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How To Build & Scale An Effective Project Management Team

how to build scale digital project management team

Chances are good that when you realize you need to scale digital project management within your agency, you’re either receiving a flood of new projects and you need to get a handle on it – or you’ve been having challenges managing your existing workload and have over-budget projects, diminishing quality of work, and stressed client and team relationships. In either scenario, it’s time to get started setting up a PMO (Project Management Office) to build up your digital project management team.

I often see teams jump into creating process, tools and templates. I get it — these are tangible deliverables. Creating them can make you feel like you’re instantly solving or building something, and you are, but that approach alone is short-sighted. I recommend also taking a long-term view that starts with what a successful digital project management department looks like and then planning for how you’ll get there.

Scaling a digital project management team within your agency

There are 5 P’s to focus on when setting up a PMO or revamping a digital project management department:

1. Purpose Bring stakeholders together to agree on why you’re scaling digital project management.

2. People Ensure you have the right people, with the right skills and experience, for the right salaries.

3. Partnerships Identify the in-house partnerships and team structure your digital project managers will need to be successful.

4. Process Plan out the processes, tools and templates you’ll need to ensure digital project managers deliver consistent value across accounts and projects.

5. Performance Monitor the rollout and make improvements over time.

planning sheet template download

#1. Purpose

Articulating the business case for why you need to set up your PMO or scale the digital project management is an important first step. You’re about to embark on an initiative that has a high cost of time, effort and expense and the outcome will impact many team members and client relationships. Additionally, if you’re not careful to consider your agency’s creative and social culture, the entire plan can implode.

Start by bringing together the people who are accountable for the health of client relationships, profit margins, quality of work, and agency culture. As a group, establish a shared vision for digital project management in the agency:

  1. What is the purpose of having digital project management in our agency?
  2. How will digital project management help the agency meet its goals?
  3. What values should our digital project managers embody to support our culture?
  4. What outcomes should we expect from scaling and how will we measure the success of those outcomes?
  5. What will our value proposition be for our digital project management discipline?

Answers will of course vary, but here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:

1. What is the purpose of having digital project management in our agency?

To produce successful projects by reducing risks and issues through the planning, organizing and management of all project activities.

2. How will digital project management help the agency meet its growth goals?

By increasing the volume, velocity, value and quality of projects we deliver.

3. What values should our digital project managers embody to support our culture?

They should: lead with vision and reason; plan with empathy; inspire action toward client outcomes; challenge groupthink; solve problems through critical thinking; empower and support teams and clients; contribute value to their projects.

4. What outcomes should we expect from scaling project management and how will we measure the success of those outcomes?

Some key performance indicators you can use are:

  • Increased quality of work
  • Increased number of profitable projects over prior year
  • Increased avg. project profit margin over the prior year
  • Improved project on-time rate
  • Improved project turnaround time
  • Higher volume of projects delivered over prior year
  • Increased value created for the business ($) based on avg. profitability and increased volume of projects
  • Client happiness (via a Net Promoter Score)
  • Employee happiness (via an Employee Net Promoter Score)
5. What will our value proposition be for our digital project management discipline?

Our digital project managers keep your project costs low, quality of work high and make sure you’re informed of all important details at each step of the way.

#2. People

Establishing leadership for digital project management is as critical a piece of the project management puzzle as defining who would make a good digital project manager. Start thinking about this piece only after you feel you have a well-defined Purpose so that you choose people who will mesh well with your vision for the group.

DPM Leadership

For group leadership, it’s best to promote from within whenever possible. Make sure of the following:

  • Only one person should be accountable for the success of the digital project management group.
  • Their workload should allow them to dedicate around 50-70% of their time toward mentoring and supporting their group.
  • They should be responsible for promoting professional development and internal knowledge sharing.

Digital Project Managers

Regardless of how busy you are, take a cautious approach to hiring new digital project managers. Bringing on someone who doesn’t embody the values you defined or without the right experience will cost you later in time, money and turnover.

