were all out there, but there wasn't anywhere for us to go. And now there are more places to go.
And then I think for me, uh, that, that third thing is just kind of this, like, you know, what is that culture? Right? It's kind of like this, like, like you said, you said like a little like looser and faster, a little bit more creative. And it's, it just, this sort of need has come about to have that reflected, have what we do reflected.
And that's kind of like this, you know, I'm, I'm simplifying it, but when you're saying, yeah, it was kind of cultural, right? This kind of like experience of feeling like you didn't fit in anywhere is actually what, what created this notion of, well, maybe I'm something else. Maybe I'm a digital project manager and maybe there are others feeling the exact same thing.
And, I love that. That was absolutely true. And now there are places for us to go and, and have a chat and be together.
Brett Harned: Yeah. And, you know, I, I think part of it too is that, yeah, the project management role is kind of similar from place to place. But there is, there's the cultural aspect of working in more of a creative environment.
There's also the aspect of like, projects are more flexible because they have to be processed as something that we define, but we don't follow a book on, you know, there's, there's just a lot to consider there. I also think in many cases, you know, as a project manager in an agency, and digital project management is not just project managers who work in agencies, right?
But you do have to be a bit of an account manager. You have to show a little bit more personality. You have to get people on your side a little bit more. And I think the way that I've always looked at it is like, yes, the, the role is the same across industries. The things that we're doing are different.
Digital is definitely more flexible. Uh, the PM has to kind of adapt to a lot of things. But at the end of the day, yeah, it, it's kind of the same thing. And I'll tell you, like, I think it was probably back in like 2015. There used to be this thing, it might still exist called, PM chat on Twitter. It was like basically a hashtag, do you?
Galen Low: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brett Harned: So I would participate in that from time to time. And one day, the topic that they created was - what is digital project management and is it even different? But it was, it was definitely positioned like @me in a way that felt negative. Yeah, it definitely felt like, oh, well, why are you trying to make this new thing within project management?
It's like, I'm not really trying to make a new thing. I'm not trying to like formalize anything. I'm just saying like, where are my people? Like, I wanna talk to people who are doing, working on the same kind of projects as me. Because Hey, the way that I work is not the way that you work in a big IT organization or on a construction site or, uh, in a manufacturing kind of setting, right?
It's very different. Uh, like the principles are kind of the same, but they're not. And it was really hard for me to kind of like differentiate it and really, I think what it came down to me, for me was culture. It is the way that we act and behave. And if you go to a PMI conference versus the digital PM summit, you'll see that straight off the bat.
Galen Low: Fair enough. Fair enough. And then did you engage in that PM chat on Twitter?
Brett Harned: Sure, I did. Of course.
Galen Low: How did it go?
Brett Harned: Yeah. With, with, with respect, like, uh, yeah, I don't, I don't even remember, but I'm sure I came back with something snarky, just cuz that's how I am. But yeah, I mean it's, there's no reason to argue over it.
Like there's room for everyone. I don't understand that, like if there was like a subset of digital PM, that was like we're higher ed DPM. I'd be like, that's cool. I'm glad that like you can find your circle of people. It's the same difference, right? It's, like, I'm not, I've never tried to exclude anyone from the conversation or the events or any of it.
Right? Like I, I've always been really open about sharing my experiences, sharing my practices, all of that, because I think it's, you know, it's valuable and I find it valuable when people do that for me.
Galen Low: There's so much you said there that is like, that I want to dig into because I think it's, it's too important. I mean, the one thing is that sort of like factionism and like defensiveness around that, like, uh, I think it is seen by some people. And again, like, as I opened up, like, uh, in the, in, in the intro, like we get this question a lot, you must get this question a lot. Uh, and the answer is not that this is a separate branch, a separate faction that believes different things.
And we might not even do different things. So one thing you said earlier, it's like, actually, the job is kind of the same, like it's delivering projects, of course it's project management. We, we're not trying to remove the project management part from it, but there are these, you know, je ne sais quoi, I guess that's, you know, that's imperfect French, of course.
But there are those things and we can't really like pin down, but we know it's different and we feel it's different. And honestly, I think probably the folks who are coming to, to like our, our respective communities are folks who are kind of going through that same story that you, you, you went through in the beginning, which like where, where are my people?
