How to Be a Project Manager in the Age of Digital Transformation
by Deborah Keltner
Are you curious about the life of a project manager working in technology and innovation?
The project manager is the glue that holds a project together, linking the client and partner teams with the technical resources needed to deliver the work. Good project managers are in demand because the integration of technologies, systems, and platforms demands sophisticated project management approaches. A good project manager demonstrates emotional intelligence, business savvy, excellent processes, and confidence holding themselves and others accountable.
Working in digital transformation means that the work a project manager oversees can range from a blog post and digital marketing campaign to an artificial intelligence project that transforms business operations, and everything in between.
At Valence we hire Project Managers, Marketing Project Managers, and Technical Project Managers. There is significant overlap in the roles, noting that Technical Project Managers often work closely with highly technical development teams and need a functional knowledge of technical concepts such as cloud technology and agile processes.
We talked to several of our project managers at Valence to understand the day-to-day realities and pull the curtain back on technical project management at our innovation company.
Collaborate with the client to define the project vision, goals, and process
“A lot of my interactions with clients involve asking questions to get to the heart of what they want or need. Our clients come to us with an idea of what they want, and they need me to figure out how to pull the team together to get it done,” says Angela Kaiser, Valence senior project manager.
Our clients and partners often come to us with a high-level vision of their project, and the first order of business for a project manager is to provide the guidance needed to define the project, its features, and its desired results. This is often achieved during regular meetings that cover a lot of territory – the project manager is there to create clarity, move the project forward, and maintain accountability for progress.
Project managers are ready. The ability to prepare for and conduct a meeting is core to success. Preparation includes being clear on meeting goals, identifying the right attendees, and creating an agenda. When conducting the meetings, our project managers create space for various perspectives to be heard while keeping momentum and progressing the project. PMs follow up with a clear, concise, useful distillation of meeting notes and actions so the team can be held accountable.
Accountable for accountability
“I want the designers, content writers, and engineers to feel like I’m on the team – being in the trenches working on product scripts isn’t always glamorous, but it builds cohesiveness with the team. That’s my leadership style.” Glen Lewis, Technical Project Manager at Valence.
You can’t talk about project management without talking about accountability. The entire team, including clients and partners, depends on the project manager to track action items, deadlines, and the project status. While the accountability to get tasks done is distributed throughout the team, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the project is completed on time and with the desired result falls on the project manager. So, you should be comfortable tracking commitments, holding people to them, and of course meeting any commitments that you make.
“As the project manager, I need to bring in the right people and then help those people stay focused on what the project needs next. My role involves lots of follow-up, some chasing down, and open transparent communication,” says Allison Pass, a senior project manager with Valence since 2019.
Holding people accountable doesn’t mean the same thing as nagging! In fact, a soft skill that is core to successful project management is making it easy for people to understand what is needed from them and following up effectively. It helps to like people and the teams you are working with.
Our project managers work with clients and partners around the world. Any given meeting may have attendees from Iceland, Seattle, Nashville, and Munich. Having a natural ability to connect with diverse people and backgrounds makes the back-and-forth of getting projects done easier and more fun for everyone.
Inevitably, something will happen with a client or project that requires the team to switch gears or make last-minute changes to a deliverable. Project managers need a steady hand and a flexible approach when those moments come up because they set the tone for the team and also help the client to understand the implications of their change.
Holding people accountable is easier in a culture where leadership supports its project managers. We support project managers by making it clear that we have our team’s back, and our focus is on making the situation better. We expect the same from our clients and are happy to report that our clients are just as solution-oriented as we are.
Part of a collaborative team of smart and creative people
“I’ve reached out to people who weren’t on my project for help, suggestions, collaboration – and all of our coworkers are always willing to help and give time to others even when it’s not their project,” says Angela Kaiser, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised because a lot of us are remote and haven’t been able to meet in person yet, so the collaboration really surprised me and I love it.”
In addition to the project team, which includes clients and partners, a project manager is also part of the larger Valence team. Our flat, open-door culture means there is a lot of collaboration with team members who may not be assigned to your project.
Angela continues, “Before I was a project manager, my jobs were about paying attention to only what I was doing. As a project manager, it’s my job to help make other people’s jobs easier, to help organize workstreams, and to help our team collaborate to get the job done. I love working with other people and seeing what I can do to help them.”
Our project managers work with an eclectic group of people in a unique environment. The combination of skills and professionals needed to deliver innovation and digital transformation means there is a lot of variety in the perspectives of the team. This also means that it’s a fertile environment for a variety of opinions, challenges to norms and assumptions, and creative thinking across strategy, design, and engineering teams. Being a project manager puts you at the center of these conversations.
“I’m excited to see my coworkers in meetings because I genuinely like them,” says Glen Lewis, “I wake up in the morning and I’m excited to hang out with these people, have dynamic discussions, and talk about things that excite me.”
“You can expect to work for a great company with some really talented people and a great internal support system. Any time I run into questions and want to know more about something, there Is someone at Valence who will help me out. If I reach out, the help is always there,” adds Allison Pass.
“The company puts me in these roles for two reasons: One is to deliver per the contract, and the other is to provide an experience that makes our clients want to come back to Valence. They have a problem and I’m here to help them. I’m very motivated by the results,” says Glen Lewis.
Project management can offer a long and rewarding career path. The digital transformation industry is incredibly dynamic and the project teams are motivated, innovative, and creative. Project managers get to work with clients and partners from some of the biggest brands in the world as they work on their most innovative projects. It’s hard work, and the successes are quite a thrill.