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Digital Project Management: From a Project Manager's perspective

Digital Project Management

Entering the creative world of Digital Project Management was exciting for me. I come from a traditional Project Management background and have managed enterprise projects with big budgets and high complexity. So, the first meeting I attended as a Digital Project Manager was a new experience - colored sticky notes all across the board, sharpies on the table, rough sketch of personas and more.

As per Gartner reports: "At the root of what’s transforming today’s business designs, industries, markets and organization is the blurring of boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds. As digital business integrates these worlds through emerging and strategic technologies, entirely new business models are created."

So, who is a Digital Project Manager(DPM)?

A traditional Project Manager ensures the delivery of a project on schedule, adhering to cost, cope and quality. They monitor the project from inception through delivery using Project Management tools, communicate with stakeholders, reports project status and keeps track of any showstoppers that might impact the project.

A DPM, manages projects in a similar manner as the traditional Project Managers but the projects are related to websites, mobile apps, videos, games, eCommerce, emails, social media campaigns etc. In creative agencies, DPMs might also be referred to as Producers, Project Strategists or Project Consultants.

According to a study by IDC(International Data Corporation), global digital transformation spending will reach $1.7 trillion by 2019, increasing 42 percent over 2017. According to the 2018 Gartner Digital Business Survey, 59 percent of midsize enterprises (MSEs) intend to pursue their digital ambitions by both optimizing and transforming their business for the digital era. The digital space and hence the demand for Digital Project Managers are gradually increasing.

What are the responsibilities that need to be handled by a DPM?

In the digital world, there is a symbiotic relationship between the PM and the creative team.

A Digital Project Manager would manage a project from inception to end like any traditional PM and collaborate extensively with the UX designers, architects, and UX developers. Though there is no cookie cutter template for the responsibilities that need to be handled by a DPM, in most cases it would include:

  1. Traditional PM responsibilities – Monitoring & reporting status of Project Cost, Scope, Schedule, communicating with stakeholders, risk/issue tracking

  2. QA – The Project Manager is the interface between the customer and technology team. The DPM being aware of customer expectations regarding the end product should perform a round of testing on the web/app before the team does a demo to the customer.

  3. Account Management – Interface with the customer. Understand the customer expectations and work with the creative team to translate customer expectations into a final deliverable. Help the team to prioritize the customer requirements. Communicate project status to the customer and also raise any red flag in case of any impedance to the project

  4. Involved in setting the digital roadmap for the organization – Though not always necessary, it helps if the digital PM is aware of the market trends in the digital world, peer performance, and digital technology trends. The digital PM will liaise with the UX designer, Information Architect, Content Managers, and developers – hence basic knowledge in the digital technology is an added plus.

The Digital Project Manager should not undermine their responsibilities and restrict themselves only to facilitation. As more and more organizations switch from traditional to digital, we will need confident DPMs to manage such projects. Digital Project Managers should not be a mere facilitator but a linchpin for the organization, providing a framework which can translate the customer vision into a reality.

Digital projects can be managed through different methodologies like Agile or waterfall. It has been observed that many organizations are using Agile/Scrum methods for their digital projects since it allows the customer to get an interim feel of the project and also allows the flexibility to incorporate feedback from a customer in successive iterations rather than waiting till the end.

What are some of the key phases of a digital project?

The phases of a digital project is similar to those of any traditional project, but there is a huge focus on the research phase. Research phase helps the customer in setting up more realistic requirements that aligns with the overall project goals and customer vision

  1. InitiationThis phase involves the first meet and greet with the customer, understanding the customer expectations and goals and come up with high-level requirements. The Project Manager introduces to the customer the project team that would be working on the initiative, their capabilities and the process that will be followed during the course of the project

  2. Definition & Planning – Detailed requirements gathering and analysis is performed during this phase. A face to face meeting between the customer and the technology team helps in gathering requirements. Creating a strategy for testing, communication, marketing, and training is often covered as part of the phase

  3. Research phase comprises of various activities like

  • User interviews

  • Focus group formation

  • Content gap analysis

  • Surveys

  • Peer analysis

  • Analytics tracking

  • Creating Personas

In this phase a lot of emphasis is given on understanding the user journey and user experience. This phase will involve data collection from user experience, peer or market analysis and data analytics.

At the completion of research phase, the research document is presented to the customer. For projects done in Agile methodology, I would normally cover phases (1) – (3) in Sprint 0 phase. This is a phase before the actual Sprints start. These inputs are used by the project team to refine the requirements and it also helps in prioritizing the requirements during subsequent Sprint Planning sessions

4. Design and development – Wire framing, mood boarding, and prototype design are performed as part of this phase. The Information architect would work with the Content Writers to create a content plan/strategy and the SEO plan. The UX designers would create design prototypes based on the wireframes. The developers would then build their code based on these prototypes It would always be good to go through at least 2 design iterations before getting customer sign off on the design and then build the code base

5. Implementation/Deployment – The code is tested after build completion, both through internal QA(Quality Assurance) team and external user acceptance. On getting a sign off on the code through a formal User Acceptance Testing(UAT), the code is ready to be deployed in production. Final Launch communications for pre and post delivery are prepared and the code is formally handed over for deployment

6. Closure – Once the code is implemented in production, the customer gives an official sign off. The project related documents(design changes, IA related documents etc) are all archived. The style guide is delivered to the customer. A Post-launch survey would be initiated to solicit customer feedback.​ In certain cases, customer might want to do a usability study after the project goes live.

So, what are some of the skill sets that a Digital Project Manager should possess?

In addition to the basic Project Management skill sets like communication management, risk management, cost, scope, and quality management, a DPM should possess some additional skillset specific to the digital world.

  1. Project Management tools – DPM should be comfortable with Project Management tools like JIRA, Microsoft Project, Trello, Team Foundation Server etc. Today, a lot of Project Management tools are on the cloud, these help in better collaboration between teams that are globally dispersed

  2. Content Management System(CMS) – A DPM should know how to create, edit and publish content in a CMS. The basic knowledge of a CMS is good to have skill set for a DPM. While implementing a CMS,a content strategist will emphasize on concepts of reusable content, taxonomy, metadata, workflows, and governance. A Project Manager of such initiative should be able to work with the content strategist, helping the team in selecting the right tool and in design the implementation.

  3. Analytics – All Project Managers should be comfortable in extracting and analyzing data. Google Analytics reports can be used as is for interpretation. I like extracting the data in Excel format and then applying macros to come up with reports that I specifically need for my customers. Google provides training on analytics through Analytics Academy

  4. HTML/CSS/JavaScript – Though this is not a mandate but it is good to be able to understand basic HTML/CSS/ JavaScript. You can learn the basics at Codeacademy

  5. Content writing is not necessarily a skill set required by Digital Project Managers, but it is always good to have

  6. SEO awareness – This helps the Project Manager to come up with recommendations for customers to help them improve their page rankings and ensure the customer products and services can be easily found during a search by Google or other search engines. Among many SEO training available, you can go through Udemy provided free SEO training

  7. Awareness of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook etc. helps the Project Manager to give recommendations to the customer to direct the traffic to the web platform and helps them increase conversions and revenue for their website

Today, it is very important for us to engage consumers through digital media rather than simply pushing some arbitrary content or services. Consumers have become more savvy at ignoring ubiquitous content. Instead, customer engagement requires providing valuable content that meets user needs. Hence Digital Project Managers should embrace this change of mindset and focus on up skilling themselves to efficiently manage digital projects and be part of this wider digital transformation initiative.

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