I don't feel like the people I'm talking to are quite approaching things the same way as I am. And then I think the big thing kind of at the end is that, yeah, like, and, and honestly, maybe higher ed project management is a great other, other place to go have conversations. Cuz I think in different industries and in different types of projects, there's gonna be different ways to, you know, to, to approach a project and different knowledge to share that is going to be quite specific.
But then coming back again to that factionism, uh, I call it factionism. I'm not even sure if that's a real word. Anyways, uh, it's not necessarily a faction. I think what you're saying is, uh, and same with our community, like all, all are welcome. We're not trying to shut anybody out. It's more about this sort of like, listen, if you're kind of more that kind of person who's gonna show up in jeans and a t-shirt to a conference, then, you know, maybe, maybe come have a chat with us.
By the way, that's not the, that's not the qualifier. Uh, if you're, if you're not wearing jeans and a t-shirt you could absolutely come hang it.
Brett Harned: I was gonna say there's a little more than that. Yeah. Yeah. It's more like, if your, if your project is something that has a digital interface. If it's a website, if it's an app, if it's a kiosk, like if there is something that is like both technical and creative, you're a digital PM.
Galen Low: That's actually, I wanna dig into that.
Brett Harned: Do you define it that way?
Galen Low: Well, I mean, I have to, I have to be honest with you and I'm gonna betray myself as the host here, but it's getting pretty blurry. And I think there is this sort of transition that I'm noticing where I think, if I already be totally honest with you, the digital project manager started out 11 years ago.
Talking about mostly, like web development projects in an agency context. That's just what we knew. We knew there was a need to have these conversations. We knew it was a little bit different. We knew it was something everyone was trying to figure out. And then it kind of expanded a little bit, right?
Okay. Well, like other types of projects that use digital technology, but we were kind of more thinking of it as, you know, if you're creating a digital product as your project, then probably you're a digital project manager. And I was writing a piece about this just a couple months ago.
And I was like, wow, this is actually, it's either going to expand wildly or we need to put a wall somewhere. And I haven't decided which yet, but you know, you start thinking about manufacturing, right? Products that are physical products, you know, if you're gonna make a Fitbit, if you're on the Fitbit team, are you part of a digital project?
First of all, it's a product. And in theory, it's kind of like this ongoing life cycle, but it is iterations. And obviously trying to get the next Fitbit out, whether it's the firmware or the actual hardware, I'm sure it's a project in their eyes. But at the same time here we are making something that's a physical product.
It's gonna be on a shelf that has a digital component, which obviously requires some of the mix of people that we are used to on our projects, right? Uh, like engineers and developers, testers, UX/UI designers. Like it's still that, but it's a far cry from where we started, where we're like, here's how you build a website.
And then I've got some folks, and again, all are welcome. This is great, like I'm seeing more folks who are coming from an IT space. They're like, okay, well I do ERP and CRM rollouts. Like, am I a digital project manager? I'm like, I think you are, because you're dealing in very, very complex digital technology just at an enterprise level, right?
And do we still work the same way? Are we sort of, part of that team? Are we kind of, you know, just trying to be nimble about it? And are we reacting to what's happening in the digital space? Yeah, absolutely. That's part of the thing where, you know, we can't rely on just a plan and things that we know.
What we know might change tomorrow and we have to be ready for that. Then there's augmented reality, right? Extended reality. I think there's like the metaverse, there's all of these things and you know what? It's gonna stop being the question - what is digital project management?
And it's gonna start being the question - what isn't digital project management? Because the other thing is, I mean, we're probably, you know, construction project managers are likely using project management software in a digital context. So, are they digital project managers?
And then again it gets a little interesting because I think what we're saying is that to embrace digital is to embrace fast change and to be able to do your job on a playing field that's moving all the time. Where you can't know everything about how the sausage is made, but you should try and know enough. Because as a project manager, it's not cut and dry, it's not always the same. Different types of people are coming together to work together that have never worked together before. Had a project where we had an academic researcher and a linguist, because we were doing some natural language processing, working with a UX designer and analytics sort of data scientist.
I was like, never done this before. This is not my standard project team, but this is where, where things are going and just being able to adapt to that. So, I guess my question to you would be, do you feel that everything is becoming digital project management?
