September 12, 2018 / Kevin Burbach

Ask a Craftsman: What does an Agile project manager do?

Welcome to Ask a Craftsman, a recurring series in which we explore the people and positions that make up Ackmann & Dickenson. From the importance of a project manager to the ever-changing role of a mobile developer, we’ll dive into what it means to be a modern-day craftsman.

 

Let’s talk about why Agile project managers matter.

For many, project managers can be a mystery, but they’re an essential component to ensuring that projects at development, design and internet marketing firms like Ackmann & Dickenson get finished on time and within budget.

For this week’s installment of Ask a Craftsman, we sat down with Kurt Hardy, digital project manager at A&D, to talk about what a project manager does, how they interact with clients and why development teams ultimately need a project manager to be successful.

You’re an Agile project manager at A&D — tell us about your role.

At a high level, Agile project managers at Ackmann & Dickenson are the go-to person on a development project — we’re there for anything the client needs. But we’re not only the main point of contact with clients, we’re also leading our development, design and digital marketing teams to ensure a project is on track and within budget.

At the start of a development project, what kind of plan is laid out with the client? How detailed is that plan?

At Ackmann & Dickenson, we follow the Agile methodology, which is an iterative, adaptable approach to software development. We certainly want to gather as much detail as possible so we can put together timelines and work toward certain dates — but we also know that the project will ultimately shift as we go along and priorities may change. We understand that three months down the road, details will be discovered that we didn’t initially consider. Because of that, it’s really the role of a project manager to expect a reasonable amount of change and adapt. For example, if the client sees a demo, and they realize a new opportunity, it’s a great chance for me, as the project manager, to jump in and help us change course.

How often are you checking in with clients?

We’re talking to clients every single day. While it does depend on the project, we cater not only our project management methodology, but our communication strategy as well. We understand that clients still have daily responsibilities in their jobs while also going through a major website overhaul with A&D, so we like to really work with them to decide how often they need to hear from us.

Digital Project Manager Kurt Hardy Standing Against Brick Wall
Kurt Hardy, digital project manager at Ackmann & Dickenson

And how do you communicate with them?

How we communicate with clients primarily depends on their preferences. Often, we stick to emails or Slack, but at least once a week we set aside time for a longer rundown call to really dive into the project status and address questions. Also, if they’re local, we’ll meet with clients face-to-face as much they’re able.

What do you discuss in those meetings?

We talk through what’s been accomplished, what our goals are and how we’re ensuring that we’re in line with the plan moving forward. We want to make sure the client feels they’re with us every step of the way.

So, for this method to work, clients must be constantly involved, right?

Absolutely. Some firms will say, “We’ve got everything. Now, we’ll go away and hide for six months.” Then they’ll come back and say, “Here it is, I hope you like it.” That’s a common approach and often clients will be dismayed by the outcome. We believe in a fully collaborative process. That’s why we have those weekly calls. Those aren’t just discussions, those are product demos. Clients can see exactly what’s going on, see the immediate status and provide immediate feedback. Because of that, it’s also the reason why we don’t need 100 percent detail up front. We know that there are going to be deep dives and discussions weekly as we go forward.

So, it’s like going to see your house every week as it’s being built. There should be no surprises when it’s finished, because you’re seeing it every step of the the way.

Exactly. We don’t want a client to ever feel like they don’t know what the finished product is going to look like when we get to the end of a project. That’s the beauty of the Agile methodology.

Internally, what are you doing as a project manager to ensure projects are staying on track?

Internally, we’re meeting daily. Not only do we have an official team scrum in the morning, but we also use Slack, email and in-person conversations so our teams are constantly evaluating performance as the day is going along.

How do you build trust with your team and make sure you’re all on the same page?

I don’t see myself as a manager in the corporate sense of the word. Ultimately, when we are in our meeting, I make it absolutely clear that we are on the same team, working toward the same goal. There is absolute honesty and transparency from me. We know exactly where we’re at and what we’re working toward. We’re not coaches — I would say project managers are closer to quarterbacks. I’m a member of the team, ensuring we’re marching toward our goal.

Project Managers Discuss Clients In Board Room
A&D project managers gather to discuss their latest client projects.

What project management tools are you using to stay organized and on track?

We use Slack for internal communication between teams; we use both Jira and Trello for task tracking. From a client communication standpoint, we like using Basecamp, which allows for additional project reporting to track when certain tasks have been accomplished. It gives people a record of what’s been done — especially if they’re out of the office for a while.

It sounds like as a project manager, you have to sort of be a jack of all trades.

We work with a variety of industries, so you have to be able to adapt to the needs of different clients. Our partners in the breaking news station world obviously work at a much different pace than those in the plant nursery industry. It’s all about figuring out how to cater our communication to best work with them. I come from a sales background and one of the first things they teach you is you cannot use the same message for the same person. One pitch is not going to work for every person.

Last question: Why is project management important?

The value of having a project manager is having peace of mind, knowing that you have someone shepherding your project every step of the way. Our clients can focus on their jobs, knowing that their project is in good hands. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes people don’t realize the value of a project manager until something goes wrong. And that’s when we’re that calm, cool, collected voice that says, “Hey, here’s what we need to do. Let’s get us back on track.” That’s what we’re there for.

To learn more about A&D’s services, contact us here.