As a Producer or Project Manager at digital agencies, we’re expected to manage a wide variety of digital projects: from advertising to mobile apps, games, tools and web builds. Throw into the mix voice-recognition, VR, complex data and limitless other innovations and there’s always something new to learn – but never master – before you have to move onto the next new thing.
As a freelancer for many years, this was only amplified as I’d be parachuted into projects halfway through, often at crisis point and with little handover from time-poor colleagues. You quickly learn to gather the crucial info you need, assess the risks, figure out how the agency expects you to work and how best to approach that particular type of project.
At one level, a Project Manager should be able to manage any project and apply their project management know-how to gauge effort over time, identify dependencies, manage budget and time spent, assess the obvious and not-so-obvious risks and gain the confidence of a wide range of stakeholders. When a project is going well and the team knows what they’re doing, it’s broadly administrative and possible to keep things on track. I’ve certainly done this, most notably rolling out a nationwide digital telephony system when, frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time.
But when a project isn’t going so well, or a team needs greater guidance and problem solving, it’s not enough to skim the surface. A truly effective project manager needs to really understand what’s being made and how it should be made, to know how to deliver it effectively. This is challenging without the benefit of repetition and refinement – and agency land is rife with jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none.
It took me a full year to decide to go permanent at Fat Beehive, in part because I wasn’t sure that making Drupal and WordPress websites would be enough variety for me. Sure, there are other types of projects from time to time, but our core business are, and will likely always be, these open source websites. Three years later, what I may have lost in terms of the variety of projects, I’ve more than made up for in expertise of a few. Rather than skimming the surface, I’ve gone deep and now consider myself an expert in the production of Drupal and WordPress websites. I certainly don’t know it all and there’s much to learn everyday, so the journey continues.
With this expertise has come a greater sense of accomplishment than I realised. In fact, research into human happiness rates the development of expertise amongst the key contributors to one’s sense of self-worth. We’re happiest when we have meaningful relationships, and we’re more fulfilled when we have expertise in our chosen field. The research tells us that it’s not enough to just skim the surface to find fulfilment and I, for one, can vouch for that.