Brett Harned: No, I don't actually. So you mentioned the tools thing.
I think, you know, at this point in 2022, tools are digital. That doesn't make you a digital project manager. As a construction project manager, you don't know likely the first thing about making a digital product because your product is a building or a bridge or something like that. So there's something to the process of creation that I think is really important here that the, the community kind of rallies around.
To your other point about, you know, making a physical product like Fitbit, I actually have spoken to project managers at Fitbit who have been a part of that process. And yeah, they are digital because there is a digital component to what they do. You know, I think it's, there's no like perfect answer here. I think it's definitely amorphous. And I think it probably really comes back to the community aspect of it.
I've done digital PM events where people who are electrical engineers or photographers or, I even had, like a lay person come to an event one time. I think the thing about it is it's all relatable and this community talks about the work that we do in a really kind of like easy, relatable way.
So if you're someone who is in project management, whether that be in managing an event or, you know, managing, outfitting an office with furniture, you know, like there's so many different things that need to be managed and, and reasons why project managers are, are hired. I think if you're looking for connections with people who are working on cool projects, interesting projects, difficult projects, and they're open and willing to discuss those things, then you're gonna be welcome with open arms. Like that's just how the community is.
And I think the community is really very much about learning from one another. So, you know, someone with a photography background comes into an event and everyone's like, so how'd you find this? And, and why are you here? And like, how can we, you know, it's like very cool to see how those connections have been made. So to me like, yes, digital is a specific thing. I think to your point earlier, things are certainly evolving to a point where all project managers are probably experiencing digital in some way, or many project managers are.
And many are going to be brought more into technology because technology's the future, right? Innovation is a thing and people are gonna have to get on board with it in some cases, but not everyone is going to be, to be brought into creating digital projects. So, there's my nebulous answer for you.
Galen Low: No, I think it's, I think it's great. I mean, a couple things I wanted to pick up there.
I mean, first of all, I think it's about getting people together to share knowledge, like I think that's massive. I love that there's, uh, you know, there was a photographer at your conference and I know that some folks, actually, some folks listening right now, some folks on my mailing list, you know, they're just trying to learn a little bit more.
They're not necessarily, they're not saying, yes, I am a digital project manager and they're also not saying. Ooh, I, I must become a digital project manager in order to stay relevant. I think it's just, you know, here's the fourth wall on our conversation to say, we are humans who do project management, who like to share knowledge, but if you come here, we're gonna be talking kind of about digital stuff.
And I think from that standpoint, you know, it probably like to your origin story, right? Kinda like it spawns from this need to kind of recognize that there, there is a group of people who are thinking a certain way, especially around digital and creative projects. And we're gonna come and have conversations.
But also doesn't mean that if you don't identify as somebody who is a digital project manager doesn't mean you can't come hang out because there's definitely, there's so much to wrap your heads around when it comes to digital. That, even if it's not somewhere where you are, you know, where you consider yourself hanging your hat, there's definitely something to be learned, an insight to be learned, or maybe an approach to be learned.
It's not just about technical stuff. It might be just, again, like what you said more of this sort of cultural approach to sharing knowledge and not necessarily knowing the answer and, and maybe, you know, all being wrong together so we can figure out a couple things to try a little later on. I, I think that's really cool.
Brett Harned: Yeah. And I just wanna say too, like, what you kind of described is the reason why I wrote my book. I've met a lot of people along the way with varying kind of levels, or degrees of experience in digital or otherwise. And for me what it's always come down to is what you said, like we're all humans, we're coming to the table with a problem. And we're trying to solve it in the most efficient way. And at the end of the day, I called my book Project Management for Humans because there are so many principles in project management that come back to things that you learn very early in your life.
There's not a lot of education in actual, like proper schooling around project management, outside of certifications and things like when you're in school, when you're in high school, when you're in college, no one's offering project management. No. Now they are kind of like starting to offer digital project management more within digital programs in colleges and universities, which is exciting.
But I think there's something to be learned from anyone just about like the basic principles of creating an estimate, planning, great communications, like all of those things are very much rooted in how we behave as humans. And they're really easy things to learn. Like, Hey, shocker, project management's hard because of people not because of the tasks and the principles of PM.
