Managing Projects

Managing Projects

In this episode, we’re talking about all things project management. Continuing our conversation about the iron triangle, our project managers join our VP team to give you all the tips and tricks to keep your project on budget, on scope, and on time. 

In this episode, we’re talking about all things project management. Continuing our conversation about the iron triangle, our project managers join our VP team to give you all the tips and tricks to keep your project on budget, on scope, and on time. 

Roberts: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. You're listening to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. Let's get into it.

Kindra: Welcome back to A Little Off Topic. Today, we are talking about all things project management. We are so excited, so who better to join us than Speak's project managers? Welcome Sarah and Devon. Welcome to the podcast.

Sarah: Thank you.

Devon: Thank you for having us.

Kindra: Yeah, thanks for being here. So we talked about the iron triangle in season one, and we're going to follow that up with some tips and tricks from you guys. So all of our listeners are in for a treat. Before we kick things off though, Matt Roberts, welcome back to the podcast.

Roberts: Glad to be back.

Kindra: Matt Ervin. Nice to see you again.

Ervin: Hey Kindra. Thanks.

Kindra: I think we're fully all back from vacation now, is that right? We're not allowed to go on any more vacations.

Roberts: I'm here for a while. I think I don't have any vacation coming up, but Ervin is sketch.

Ervin: I've got one coming up in August that I'm not missing.

Kindra: I'm actually planning another one too, but I'll be here for the next month or so. We'll be good.

Devon: When's Christmas break? It's soon right?

Ervin: We're not doing that. That's next year. 2022.

Kindra: Soon.

Ervin: We canceled Christmas.

Kindra: We can't do that.

Ervin: No, that's true.

Kindra: So before we get started, Sarah and Devon. We have some good questions for you, but I have a question for Matt Ervin to get us kicked off. So Matt, can you talk to us a little bit about what that iron triangle of project management is? It's something that we talked about in season one. Just refresh our memory on the iron triangle of project management.

Ervin: Yeah, sure. So there are three primary legs to it, right? It's scope, budget and timeline. You can't move one without affecting the other two. This they're all fixed and work together. So if you change scope, then your budget and timeline are going to change and that's up or down. But that's really what we try to help clients understand is that the changes that we make affect the plan and these are the three things that are the biggest factors that shift our planning.

Kindra: Yeah. So if you're not familiar with the iron triangle of project management, pause this podcast, go back to season one. I believe it's episode 11.

Ervin: It's definitely 11.

Kindra: You can learn all about it and then come back and give us a listen, because Sarah and Devon are gonna blow our minds. So let's jump into that.

Sarah: No pressure, right?

Kindra: You can live up to it. I have no doubt. So to kick us off, this goes to both of you, if you could just give us one piece of advice that you'd give to someone who is going to try to wrangle projects or be a project manager, or maybe slip into that iron triangle of project management for the first time, what's the first piece of advice you'd give someone in that role?

Sarah: Yeah, I guess I can jump in. I would say probably number one is be flexible. Shift happens and it's inevitable. But it's also designed to be flexible. So just understanding the impact. There's a balance there between timeline, scope and budget. So when one thing shifts, it's likely something else will shift or the rest will shift in some way or another. You can't really affect one side of the triangle without affecting the others. So for example, if scope were to grow, most likely your budget will grow and then the timeline would be impacted as well. Same with a quick timeline. If you need something done quickly, we'll likely need to prioritize what needs are or things that need to happen to accomplish that goal.

Kindra: Yeah. That's a great point. I think we get a lot of the three components, timeline, budget, scope as really hard things to manage and so being flexible around those hard concrete ideas, that's great. Devon, what would you say?

Devon: I would say the exact same thing with a little bit of a twist that being flexible, but also being flexible internally. I think every project manager has a process or the agency or company they work for, regardless of industry, has a process. I have to remind myself this every day of not being too rigid within that process, you have to take every client, every project and look at it uniquely and in those moments of stress, see the scope is changing and this completely messes up what I had planned for this, but being willing and able to change that and it going against your process a little bit may yield a better result. I have to remind myself of that daily.

