I was really blown away by Brett Harned’s recent post and speech to the DPMUK group called Army of Awesome where he challenged DPMs to define what it means to be a Digital Project Manager. IMHO, he nailed the qualities/DNA/skills of the DPM better than anything else I’ve ever seen.
Still, I thought one thing that would be good to discuss: How do we DPMs differ to our non-DPM brethren?
So, here is my stab at what it means to be a DPM and not some other type of PM.
We are Zealots about Changing the World with Digital
Mr. Petrell was my high school Social Studies teacher who told my class you can’t write a term paper using the encyclopedia.
What Mr. Petrell didn’t know is that when you have access to CompuServe’s Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopedia, your definition of an encyclopedia is different: not only is it more up-to-date and comprehensive than its printed counterparts, you can download the text and paste it into WordPerfect and use it as the scaffolding for your paper.
I did (!) which led to a seminal moment in my life: if the world had the same access to the information at their fingertips it would change knowledge forever. And when America Online (AOL) blitzed our country with cheaper, and even easier ways to access the whole world’s information just a few years later, the Digital Revolution was fully upon us and I wanted to be part of it.
In my experience, all DPMs share that quality: they are steadfast that a connected world is an infinitely better world and it should be part of a life mission no matter how chaotic the rate of change. Companies/technologies that were standard yesterday, should be deprecated tomorrow if something better and more meaningful comes along. (RIP MySpace, Friendster, del.icio.us.) If the passion for that change doesn’t exist within the PM, then look for another PM role. DPMs thrive on that change because it is the change that leads to something even better than before.
We Relish the Craft of Creating Digital
If you are zealous about Digital, then the reason to Project Manage is because you have a passion about how digital is created. It takes a lot of highly skilled people and intricate processes to make a digital experience accessible, usable and impactful. DPMs see UX/UI folks as painters, Graphic Designers as musicians, and Coders as sculptors. Creating Digital is as creative an endeavor as any art form. To do this, you must appreciate each participant as an artist, respect their challenge, and provide them the space (read: time and budget) to do their best work. If you don’t have that passion for the Digital craft, you can’t be a Digital PM
We Desire to Execute Elegantly, Digitally
Eat your own dogfood is a mantra that gets tossed around in the software world. While it references what Alpo (supposedly) did with their products, it was more famously used by Microsoft as a way to make sure that the tools that Microsoft would create/sell would be usable by the very people making it.
Same is true for the DPM: to make great Digital, you need to be a consummate consumer of it. If Digital is changing/connecting the world, then the DPM should be changing/connecting her digital teams with Digital. While I am a big believer in low-fidelity, high-touch ways of getting things done (being in the same physical space with tools like post-it notes is really the best way to do an Agile release plan), oftentimes its digital counterparts can provide even more elegance to its execution. Recently, I’ve been leveraging Jira and many of it’s Agile-infused tools with two remote vendors, a remote client, and several dozen people overall. Because everyone is using the tools consistently and correctly, things are seamlessly moving between people and teams (vendors communicate directly with the client) and creating frictionless production. By using Digital to create Digital, it helps infuse the team with the power of digital and the elegance and beauty of using it to get things done better.
So, there are my initial thoughts about what it means to be a DPM and not just a PM. What do you think? I’m sure i’ll come up with some others over the year and will share them.