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Thursday, February 11, 2010

PM Leaders - Areas of Greatest Challenge: Survey Results

I sent out a survey to some of the industry’s foremost interactive and integrated agency Project Management leaders to get at some of the major challenges that confront, not only PM’s but agencies in general. IMHO, these leaders are in a unique position to assess what it takes to make the ecosystem work and what makes things grind to a halt or worse. If you'd like to take the survey, see the link at the bottom of this post.

If being a PM is one of the toughest jobs in the biz, leading a PM group can be a real bear. Like other discipline leads within an agency, the Group Director of PM/Delivery or the Executive Producer has no real peers inside. S/he is faced with a learning curve that can go long stretches without gaining much altitude, and has responsibilities that pull in many competing directions. One lead told me that, “I gave up the illusion of making everyone happy long ago. I figure, if everyone’s just a bit, and equally pissed, and trust in my judgment is more-or-less intact, that’s about as good as it gets."

My hat’s off to these leaders and am thankful to those who took the time to share their perspectives for this survey. Although your successes don’t always yield overt evidence, the absence of your experienced hands often does (PM Success, Where’s the Evidence).

Results from the survey are not necessarily surprising but are illuminating none the less. The overall survey explored the following areas:
  • Variables that provide the most challenges (e.g. timing, pricing, client communication, etc.)
  • Stakeholders who provide the most challenges (e.g. creative team, account team, clients, etc.)
  • Areas of PM skill/responsibility that PM’s find the most challenging (e.g. tool usage, being too strident, being too passive)
This post features results and commentary on first topic: Areas of Greatest Challenge to project managers within agencies Subsequent posts will address the other areas.



Timing
No news here that Timing, which a full 88% of PM leads, ranked as either Consistently or Often providing a major challenge came out on top. Compressed timelines are always going to be part of this game.  Actually getting more time for assignments is going to be tough. Using available time more effectively is where PM’s can have the most impact. A few thoughts on this topic include:
  • Improve the briefing process
    This upstream event and the documentation surrounding it happen early enough to ripple through the entire process and a can be traced as the source of many common errors
  • Present solutions that can actually be achieved in the time available
    It’s simplistic to lay the blame on, “Creatives Gone Wild”. PM’s have a responsibility to drive a team and client to put great ideas through the reality-filter of time – just watch out for getting labeled as a No-(Wo)Man
  • Be critical of your Project Plans
    Just because you can make MS Project land on a date, doesn’t mean the work will. If you’re project plan has too many 1-hour durations or -2 day lags, it probably isn’t going hold up very well.
  • Consider phased releases
    Not the way they are often landed on – as a reaction to circling the drain towards your deadline the days before launch, but as an actual plan at the outset

Money
Again, no surprise that timing’s buddy, money is near the top of the list. Once their backs are against the wall, clients or agency execs will often try to throw money, which often means bodies, at an issue. This approach has a pretty unfavorable curve of diminishing returns.  Although, this does come up, I wouldn’t worry about that situation too much, as another common challenge, marked at a combined Consistent or Often ranking of 59%, is Pricing.

What puzzles me is the relatively low 17% of PM Leads that indicated Timing as only Occasionally a challenge and the remarkably high 41% that indicated that Pricing is only Occasionally or Seldom an issue. I’d love to know where they work, who their Account Management partners are or what’s in their secret sauce.    

Communication
Of the 3 areas addressed, Internal Communications, Client Communications and 3rd Party Communications. Internal and Client Communications offer the most consistently identified areas of challenge. This too is an area where the project manager can have a substantial impact. Structured communications in a variety of media such as, Official Project Documents (e.g. SOW’s and Contact Reports), Emails, IM’s, Project Plans, Budgets, and PowerPoint and verbally are critical to PM success. This is one of the major areas where PM leaders can train and influence the efficacy of their teams.

The surprise in these areas was that a full 36% of the respondents reported that 3rd Party Communications was only Seldom a challenge area. More power to you. The rising complexity of deliverables and the amount of subcontracting by bigger agencies to smaller, specialist vendors would suggest that this would be a growing issue. Perhaps the experience and quality of individuals who have begun to populate these specialist organizations has added some stability to the ecosystem.

If you’re interested in adding your $.02 on the general Areas of Greatest Challenge for PM's as well as a couple of other related topics, please do so here, (it's just 3 questions) and/or do so in comments to this post.

Thanks for playing!



5 comments:

  1. You don't discuss Quality in any depth and your PM Leaders don't seem to think it's a big problem. Some agencies make so many errors that they should pay clients. Issues with quality are one of the things that put agencies in a bind and cause the other issues you mention like time and money.

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  2. Good point. Quality and related issues, especially QA are big topics for agencies. Many of which don't even have proper QA teams or professional proof readers - sadly, the PM's, who may be more qualified than many, but not qualified enough, often take these tasks on.

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  3. I'm guessing Anonymous may be on the Clients' end :)
    From the Agency perspective I would like to say that maybe it's the other way around - quality may be in danger at times due to unrealistic time/budget request from clients. I've had teams that sometimes worked through the night trying to keep up with a crazy timelines. Crazy labor and low team-moral which can be a result of unrealistic clients requests may lead to those errors and hurt quality.
    Maybe the surveyed PMs marked quality to be less of a challenge because they believe in their teams and the quality they deliver. Also, quality IMO in comparison to the other areas in the survey is the most subjective.
    In any case, I've enjoyed reading this post.

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  4. Thanks for your comment, LH. Glad you enjoyed the post. I agree that quality is probably the most subjective variable in the survey.

    I've always had mixed feelings about the events that follow clients' communicating unrealistic budgets & timing. If an agency takes on the assignment and doesn't manage expectations, they become complicit in the delusion.

    Pushing back is one of the toughest skills an Account Manager or Project Manager has to master. Coming up with alternatives is always better than a cold, "no" - See: Client Management - The answer is, "maybe"
    http://pm2pm.blogspot.com/2009/01/client-management-answer-is-maybe.html

    AM's & PM's working as an aligned team and engaging the client as far upstream as possible are the best ways for agencies to avoid the crush and the unfortunate moral-drain that you mention, as well as related issues like: burnout and poor talent-retention that plague so many agencies.

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  5. Thanks for taking the time to discuss that, I really feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.
    http://www.officetimer.com/

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