The Importance of Digital Project Managers with Brett Harned and Paul Boag

Hi, this is Brett Harned. Welcome to PM Matters, a
TeamGantt interview series that raises the voice of the
community and explores what matters to us. Welcome to another
episode of PM Matters. This is Brett Harned, and I'm
here with Paul Boag today. [INAUDIBLE] Paul is a– [INTERPOSING VOICES] Sorry, so I've immediately
messed up your recording, haven't I? Not a problem at all. So I'm just going to
introduce you really quickly. Paul has become a friend
over the past year, which has been great.

He's a user experience
consultant, speaker, mentor, and an author from
Dorset, England. He helps organizations all
over the world use the web, social media, and
mobile to engage users. Paul is not a project
manager, but somehow has to come close to
the digital PM community over the past year. So, Paul, thanks so
much for joining today. I really appreciate it. I'm so grateful that you made
it clear I was not a project manager because
I really couldn't project manage anything
if my life depended on it. So I had a question about that. Aside from the fact
that a few of us kind of drug you into our
events because we followed you for some time and really
admired some of the work that you've done in
the digital community, what is it about project
management or project managers that matters to you? For me, they, I think,
are the– what's the term from Star Wars–
the last, best hope.

I look at a lot
of organizations. And there are
fundamental changes that these organizations need to
make in culture, in approaches to digital. You know, most of the clients
I work with don't really understand or get digital. And they need to fundamentally
reshape the way they operate. And who's going to do that? Is it going to be the
senior management team? Well, no, because
they don't really understand or get digital. Is it going to be the
marketing department? Well, yeah, they've got
a good understanding of digital, but only from an
external-client perspective.

They don't understand the
full breadth of digital. Is it going to be
designers or developers? Well, no, because they
can't speak business speak. So who does that leave? Digital project
managers, and so that's why I'm so interested
in you as community is because I think
in your hands lies the future of many
organizations, which sounds very melodramatic. But I like to think it's true. And it makes you
guys feels important, so that's the main thing. Well, it sure does. I mean, there's a huge vote
of confidence in someone like you saying that. And I know that I
appreciate it, and I know a lot of other people do. I think the role of project
manager for some reason lacks a bit of credibility
in some organizations. And I'm wondering
if you've seen that. Yeah, I have seen it. And I think it's partly
because nobody as a child goes, I want to grow up to
be a project manager.

It hasn't got that kind
of sex appeal to it. People do grow up and go, you
know, I want to be a designer. Or I want to code things
because there's films. You get films made about people
hacking and coding and stuff. You don't get films of
people opening spreadsheets. Do you, really? [SNORING] Yeah, so I think
that kind of slightly undermines the
profession but that doesn't make it any less
vital to business success. The truth is, I
think a lot of people think digital project
management basically boils down to organization. And most people think,
oh, I can organize stuff. I, on the other hand, don't
think I can organize anything.

But most people think
they're relatively organized. What they're missing is that
digital project managers need this huge swathe, this
very broad kind of understanding of lots and lots
of different areas. And they have to be able to
communicate with the designer one day, developer the next
one– well, in the same day, not multiple days. Content people,
marketers, businessmen, they have to have this
very broad understanding. If all people see
is, oh, they're the ones that
organize stuff, then they're missing out on
really the majority of what a digital project manager does. Right, completely agree. So what do you think can
be done to kind of overcome that sort of point of
view within organizations about the role? To be honest, I think you've
started to do some of it already.

By you, I mean you,
personally, actually. You've been
instrumental in helping to build a bit of a community
around digital project management. There were entire
conferences dedicated to designers and developers
for years and years. Only now are we
seeing conferences about digital project
management, largely thanks to you and a few
other key individuals. And I think that's
a big part of it. A colleague of mine, a
guy called Pete Boston, he came to one of
your conferences. And that was the first digital
project management conference he ever went to.

