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In Advertising

By Phil Murphy

How Not to Suck as a Digital Project Manager

On 02, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Advertising, Blog, Career | By Phil Murphy

Project managers are everywhere. In fact, according to recent reports, over 16.5 million people call the profession their own worldwide.

It makes sense that many of those PMs are actually digital project managers.So why is it that every time you turn around, you come across another digital project manager who appears to be buckling with job demands and pressure?  Now, if you’re a digital project manager, don’t take this the wrong way. You’ve picked a challenging career that often leaves you with little to no time for anything. Even if you do suck as a project manager, it’s the last thing you’re going to admit to anyone. I should know, I’ve been that guy.

So instead of pointing any fingers and naming names, let’s talk about what you really want to hear. How do you not suck?

Time Management 

Work smarter not harder, you’re already putting in long hours and adding on more is just going to shorten the distance between now and losing it completely. Time management will help you stay sane.

  1. Schedule everything – Try scheduling at a lower level. You can use a project management tool or a notepad; just make sure you rank your to-do list according to importance and continually re-prioritise tasks throughout the day.
  2. Make time for things to go wrong – Several successful digital project managers keep their mornings free to deal with problems or issues that might crop up overnight.
  3. Integrate cloud services whenever possible – I can’t emphasise this enough. Having cloud access, via tools such as dropbox and Google drive, to your projects on your commune or at the coffee shop can save you a lot of hassle.
  4. Write everything down, unless you have a photographic memory – in which case you should still write everything down. You can use tools such as Trello or a simple pen and paper.  Forgetting something can and will come back to bite you and can come across to others that you suck at your job.


Get as much face to face time with your clients as you can and don’t do big ‘ta-da’ reveals of your project. Nothing should be a surprise to them. If you can’t meet face to face use a video conferencing tool such as Bluejeans or Skype.

Another important tip is to make sure you optimise your time when talking to clients. You should make calls or video calls whenever possible to save time because lengthy emails take a great deal of time and can lead to misunderstanding of what is being communicated. Simply calling someone directly can help solve problems more quickly.

If you have internal staff that you are working with, such as designers or developers, make sure to get off your ass and go speak with them directly versus reliance on IM or email. As well as optimising efficiency and resolution of issues, working relationships and rapport are more firmly established.

Scope & Manage Expectations:

You have to learn to say ‘no’ to your clients and manage their expectations from the start of a project. If a new functional requirement is added or there is a change in the scope of delivery, agree and communicate the impact on the timeline.

Managing client and internal expectations is a huge part of your job. It’s also a lot harder than you might think. You have to control what your clients expect, when they expect the project to meet deadline, quality expectations, and team expectations. Communicate well, say no when you have to, and break the bad news when you have to. Keeping everyone on the same page is a crucial element of being a good digital project manager.

My Toolbox
The right tools will help you save time, and often sanity, just make sure you don’t become too dependent on them. The following are some of the best that I utilise:


  • Bluejeans: If you are managing remote teams, this tool will be a revelation to you. It is a video conferencing, audio bridge and screen sharing tool all in one.
  • This is a very simple to use screen sharing tool. So for example, if you are working with a developer and you want to explain an issue that is coming up, you can invite them to a ‘join me’ session through the URL there and then.

 Project Management

  •  Jira: A great on premise or cloud based PM tool.
  • Basecamp (you should know what base camp is…)
  • 10,000 ft: Resource planning tool for your team.
  • RedMine – Open source and free. I use this mainly for tracking the UAT of projects but is also widely used PM tool.
  • Microsoft Project: High-end project management – online integration now available.

Self Sufficiency 

As digital project managers, we often use technology as a crutch. But unless you want your C.V to turn into a sum of what programs you can use, you have to have a few tricks that you can pull out of your sleeves without the help of a computer program.  

A few of your best assets as a digital project manager: 

  • Your brain

…..End of list.

Your brain is a complex organism of some 15-33 billion neurons and the most powerful natural computational tool on earth. Use it. Whether you spend your time learning new things, keeping up with media, or talking to clients on the phone, you have to have the skills to do your job without the help of technology.  

Learn the ins and outs of all of your digital projects. You can’t manage digital projects well if you don’t know how it works under the bonnet. Even if you’re not handling the programming or the UX, you should have an idea of how it works.


As a project manager you’re going to find yourself working long, frustrating days that often exceed 14-16 hours. Try to your chin up and always stay positive. Digital projects are complex with a lot of dependancies. Things can snd will go wrong.  Its about mitigating for potential risks or issues as much as possible and when things do go wrong, communicate it to your client and provide a plan for how to get your project back on track.

Communicate clearly. Good communication skills are probably the most important thing you can learn. Pick up the phone, talk to people, learn to communicate your wants and needs, learn to tell people bad news, and most importantly, learn not to get too personally attached to projects. Getting mad about a missed deadline or stressed about new client demands will impact moral and working relationships. Don’t be that guy who moans about their clients to the team.

You need to learn how to manage your stress levels to deal with all of the above. How?

 1. Exercise: Exercise is a proven way to deal with stress, especially after long hours of work. I can hear you saying “I don’t have time to exercise”. But you need to make the time

Just ten minutes of light to medium exercise will give you roughly a 2-hour energy boost. Exercise releases endorphins that make you happy. Plus, it helps your self-confidence.   

2. Diet: To help boost your energy and optimize your concentration levels you need to make sure your diet is up to scratch. Preparation is key. Have your healthy snacks and lunch with you daily and make sure you take the time to eat. Like a car, your body needs fuel to keep it going.

3. Take Some Time Out: 12-16 hours of work a day or so, you’re going to need some time for you. Learn to turn off the phones, iPads etc., read a book. Why not do some Mindfulness meditation? Check out ‘Get Some Headspace’.This is a great tool to introduce you to the concept of Mindfulness and get you practicing for a few minutes daily.

Overall, just be patient, you won’t turn into a project management rock star overnight, but there are some things that you can do to help you up your game and make sure you don’t suck!

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