You know, anyone can learn how to create a project plan or create an estimate for a thing. Not everyone can manage the people and the process with ease. And that's where a lot of kind of discussion comes in.
Galen Low: I'm glad you took it there, cuz I was gonna take a left turn into your book and I'm like, how am I gonna swing this without making it, look like a dramatic shift? But I, I, I think it's, it's so apt, right?
And I think, I would say, I would hazard to say that that is something that any profession isn't giving enough credence to the fact that some of the things to make us better at our jobs. Some of the things are not training that we are getting now, or even specific to that, like discipline or profession.
You know, I mean, it comes down to what, what is digital project management? And I think sometimes it's like managing human collaboration. And yeah, sure, projects have a start and finish and yeah, obviously everything kind of involves humans in some way, shape or form. And maybe that's too general, but at the same time, the art of, you know, delivering a project is actually kind of just teamwork. Teamwork and, and being organized and a bit of leadership and all the other stuff is, you know, they're all methods.
It's not necessarily like the core of what makes somebody a good project manager, but they are great tools, for example.
Brett Harned: Yeah. And I think, you know, that is kind of, I'm glad that you brought that up cause it's kind of another differentiator for digital PM. We've always been really focused on empathy, and kind of the, the soft skills and the people side of things.
And that's something that kind of like the more rigid project management programs aren't focusing on as much, or haven't in the past. Though, my understanding is more recently, PMI has started to include more of that in their trainings, which I think is amazing.
And I feel like they might have taken a little bit of a cue from us, honestly. They're also starting to teach design thinking and bringing in more of like the human creative aspect to it. So maybe to your point earlier, like maybe project management is becoming digital project management. It will, there will be kind of less of a division.
I think there will always be specialties, but I love that people are talking about the people side of things more because that's really the challenge here, like people ruin everything. Right? I mean, any project I've ever had hasn't been tanked because of the technology or the design. It's been the people surrounding it, creating problems with those things or not being able to decide on those things.
And a good project manager can facilitate really good conversations that lead to decisions and approvals and finalizing and delivering things.
Galen Low: I love that. I love that. No, it's so top of mind for me right now, and I think something you said earlier, and I, you didn't say it, but I kind of extrapolated from there.
This notion that like the project manager isn't really seen as part of the team sometimes, right? And then like, in some ways I watch a lot of project managers in any industry kind of self alienate and self isolate, because they feel like they're not a specialist at anything. So you've got your team of specialists.
I've been guilty of it too. I think I described the project manager as like an agent Colson to a, a team of Avengers, like superheroes, really, but actually that might not be the right mindset actually. Or maybe it is the right mindset in the agent Colson, metaphor here. But, you know, we're, we are part of the team and I think that human aspect of things gets amplified when you just start recognizing that.
That you're like, actually I'm not just this person who makes sure that things get done. I'm actually part of the team. My specialization is helping humans make decisions, helping make them make good decisions, problem solving, working together, communicating, you know, like we are collaboration architects, you know, as much as our, our UX architects, our UX architects.
And like that I think is, is the beginning because then you are a human on the team and not just somebody who kinda like sits separate from it. And then it unlocks all of that, you know, this, like, can I be empathetic? Should I be empathetic as a project manager? And I think what we're saying is, well, at least in the circles we travel in, which is, comes with the label digital project management.
But a lot of it is about, you know, just being a human on the team that is imperfect, but driven to get to a goal together as a team. And I'm like, okay, that's kind of, that starts to sound different. Is it different enough for someone listening to go, oh yeah, I wanna stop being a regular project manager and start being a digital project manager.
Like I don't think that's the point. I think what we're saying is you know, there's a mindset that has come up through a bit of a digital world. And everyone's got something to learn from it.
Brett Harned: Yeah. I think part, part of me feels like it almost comes through UX thinking, right? User experience thinking, starting with empathy, thinking about your users, it's kind of, if you apply that kind of thinking to project management, you know, you're being empathetic, you're thinking about your stakeholders.
You're thinking about your team, you're making decisions and facilitating based on the scope of the project, your timeline, and the people who are impacting it. So yeah, I think, there is kind of a mentality to digital PM. And I think it's a mentality that if a lot of project managers were to embrace it, they might feel more like a part of a team to your, your earlier point.