Ervin: I would say that if I were asked to answer the question, which I believe I was or should have been, I would say that along the lines of what Devon said that the process is there to serve you. It's not you serving the process. So rigidity to the process can cause problems. However, the points in the process exist for a reason, and they're usually born out of experience and time and tested things and all that. So you can't just dismiss it, right? The other thing I would say is if you're interested in getting into project management, you need to learn everything you can. Absolutely everything you can about what it is that you do. What it is that your company does, the projects that you manage. You can't become a subject matter expert on everything, that's just not possible, but the more you know, the faster you can make your projects run, the less you have to depend on other people. So learning absolutely everything you can is a good move.

Devon: And knowing when you're not the expert, bringing the expert in, I know from experience.

Ervin: It's another good move.

Roberts: The tension to balance there is there's always a process that we feel has been built up over time and experience to be able to say, "Hey, look, without a particular scope or without a particular client in mind, here's the process that we know works best." But then when we look at that process through the lens of our partnership with a particular client, with a particular scope, it's where we have the opportunity to make refinements or maybe tune the process to really make sure that that particular partner gets the best end product that they can and we're leading them. So you have the freedom as a project manager to look at, how do we make adjustments to our typical process to make sure that this client gets exactly what they need? And sometimes you know that from the front end, you see a scope and you know that it needs to run a certain way or you know that the client just likes to engage in a particular way. So you're going to make adjustments on the front end. Some of those things are just things that you discover as the project moves through its stages. So that's really where the flexibility that Devon and Sarah both mentioned, I think is really valuable. I feel we said this a lot in the iron triangle episode, so we'll just keep plugging it. But change is not is not something to be scared of or to run away from. When we talk about scope or budget or timeline changing, those are things that we know change all the time when we're talking to the clients or we're working through projects. So as long as everybody's bought into the idea that, if we change one of these things, the others you have to adjust. I think everybody can go into a project and feel success. I guess the question that I would have for Sarah and Devon, related to that, would be how do you coach somebody through the idea that change is okay and here's how we handle change and just get folks to understand how to move through a project, especially maybe for the first time in light of the understanding of the iron triangle concept?

Sarah: I think setting the expectation early on is the best way to go. We typically present a plan, but we also communicate that there's going to be shifts. Curve balls are all a part of the process and expected to be part of the process. So just making sure that that's communicated that nothing is set in stone, I think helps give it that little bit more of a fluid approach and that flexibility as we're kicking off the project and going through it together.

Devon: Yeah and adding to that, I think Sarah and I do the same thing for our projects where we just try to put everything out in front of the client at the very beginning. You know, this is what's going to happen, this is what will happen. These are the unknowns. I think as a PM, it helps the client agency relationship if the client understands, yes, there are going to be changes, but we don't want them to feel all those changes are going to be on them. So proactively looking ahead and saying, "we see that this change may happen or this scope creep may happen, proactively trying to find time later on in the project to make up for those changes and shifts." That way they feel like, "okay if we bring changes, that's just going to push our deadline. It's just going to do this." Being able to say, "well, we can swap this or slim down this time that we had allocated for this and we can still hit the launch date" I think that's very beneficial.

Roberts: I just was going to say, I really like the idea that a part of your role is looking further down the tracks and knowing that, "I'm anticipating some things needing to shift" and being able to already have your head up and your ability to respond to those things ahead of time. That's gotta just feel very comforting for a client to know that they've got somebody who understands the process well enough that you have that anticipation and are ready to move on it.

Devon: Yeah and it's not always a perfect system. I mean, things do always pop up, but in the instance that things do and are a jolt hopefully we can, in that instance, find a way to make up for it within the timeline or scope somewhere.

Ervin: There's definitely a consultative part to the role, right? You're the one that's done this before. You've seen this before. I always say give the client the information they need to make a decision on how they spend their money. You know, is this going to be worth it to you to do it? Are you sure? Well, let's talk about what your options are if it's not or let's figure out a way around this obstacle we've run into.

Sarah: So switching gears a little bit, Sarah, I'm going to send this next question to you. You have been training a new project manager into a world of Speak. What's that like? Stepping back into your younger days as a project manager coming in to Speak, learning the role and now teaching it, how has that been for you? Yeah, it's been a lot of almost self-reflecting of where I've come from and appreciating how much I've grown. I came into a digital marketing agency for the first time, pretty fresh out of college. I was pretty hungry to learn. But also had very little to no experience with websites or apps or what that even looks like from start to finish. I was a deer in headlights probably for the first several months when I had gotten pretty much thrown into the deep end in this world of digital marketing. So it's been so fun to be able to be the people that were a resource for me when I was younger and be able to pass on the baton or pass along all that knowledge and expertise to this new project manager that I'm so excited to have as part of our team. Understanding the deer in headlights feeling can be overwhelming, but I remember for me, probably a few months in, things started to click and then probably around six months, I started feeling confident to navigate my way around conversations and without feeling like a complete and total newb. So it's been really fun to be able to experience this and even now though six years later, I'm still constantly learning and asking questions. So I'm never afraid to continue to learn and ask questions. We have such a great team of professionals and experts who are just such a great resource to help equip and guide even myself with that knowledge that I'm constantly learning. So, it's been really fun and very exciting.

