Hi Sam. So, what’s your background, how did you get into project management – and why digital?
My background is languages; I did a degree at the University of West of England in European Studies, which actually translated into Economics and Business, with a European Languages slant. As part of that I worked in Berlin for a year. Whilst there I worked for a pharmaceutical company in their HR department, managing websites – particularly the personnel side of things. It sort of went from there; came back, finished my degree and got a job at Nomensa, that just happened to be digital.
Can you describe a typical day as a Project Manager?
That’s a tricky question as I’d say there is no typical day. I’m list-orientated so it usually begins with me looking at the updated list from the evening before, but more often that not it involves conference calls with clients where we discuss output. That could be wireframes or discussing a technical build for example. I then have a stand-up with the team at 10.00. The main aim is to find out what they achieved yesterday, what they’re doing today, and what they might have issues with. Sometimes I’m reactionary to what comes out of that, and other times I speak with individuals afterwards to agree what we can deliver today. Are we ready? Have we booked in QAs? Things like that.
What do you enjoy about being a DPM?
Every day is different, but I get a lot from the team. I’ve learnt a lot doing this job; so many skills, just by way of working on different projects. So I’ve learnt about HTML, CSS – you know, all the different tools we use. Because I’ve got a languages background and mindset, sometimes it all just feels like I’m developing a different language. I get a lot out of that.
You’ve worked with a few agencies over the years. How do digital agencies successfully manage their projects?
It depends on the clients you’re dealing with. Some clients are really agile, in which case we run sprints. Some clients are more ‘waterfall’, perhaps due to internal structure. But the majority are a combination of both. Set-up of the project might be very much waterfall, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of phases, and what we’re delivering, it can be a more agile process in what’s achievable by the end of that phase. You can then refine as you go along with the learnings, discussions and output that goes with that.
Can you tell us some best practises you use across clients and projects?
There’s best practice in terms of dealing with clients; how we speak with them, how we manage their expectations. There’s documenting calls, sticking to agreements, as well as how we manage ourselves internally. Because we tend to be fast-paced, we have people out of the office at any given time. We need to be able to guarantee that someone can quickly find all the information. So if we have all our project structure set up consistently internally, someone can say I’m picking this up; where will I find key information, the brief, the agreement – the statement of work?
What advice would you have for an aspiring project manager?
Expect the unexpected? Document everything! You don’t always have to be like “On 3rd March at 3.20 so-and-so said this.” It’s just about key information being available. Then just generally being an open, pragmatic, approachable person. If you’re working on a project and someone doesn’t feel comfortable coming to you; when there are issues – you need to be the kind of person people feel happy to come to when they’re worried about something. The other thing is being able to look at a problem from an external point of view. Being able to look at the pros and cons; being rational when you do and looking at it from the client’s perspective.
What projects have you particularly enjoyed recently?
Because I’ve only been at Spicerack for a year and a half, I would actually say I’ve enjoyed every single project. They all vary. There’s something to learn from every single one. We’re doing apps, and technical data management – there’s just so much. Across the board, particularly with this team, I’ve just learnt a lot on every single project.
How do you manage and motivate teams?
I try to help people feel and understand they’ve got ownership of what they’re doing. I’m not big on micro-management; I like people to be able to feel under control. If I’m too busy dictating what has to be built, we’re not going to get the creative expression from that individual – if I’m containing that too much. Also I’m not technical. I have technical understanding. I am not a designer, or a creative. I’m here to support them.
Have you seen any notable shifts over the last 10 years in the digital agency landscape?
That very much has to do with how we’re managing projects. When I first started it was very much ‘waterfall’. We had set milestones, and delivered to those all the time. It made projects feel long. We’ve become more flexible, and obviously agile. Teams – creatives and developers – are having to be more cross-skilled, rather than being very much “I am a front-end developer / I am a back-end developer.” Because of changes in technology, people have to be so much more aware of how a website might look on a phone – or content for example on Instagram; how does it all translate into these different mediums?
What apps do you use most?
I don’t personally like Facebook. I don’t like the forum side of it, where people can be bullies or over-opinionated. I’m very much a person who feels – judge not today. What you do is your thing, it’s not my business, and I don’t want to see other people being judged for their life decisions. I use a lot of apps though. Not sure I have a favourite one. I have 2 children, and the communication around what they’re doing on a daily basis is becoming really difficult. Emails for one thing, WhatsApp for another, Class list for another. But I’m quite competitive by nature, so I have my Apple Watch and I like to monitor my activities – my steps and that sort of thing.
What music do you listen to?
I have a very varied music taste. One day I might be listening to Justin Bieber, the next day I might be listening to Korn – the next might be De La Soul. It really depends how I’m feeling that day. My entire music collection is filled with situations, circumstances, places in my life. So I’ve been in a shop queue, and I think ‘I love this song!’, so I Shazam it – and then I’ve got it. I’ve lived in France, and in Munich and Berlin. I lived in Brighton for a while. So my music is full of memories of places I’ve lived.
What books do you like?
I tend not to read physical books. By the time I get into bed, the thought of sitting up in bed and reading a book isn’t for me. So I listen to audio books. I like crime, and thrillers. I’m also really keen on books where I don’t have to think about anything! Your Katie Fords – your rom-coms. I need some lightness in my life, where you already know where the story is going. You don’t have to think too much about it, especially good if you’ve had a difficult or frustrating day.
Finally, what keeps you busy outside of work?
Other than my 2 children (I’ve got a 3 year old and a 6 year old), I play Softball. I’m really into that. I just like to get out. I grew up in Dartmoor, so I love going on walks. I love the countryside, and going to the beach. I’m a keen snowboarder. I met my husband whilst doing his ski season in France. I used to love cooking. I was on the fence about my degree, or whether to train to be a chef. Then when I made my decision about university, I completely fell out of love with cooking. I’d cook dinner and then I’d go and do revision or something, and I kept burning everything! Now I’m more like – I’m going to make this because I have to; I have to feed the family or whatever. But there are days when I think ‘It’s Sunday – I’ll get some recipes’, but times that happens are few and far between!