A Great Project Manager Is the Producer of an Important Dance
A project’s Producer is more than a scheduler and task manager. Keeping a project on task and on schedule is an important indicator of a good Project Manager, but we’re taking this role further at Revelry. That why we don’t have Project Managers, we have Producers.
Delivering value to our customers requires the execution of a Producer. Process automation has allowed us to pretty much enable Slackbot to be our project manager, but the products we build require a higher level of thinking and effort. A great producer needs to be highly skilled at interpersonal communication, problem solving, and balancing the needs of the client and the team.
It’s a dance that must be choreographed, to balance happiness and communication to produce the best outcomes. Orchestrating the project timeline and strategy is a role that adds enormous value at the same level, but different than, design and development tasks.
We believe a well-organized project is led by a producer that exhibits these five personality traits. Here are the traits that make for a successful producer, along with the corresponding tools we use to keep everyone and everything on track. As I mentioned, the tools themselves become the project manager.
Producers should be detail-oriented, honest, transparent, efficient, and focused.
As a producer, I adjust my focus throughout the day: zooming in or out depending on the project, coaching the team on their day-to-day work while monitoring the sprint commitment, and exercising empathy while understanding nuance. There’s a delicate dance of when to push or pull and how strict or gentle to be. But I’m not multi-tasking. It’s just the opposite. Here are the ways I put action behind the concepts and deploy effective execution at Revelry.
A Producer is detail-oriented.
Even though project execution pretty much means managing every detail, I believe that time tracking is the most critical way to ensure a healthy project. It may be the most tedious of all the responsibilities a producer has, but it’s no less crucial.
If a team member is going way above their resourced hours, this is a key indicator that they are off track or too in the weeds, and might need help. Even an under-allotment of hours is tracked and explained. The client is expecting to see work produced, and it’s our responsibility to communicate our progress.
We use the time tracking software 10000ft and a bot we built to quickly compare time resourced to time actually spent each week for each person on each project.
A Producer is honest.
The best way to subside frustrations is by having open and honest conversations about how the work went. We hold these chats and include how each person is feeling about decisions made by holding bi-weekly retro meetings. We hold these retrospective meetings so that the team can vent, bitch, moan, and complain – for about 7 minutes. Then the conversation turns to what went well and what action we can take on future projects.
The producer sets the tone for the whole team to work toward a culture of honesty during these meetings and throughout the project. In fact, the producer often becomes the Honesty Cop, pushing the team to be completely open about their progress and their challenges.
We use GitHub Issues to turn suggestions brought up from meetings into actionable items in our internal Retro repository. That way, they are not lost and are also open for the whole company to see and weigh in on.
A Producer is transparent.
Every project is going to involve multiple moving pieces. Transparency is critical when you have multiple roles all trying to work on a single project. Tracking progress in a transparent manner prevents duplicated efforts, keeps the pace of the project visible, and allows for an evaluation of goals and room for improvement.
We track our progress by using Waffle, a kanban board that visualizes all active GitHub Issues (or tickets). Team members can assign themselves or others, move the ticket to another column, and add labels. Our boards typically follow this organization of columns: backlog, this sprint, in progress, in review, QA, UAT, and done. Our standard labels tend to be: score, blocked, question, draft, design, critical, bug, or enhancement. This system helps us prioritize the issues on the board.
When someone picks up a ticket to start working, they assign it themselves right away. Within 2 hours, they will comment on the ticket with a game plan or implementation notes. At a break or when handing off a ticket, they’ll add a comment with a status update. This keeps the whole team aware of progress. And it’s part of another Revelry mantra: Call Your Shots. In a fast-paced work environment, there’s not always time to ask permission, and projects have to keep moving. Team members type out their plan of attack directly on the GitHub Issue. If someone jumps in to stop you, we have an opportunity to discuss it. And if not, that’s the green light.
A Producer is efficient.
An online video chat meeting is more efficient than a conference call. This has been the biggest game changer for me personally, after coming from a traditional advertising agency background to working in tech. Attendees do not have to travel to the meeting and can instead dial in from wherever they are working. This helps prevent people skipping meetings or possibly worse: arriving late to the meeting.
I prefer to look directly at other meeting attendees in order to improve communication and prevent interruptions. Less is lost in translation, and our meetings can be recorded and viewed later by new team members or those who were out. We can’t avoid having meetings, but we can make them more efficient.
We use Zoom Video Meetings as our solution for efficient conference calls and face-to-face communication.
A Producer is focused.
As important as it is to stay on task while doing the work, it’s also important to take a look back and ensure goals have been met. At Revelry, we’ve found that sending weekly Sprint Reports to clients alleviates concerns and allows for full transparency of what was accomplished during that sprint.
We share a sprint report with our internal team and with the client. This is a summary of accomplishments including hours worked broken down by discipline. It provides a snapshot of all the tickets on the board and includes the number of new tickets created and closed. We list anything blocking progress, and we outline a brief summary of the following week’s plan. This is a one-page report, and we use the summaries to provide color and context around the issues in that commitment.