I think it's really important, honestly critical that a PM feel empowered to be the lead of the team, to really kind of own the details of a project. And unfortunately in some organizations that's not the case. And I think, you know, my advice to people who are looking for PM jobs is be sure to be interviewing that company or that team about how much they value project management or what it is they value about project management.
Because, if they don't value it, there's a chance that you're not going to feel like a valued member of the team. You're gonna feel like a secretary and that's not the place to be. My thought about project management is that, it's a strategic role. In that, sure, you might not be like setting the strategy for a project or a team, but it's strategic in the way that you're thinking about the way the team should approach things.
You're strategic in how you'll get a project done, how communications will work, how you need to adapt or adjust. And that's really important. And that is the value that a great project manager brings to the table, because they have a big picture view of things but they can also dive really deep into the details and help a team to really kind of figure things out.
And that's global to project management. That's not just about digital, right? Like that's, that's just about finding your value. And honestly, like if you're in a role as a PM and you don't feel valued, I'd have a conversation about it. You know, like a coach, a ton of people in project management, I've worked with a lot of companies to kind of help them with their processes.
And a lot of times the big issues do come back to the companies or the team's definition of what a project manager should do. And a person in the PM role feeling like they're bringing the appropriate skill set or conversations to the table. And if you don't feel comfortable doing that, then I feel like you're not in the best role.
If you're wanting more, if you're not just wanting to sit behind your desk and work on plans and treat resourcing like it's a game of Tetris like, you know, you might wanna find something different, but I'll tell you, like, I've been in that role in an agency. You know, the kind of like behind the scenes project manager and I hated it.
Because I didn't feel like I was really being driven to do much more than to like monkey around with some documents. Not really like get ingrained in the problems or the goals, or really kind of like driving at, like communication tactics to make sure that things are going well or that everyone's informed, or that a client knows they need to make a decision, or they're gonna lose two months of the project.
You know, like being the behind the scenes person, you don't really get to do a lot of that stuff. So when I was in that role, I actually kind of like pushed my way to the table because I feel like as a PM, if I don't have a seat at the table, then I cannot be effective. And if I cannot be effective, I'm not doing a good job, but if I'm not doing a good job, I'm not happy in my role or in the path in my career.
And that's really important.
Galen Low: I love, I love all of that. And I think, you and I, I think, for folks who follow Brett and I well enough, you'll notice that we're a bit on a circuit. I'm on a bit of a circuit as well, especially on like podcast more oriented to agency owners.
Really trying to close that gap of like, well, you know, what can you expect? What value can you expect from your, your project managers and your project management team? And are you getting the most out of it or are you undercuting the value by treating them as paper pushers? And then on the other side, there's the conversation about, you know, the value of individual project managers.
There's loads. Every conversation I have in the community is underscored by this. You know, people feeling like their employer doesn't really quite understand what they can do. Like they're not unleashing their full potential. And they don't feel like they're getting recognized for some of the things that they can do.
And it's a real gap that everyone benefits from if we close it. And I think what you said there really resonated with me in the sense that yes, is delivery strategy, strategy? Well, yes. You know, how we deliver a project? How we get this thing done? It's strategic. I think it is. I absolutely think it is.
I mean, if you, if you take it too, literally.
Brett Harned: Especially in a world where we don't follow one process, right? You know, everyone's Agile. We know that they're not really Agile, right? Like they're making up a process that helps 'em to get a thing delivered with all of the roadblocks that they know are in their way.
To me, that's super strategic. That's coming up with a plan that feels like it makes sense and is appropriate to the people and the product that you're building. That's strategy.
Galen Low: Yeah, absolutely. I'm taking this too literally right now, but this notion of delivery strategy, you know, your Amazon prime model, right?
And like the algorithms and digital technology and AI behind figuring out the most efficient path to deliver a thing within whatever they do, like two days, like that's, it's an insane thing for them to be able to do. But they've managed to find a way to do it. That's strategic, I think. Right? And then I think there's that leadership aspect of things.
And I love that you said pushed, pushed your way to the table. I really do like that. I, I do think it's, it resonates with me because yeah, that's probably my emo as well. But yeah, just getting that recognition as, as project managers that we are leaders. Are we like the CEOs? No, probably not. Or not yet.