And suddenly, he became
proud of his job. He became proud of what he
did and what he contributed. And so it's almost like a
self-esteem issue, really. You know, designers
and developers are incredibly pretentious
about what they do, and I can say that
as someone that comes from a design background. And me, I've got the word
consultant in my job title, so obviously I think I'm
the center of the universe. But most project managers don't
see themselves in that way. They see themselves as
facilitators to what other people do, and
that is so not true. You're actually, I
think, business leaders. And I think it's
about realizing that. And I think meetups and
conferences and websites dedicated to digital project
management and people standing up and saying, I'm
kind of proud of what I do, and it's complicated,
and it's difficult, and people need to take
that seriously, I think that would turn things around. So I think you need to convince
yourselves before you can convince the rest of the world. I could not agree with you more.

I think so much of it comes
from your own personal sort of feeling about
the role and how you conduct the
work within the role and how you build relationships
with people on your time. And I think it is
about facilitating and all of those sort of maybe
boring aspects of the job, but it also can be
incredibly exciting when you listen to it
through sort of the lens that you've run it through. And I think it depends
on the words you use. Yeah, if you use the
word, facilitation, it sounds deadly dull. But actually what you're
talking about is leadership. You're not talking
about management, right? I've got a bit of a problem
with the term project manager, because a manager is essentially
somebody that kind of sits on people and says, do this. And do that. And you need to do
it by this date. And that is dull and also
really not very necessary when you're dealing
with professionals that really know their stuff. What you actually
are are leaders. You know, you're facilitating
the people that work with you.

You're motivating them,
infusing them, directing them, encouraging them, and that's
a cool and exciting job. I agree. I also have seen a
bit of a movement within the digital industry
in sort of shifting the title a little bit. So I've seen more people
being called producers. I've seen the title, project
strategist, thrown out there. It's something that
I've toyed with, for sure, because
it kind of widens the responsibility or at
least the perception of what your responsibility is. So I wouldn't be surprised if
that shift continues, and we see the role, at least
in our industry, change. Traditional project management
is very much project management. And if you read some of the
rulebooks or the guidebooks on how to do those things,
they are very process based and pretty stiff,
whereas in digital, we do a lot more than that. We're dealing with
more fun projects. We're able to make
a lot more mistakes and recover from
them a lot easier than if you are managing
a project that's on a construction site or
something that's really huge.

So I think that there's
also a lot of ways that project managers can
contribute because our industry is still fairly young. So it's exciting to
see where it goes. I wanted to talk a little
bit about your book, Digital Adaptation. Can you share a
little bit about it and what it's about
with our viewers and maybe kind of
what's in it for PMs? Sure, so the book,
really, was born out of a frustration in me. So for years, I ran
a digital agency, and we were delivering
great stuff to our clients.

pexels photo 4467857

We were delivering great designs
that were then integrated by internal teams, while we
were doing the full stack and delivering that. And then they would
run the websites. And without fail, although we
were delivering great work, slowly everything we did kind
of fell apart because there were just so many internal reasons
within the organizations we were working with why
they weren't succeeding. They weren't mentally
in a place to be able to deal with digital. They were very process driven,
as you've already said. They were very stuck in almost
Industrial Revolution thinking, you know, of kind of mass
media, mass market kind of ways of perceiving the world.

And so Digital
Adaptation is basically a book that talks
about how businesses need to teach
change, how they need to restructure their approach
to digital and rethink the role of their
organization in today's world. How do you better serve
the connected consumer, these people that rely
on digital to interact with your organization? So I talk a lot about
that kind of stuff. And it is very much a book that
is ideal for project managers. I would confess that
when I wrote the book, I didn't have project
managers in my head. I was thinking
primarily of writing to senior executive teams
in large organizations. But truth be told,
as I've already said, I think project managers
are the ones that really make stuff happen. And so a book like this would
certainly kind of give you a strong business
case about why you need to make changes
within your organization and make a lot of
suggestions about where to start in that process.