Kindra: It is really fun to see. I think, when you see people who've come up on their own and now they're sharing knowledge as if they're the expert on it and have their own spin on it. That's been really awesome to see because you do get to revisit just how much growth has happened for the last couple of years.

Ervin: It doesn't hurt that you've got a good student who's eager to learn. Makes it a lot more fun.

Kindra: Shoutout. Does anyone else want to ask questions?

Ervin: You're doing such a good job.

Kindra: Great. Alright. So I will throw this next one, Devon, your way. What is something you think is often overlooked by implementing project management best practices?

Devon: Maybe a controversial opinion, the instinct to combine the project manager and account manager role. Obviously for smaller agencies, it's probably a monetary/budget issue and it's easier to have one person managing it. Here, we don't specifically have account managers, but I don't know what I would be able to do with my projects without our brand strategists and having a co-lead. I think being able to have a two person team going in and tackling each project head on, from two different backgrounds and perspectives is very helpful. Some agencies may do that, but I think you're losing out and you're not giving the client probably the best end result if you're just sending one person in to handle it from start to finish.

Kindra: Why is that?

Devon: I just think that at least in my experience and my perspective, one thing I've had to do is just keep telling myself that it's okay if you don't have all the answers. I don't think every PM out there is going to have every single answer that every client is going to be seeking. Being able to have somebody else with that perspective, like a brand strategist or an account manager and being able to play, I don't want to say good cop/ bad cop, but I do think it helps having the PM manage the scope, the timeline, the internal workings and having a real client partner who the client can see as, "this person I know is looking out for me, this person is looking out for my brand, my goals, and they're helping translate that with the project manager who I know has scope and timeline in mind."

Ervin: It's two different skills too, though. In project management, somebody who's good at the details and scheduling and figuring out how to make square pegs fit in round holes. That's a little bit different than somebody whose key focus is marketing strategy. As I am much better at the former than the latter, I could see that. I watch our brand strategist talk to clients and think "I would've gotten that wrong." But you know, that's one of the things that we can do as a larger agency. We can bring both of those skill sets to a project, which is really nice. Not everybody has the benefit of that and we haven't always been able to do that.

Roberts: Anybody who runs projects, there's always projects ongoing. There's new projects rolling on your schedule. Projects rolling off your schedule. What are the things that you look at and say, "oh, man, today was a really great day." What are those things in the project management world?

Sarah: I think for me, I've got two things that come to mind. Of course I love when I see a project come across the finish line and that's cliche, or maybe even a cop out.

Ervin: Nothing wrong with that.

Sarah: But it's so rewarding to reflect on where the project started and to see this team of experts and we have great partners and love to collaborate and to just see this journey. It's just so rewarding and I love it. It feels so accomplishing to be able to see that all of our visions and ideas come to fruition. Another part of that I nerd out about is just when the process sings and everything hums so well. Throughout even my four or five years here at Speak, we've changed our process pretty regularly because we're constantly learning what works best and what doesn't work. Just to see how we've molded our process over the years and to see it working just makes my PM heart sing. So. I love that feeling as well. So those are the two things that come to mind for me.

Kindra: I appreciate you saying the process changes and it's changed frequently, because you said it in a positive light and that's really nice to hear. I think you guys really do get it, that processes are made to change and evolve, and we are meant to evolve and there's so much good that comes out of that. I love that answer.

Devon: Yeah. I've got two as well. The first one being similar to Sarah's first one, obviously getting a project across the finish line. The client is able to see the results of the work. Not just the work we've put in, but the work they've put in. I mean, it is a partnership. They are there in the trenches with us the entire way and for the smoke to dissipate and be able to take a look at it is very rewarding. I really love seeing our internal teams when we launch a site, since we do make it a big deal. I mean, it's fun to get a site launched. You're at the end of the road on this long journey and as a PM, I like being the Emilio Estevez in Mighty Ducks 3, I stepped back into the shadows. It wasn't me, it was the collective in front of me that really did this work and seeing them happy and excited.