But, but are we leading people? Are we leading a thing? Yeah, absolutely. You know, like who else is coaching this towards, you know, the, the end zone, right? Like, yeah, of course, of course we are. Of course we're leading the team.
Brett Harned: We're also coaching and influencing.
Galen Low: Yes.
Brett Harned: Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.
Galen Low: No, no, no, no. I think that's actually spot on, right? Coaching and influencing because we're probably not those people's boss, either.
Brett Harned: Absolutely not. In most cases, no.
Galen Low: We talked a little bit about the future of digital project management. We talked about the notion that, you know, everything digital technology will continue to expand and proliferate into people's lives.
But in a world where not everything becomes digital project management, like what does the future hold for digital project management and digital project managers?
Brett Harned: That's a really good question. You know, I'm not really sure. I think the interesting thing about digital is that we're kind of always following innovation in technology or chasing it in many instances, just kind of depending where you're working, right?
So I think that technology will essentially like continue to evolve this role. And I think, you know, well, going back to the first part of the conversation about kind of the differentiation between PM and digital PM, which again, don't think it's a big, a big difference, but I think that's kind of part of where we are.
It's looking at what's to come and figuring out how a team can approach it, how you can consider any potential roadblocks or issues that might come along with a new technology or a new way of doing things, or even just like a brand new idea. That's exciting to me. And to me, that's kind of where digital PM is going.
I think we've got the strategic, empathetic, communication focus side of things down. And now it's just about like, where is our industry going? What are the cool projects that people are building and how are the PMs facilitating that? Like, my example is ancient, but back when, I think it was like 2009. Back when, you know, responsive design was kind of like the new thing, I was working in the agency where responsive design was created.
So, you know, Ethan Marcotte wrote the book and people started coming to the agency wanting responsive sites. And we had to figure out how to make that happen. How do we, you know, technically it can be done, but when you're working with a client, how do you get them to approved designs and content hierarchy and all of that in different view ports and sizes?
And how do we do that within like the budget that they're already asking for? That's the kind of like to give, I'm only giving that example because like that's the kind of thing that we deal with. I'm sure there have been several kind of iterations of that like process that people now have down path.
And there are a lot of other kind of like pieces of technology and, and other things that are affecting the way that we're working. But to me that that's a part of it and that's when I'm, so I manage projects every once in a while now. I'll take like a project, a quarter or something like that. And I'm also looking at ways of evolving the practice.
Like I don't wanna be managing projects the way that I manage projects in 2009. I wanna find different and I don't wanna, my teams to be working on things in the same way either. I wanna innovate on process and try to be more efficient and find better ways to communicate. And I think that's where digital PM is going too, is like consistently trying to get better and pushing our teams to do better.
Galen Low: I love that answer, by the way, like looking to the future, figuring out new ways of working. The past couple years have shown us that that is, it's a thing that we'll need to have. It's a muscle that every organization needs to have. So, talking about risk management and getting things done. You combine those things and you look at the future.
Yes, I, I agree. That's a great direction for digital project managers to head.
Brett Harned: I agree. I agree.
Galen Low: Awesome. Brett, for folks who, enjoyed this conversation, hopefully everyone. How can they learn more about you, hear more from you?
Brett Harned: Yeah, so they can find my website at brettharned.com. I'm basically @brettharned on every social media network.
Yeah. I'm, I'm very original when it comes from the online presence. They are out there. And then yeah, Digital PM Summit. They can check out, that's coming in October. It'll be in Philadelphia, limited audience, but also some online portion of that. If people wanna do an online day of the event. And yeah, my book is Project Management for Humans.
That's on Amazon or through Rosenfeld Media. And Sprints and Milestones, it's coming out soon, hopefully. We're wrapping up recording the first set of interviews.
Galen Low: I feel like my question should have been where can people not find you?
Brett Harned: Oh, embarrassing.
Galen Low: No, you're good. That's good. That's good. Awesome.
Brett, listen, this has been really insightful. I, I enjoyed the conversation thoroughly. I'm sure our listeners did as well. And honestly, it's been an honor and a pleasure to have you on the show.
Brett Harned: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It's been great to get to know you and to kind of be pulled into thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
So I'm, I'm really excited about all of this. So, thanks again.
Galen Low: So, what do you think?
Is digital project management still a thing? Or is it just straight up project management now?
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