So if you're in an
organization where you're a little bit frustrated
that they're not really getting digital,
that they're not moving fast enough to
adapt to the changes that digital have
brought them, yeah, I think Digital Adaptation would
be an encouraging book for you. If nothing else, it'll show you
that it's not just your company that has all these problems. Everybody else does, too. It's so true. I think for me it was,
like I said before, just kind of empowering
to read a book like that and place myself in a
situation, whether it be with clients of my own or web
design clients who are building new sites or apps, and
helping to be the person to lead the change. And I think you're right. I think, placed in
the right situation, a project manager can be
the person to at least start a conversation about change
and how exciting it can be and how it can be accomplished. So I definitely recommend the
book to people all the time.

I like that. That's good. I'll send you your
commission later. So I have a question. As a designer, how can a project
manager help you the most? It's a long time
since I considered myself a hands-on designer. I'm a designer in the broad
sense of what a designer is, which is I solve problems. But a lot of the
design I do now is almost at an
organizational level rather than pushing
pixels around. But that said, I actually think
that in the right situation there is almost a symbiotic
relationship between a project manager and a creative,
for want of a better word. I hate that word but,
you know, like myself. I'm very good at
broad-brush thinking. I'm very good at quickly
looking at a situation and hypothesizing a solution
to it of how it may be solved and how we may move
things forward.

Where I am very weak, and
I think most creatives are, are filling in the
details or kind of providing the structure
that makes that happen. And I think most project
managers have that kind of analytical, detailed brains. So I remember very vividly. We went to a client meeting
back in the day with the project manager I worked
with at the time. And he invited me along
to this client meeting. I hadn't really been massively
involved in the project. And I sat down in the meeting,
and they kind of laid out the problems they were facing. And I just completely
derailed the project and took it off in a completely
different direction because– I could never picture that. No, I know– because
I felt that they were sending the project down
a route that would ultimately fail, that would get bogged
down and complicated. And I came out of the meeting. And I turned to Charlie, who was
the project manager, and said, you must hate me for what I've
just done to your project. And he turned to me. And he said, absolutely not. I can't think in that kind
of way that you did there, but I relish now turning
your vision into a reality.

And for me, that is the
perfect symbiotic relationship. I can't make anything happen. I'm useless at
making stuff happen, but I'm very good at
picturing how it could be. And I think when you've
got a good project manager standing alongside you
who can take those visions and turn them into a
reality and, to be honest, a lot of the time reshape
those visions along the way to make them a bit more
practical and achievable, then I think that's
absolutely invaluable. So I actually think the two
sit very nicely together. Yeah, I agree. And good for Charlie for having
that kind of can-do spirit. So many times, I
think project managers get that sort of
negative perception because so many peons would
say, we can't do that, without really just kind
of sitting back and letting things happen.

There were certainly
things in my vision that Charlie then ripped out. And I, as a designer
or creative or whatever you want to call me, have
to be all right with that. You have to realize that
how things look in my head is not always the reality of it. And I think the Steve
Jobs of this world that kind of just bang
away at things in the hope that everyone falls in with
their vision of reality, I think there are very few
people that can pull that off.

And I certainly can. So it is about
compromise on both sides, and it's about respecting the
value of that project manager as much as your own role in it. Yep, completely agree. So I think we're just at about
time, which that went really quickly, but I'm wondering
if you have any parting words of wisdom for our PM audience. To be honest, I
think I've already said it, which is be
proud of your job. That really is it for me. You do an incredible role that
is massively under appreciated. I believe that in
many digital teams, you are actually the linchpin.

You are the people that
make the reality of what is delivered happen. And you should get
excited by that, and you should be
enthusiastic about that. And you should blow raspberries
at designers and developers that don't appreciate you. That's my advice. Blow raspberries. I love it. Thank you so much. Thank you for the support that
you've given the community, that you've given me. Thanks for doing this interview. Everything is truly appreciated. No problem, I love doing it. Good, good, and I will
see you in October at the Digital PM
Summit, October 12 and 13 in Philadelphia.

I had to pretty much beg
to let Brett bring me to that conference. I'm so excited about it. It's going to be brilliant. It's going to be great. Thank you so much, Paul. Cool..

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