January 13, 2016

Lessons for Junior Project Management in a Creative Edmonton Agency

Project Management – The “P” is for People

I once had a writing professor tell me that my ideas were too Disney, suggesting that my work lacked a certain complexity – I was aggrieved. It’s funny then, that while learning about the complexities of managing a project, I came across this quote from good ‘ol Walt himself: “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them towards a certain goal.”

As a new Project Administrator, on the track to becoming a Project Manager (PM), I’m learning the ropes (think high wire!) of the fast paced agency life. And after only two months in my new role, I have come to realize that there is more to managing a project than the “golden triangle,” the five D’s, and waterfall vs. Agile Style, because the piece of the pie that takes the most time in my day is checking in with my team and supporting their progress.

I am still learning the finesse of balancing it all, but what the balancing act has taught me so far is that I am nothing without my team. To ensure the success of a project, I have to ensure my team’s success, and this means keeping track of a few things.

4 Tips for a New Project Manager


In agency life, you will find a lot of type A perfectionists. They love what they do and want to give every project 200% every time. However, most project budgets don’t allow for this constant tweaking of already-perfectly functioning designs and modules. As a writer, I understand this drive to produce the best of the best. I can sympathize with my team members. As T.S. Eliot once said, “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” Each work is a piece of ourselves and what we – creatives – don’t always see is the moment when our work is done and it is time to part with that piece of ourselves.

Learning to balance the time assigned to a project with the time my team members need to create their work is difficult, and because I am new, much like a circus act (remember the high wire I mentioned earlier?), I have had to learn how to gently pull the plug on a team member’s work in order to show them that their work is complete and allow the next step of a project to commence.

Communication Styles

Even if you’ve only worked with one colleague before, you know that personalities can be wide and varied. Different personalities mean different communication styles. With our team of about 25, there is a bit of a learning curve when trying to figure out how to best approach each team member.
Some people prefer instant messaging over emails or face-to-face meetings because it creates less of an interruption. Other people despise written communication and prefer face-to-face discussions to save time. Others prefer a mix of both. Some people prefer to receive feedback over coffee, while others prefer to have it messaged to them so they have time to process before facing you to ask questions.

None of these tactics are more effective than another, and none are wrong. But what this means for a PM is that you have to keep track of who prefers what style of communication. The last thing I want to do is create a delay in someone’s progress because I interrupted his or her train of thought.

Work Habits

I work really well in a small space with absolutely no distractions. I am that eccentric one often found sitting on a comfy spot on the floor in the corner with books built up around her, noise-cancelling headphones on, and a baseball cap so I can’t see anyone walk by. It’s extreme, but it’s how I work best.

At Top Draw, we work in an open office concept. I can see everyone from where I sit with only a slight swerve of my chair. This environment is not optimal for my own progress, but it is for many of my team members. Because the creative process involves brainstorming and feedback, it’s helpful to have an open space where a quick run-down to a colleague and thumbs-up (or down) from them can set you on the right track with only a few minutes of time used.

Regardless of whether your office is a closed- or open-concept, a PM needs to be conscious and courteous of each team member’s work habits. One of the fastest, easiest ways to do this is to ask each person how they work best. Trust me, they will be glad you asked. Besides finding out what you need to know, this shows respect for each team member and helps to build a healthy, communicative working relationship.

The Creative Mind

Nurturing the creativity of my team members is just as important as maintaining a project budget and schedule. Without these incredibly thoughtful, insightful, curious minds, my projects would do no better than simply abiding by templates.

By managing my team’s time and being considerate of their communication styles and work habits, I am forging a strong working relationship built on respect, trust and confidence. This relationship is how I can nurture the creative minds on my project team and, in the end, nurture a project from conception to completion.

Know What’s Next
from Top Draw