Kindra: All the movie references you make on a daily basis, the fact that Mighty Ducks 3 is what came out is shocking.

Devon: Yeah. It made sense in my head.

Roberts: The seven dozen people that have seen that video got it.
Sarah: I was waiting for a Devon movie reference, but I was not expecting that one.

Roberts: I'm gonna queue that up after this is over.

Kindra: I've probably heard Emilio Estevez references more so than Mighty Ducks 3.

Devon: It's specifically the ending. The last two minutes. I don't know. That's the feeling I get as a PM when we launch something and seeing the team excited.

Roberts: Okay so when was the last time you saw Mighty Ducks 3? Sorry you can't move on to your next thing.

Devon: Oh man.

Roberts: Yesterday?

Devon: Circa 2002.

Kindra: Hey, the new Disney+ Mighty Ducks show. I think I’ve recommended it on here before. If not, I recommend it.

Roberts: Yeah. It's on the list to get to. Go ahead, Devon.

Devon: The other one is, I don't want to say it's self punishment, but the grind and stressfulness of projects and I think they all have stressful moments. But I find myself when I'm on vacation, I can't just sit still. I have that air traffic controller, things are chaotic, one minor slip up. Thank God I don't work with actual lives because I would be terrible at it. But I kind of thrive in that chaos, even though I think a lot of our internal people would be yeah no, that's not true. But it is. When I'm not in it, I'm like what am I supposed to do with my hands?

Kindra: I gotta go find some chaos.

Devon: While a very stressful job, the job itself is very rewarding.

Kindra: Alright. So we have reached the point of our podcast where we do go a little bit off topic. Thank you guys for being here and sharing the world of project management with us, but you also have something else in common we want to dive deep into. You guys both have some Chip and JoJo vibes happening at your house. We've got housing projects. Devon, you just moved into a house. Sarah, you've been there for a little while now, but are deep in the throes of renovation. So tell us about some of your favorite house projects that you are diving into right now.

Sarah: I guess one of my favorite projects that we've been working on is actually this downstairs. We've completely renovated it the last several months and just finished our main thing. It used to have some serious haunted basement vibes and now it's my office and the media room and it has been so much fun to be able to just take a really nasty part of the house and turn it into, honestly, one of my favorites now. So yeah, it's been really fun. Learned a lot. It has been really nasty, messy work too, but it's been fun.

Kindra: We need some before and afters for the show notes.

Sarah: Okay. I got you.

Devon: Having spent the last 6 years renovating our house in Memphis and finally selling it, which was bittersweet, the only projects I'm doing now are just sitting. I don't want to do anything. I'm done. If I never have to touch drywall again. I'll be a happy boy. So it was bittersweet, but walking away from it felt good. It's kind of like launching a project. You know, you spend a lot of time and put effort and energies into it, but you have to let it go.

Kindra: If I know you, you'll be looking for your next set of chaos soon.

Devon: I will, I will.

Kindra: When are you going to punch a hole through the new drywall and come up with a new project?

Sarah: He can come over and help me out with some stuff.

Kindra: There you go.

Roberts: The shiplap isn't going to put itself on the wall.

Devon: That is what we've already talked about. Shiplap in the bedroom. So that's probably the next thing once all the boxes are unpacked.

Ervin: I was wondering if Sarah was going to tell us about her goat and chicken projects.

Sarah: Oh, I mean, if you guys want to hear about my goats and chickens, I'm happy to talk about it.

Kindra: Sarah and I had a call earlier this week and she's like "sorry, guys, there's a chicken back here. It's not mine" and her neighbor's chicken was just on her back porch.

Sarah: They're still there on my porch now. I don't know why, but that's their new home now, but I think we're having a big chicken fry next Friday. So not sure if you want to keep that in the podcast.

Devon: Spoiler alert.

Roberts: From myself, our panel today and all of us at Speak, thanks for getting a little off topic with us. If you liked today's episode, you'd love the content our team is cranking out on our blog, head over to to check out the latest and greatest. If you enjoyed the show, subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice and see you next time.

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Posted by A Little Off Topic at 07:44