Creating a digital project management skills matrix is a good way to ensure you hire or groom the right team within your staffing budget. A skills matrix breaks down the different skills and abilities a digital project manager should have specific to your environment. Create a different matrix for entry-, mid-level and senior DPMs and give each a salary range to match. As you interview new DPMs, use the matrix as a tool to determine their level of experience and the salary range they will fall into. You can also use this as a goal setting tool that assists them in planning for how to bridge any gaps in their experience.

Skills matrix template for digital project managers downloadWith the speed that technology evolves, professional development is highly important for digital project managers. Unfortunately, I see many agencies downgrade its importance. The result is that they limit the agency’s ability to innovate as well as to attract and retain talent.

#3. Partnerships

Digital project managers touch almost every department in an agency. From sales and project handoffs through to finance for project billing. They influence the outcomes that others produce. Likewise, others will influence the outcomes that DPMs produce. These are the in-house partnerships your digital project managers will need to establish for their day-to-day work.

Map out these in-house partnerships because you will need to tend to these relationships and clearly define responsibilities. Not doing so will come back to haunt you in the form of finger pointing and politics. Problems with cross-functional collaboration are something I see often.

One tool you can use to ensure clarity around responsibilities is a RACI matrix. RACI stands for:

  • Responsible: who is responsible for doing the work of a task?
  • Accountable: who is accountable for ensuring the work gets done with the right results? There should only ever be one accountable role.
  • Consulted: who should be consulted during the task?
  • Informed: who should be informed about the progress or outcome of the task?

For each step or deliverable in your process, make note of who should be responsible, accountable, consulted or informed.

RACI Template for digital project managers downloadMoving to a cross-functional fixed-team structure, keeping teams small, and closing any physical proximity gaps between team members can also help you scale. This type of team structure solves many of the issues we’ve already addressed in this post. Your DPMs will also find that they are able to manage more projects with less effort if they’re always working with the same small team in the same physical location. This is a big topic, so I’ll save more detail for another post.

#4. Process

Task your growing digital project management team with streamlining and standardizing the processes, workflow, tools and templates they use to manage their digital projects. This will ensure a consistent level of quality of work and ROI across projects. It will also speed up your onboarding of new DPMs.

Standardize your processes, workflow, tools and templates for:

  1. Scoping and estimating
  2. Budget management
  3. Schedule management
  4. Resource management
  5. Scope management
  6. Team management
  7. Client management
  8. Risk management
  9. Communication
  10. Collaboration

Find a cloud-based workflow automation tool that can help you streamline from scoping through to your post-project retrospective review. These types of tools offer an impressive ROI by dramatically speeding up delivery, improving communication, reducing the risk of misplacing critical project information, and more.

#5. Performance

As your digital project managers spread their wings throughout the agency, you should begin tracking what’s working well and opportunities for improvement. Pull out your notes from when you established the vision for digital project management in the agency.

  1. Has the digital project management department been living up to its purpose?
  2. How has digital project management helped the agency meet its goals?
  3. How are digital project managers supporting or strengthening our culture?
  4. Has the digital project management department been delivering on their outcomes?
  5. Has digital project management been living up to their value proposition for clients?

Summary

The results that come from scaling digital project management within your agency can be a game changer. Take the long-term view that I outlined for quick and impactful results with minimal headaches. It requires the investment of some upfront effort and thinking, but it will be worth it. As your department begins to show the agency what they can do, your agency will quickly start humming like a well-oiled machine.

What Do You Think?

Did I miss something? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Brian Kessman

About Brian Kessman

Brian is the founder and principal consultant of Lodestar Digital. Lodestar is a growth and operations consulting group that helps digital and creative agencies fix and build their digital services. Prior to founding Lodestar, Brian spent over 18 years managing large-scale digital and creative projects for brands such as: Lenovo, Nationwide Insurance, Travelocity, Burger King, California Pizza Kitchen, Cars.com, HP, HBO, NBC, USA Networks, UFC, San Diego Zoo, and a multitude of colleges and universities. Brian is also the Director of Product Management for inMotionNow where he leads the vision, strategy and development for their flagship product, inMotion, a workflow management software suite for in-house marketing and creative teams. Brian is also an FWA jury member.

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