From the Frontlines: A PM’s Insider Secrets



From the Frontlines: A PM’s Insider Secrets

Creative design projects can vary in size and complexity, but one thing remains constant: the crucial role of project managers and creative ops. A PM is the true “jack-of-all-trades”–juggling planning, communication, budget management, design review, team management, issue troubleshooting, and industry research to ensure each project meets its objectives, runs smoothly, and delivers high-quality results.

We decided to ask one of Indi’s seasoned project managers, Valentino, about his experiences as a PM: what’s worked for him, what hasn’t, and all he’s learned along the way. The PM role is unique in that no matter how many courses you take to prepare or roadmaps you create, each project is a new adventure and most of the learning happens by doing. That’s why we thought it would be a great opportunity to share Vale’s wisdom and reflect on what makes for successful project management, even in the toughest situations. Here we hear from Vale:

What is the best part about being a project manager?

Being a project manager is an exciting role due to the diverse range of tasks and projects involved. Unlike many other jobs, which may involve routine tasks, project management requires creativity and the ability to tailor solutions to each unique project. This makes it a job that is always full of new challenges and never dull.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a project manager is the impact we have, not only on the client but also on the team. By ensuring that everything develops efficiently and optimally, we can create a healthy, smooth work environment. This is important because it enables everyone to perform at their best, leading to better outcomes for the project and the client.

In addition, being a project manager requires a wide range of skills, from communication and leadership to solution-facilitator and time management. These skills are not only valuable in the workplace but also transferable to other areas of life.

What do you think are the top 3 qualities that make a good PM?

First, professionalism, which includes attention to detail, assertive communication, and sharing acquired knowledge.

Next, the ability to employ “big picture” thinking, which comes in handy when roadmapping, anticipating problems, and seeking creative solutions.

And finally, human relationship skills such as active listening, respectfulness, and interpersonal understanding.

What are your daily activities as a creative design project manager?

My day-to-day activities are focused on ensuring the success of creative design projects. This includes:

  • Planning and organizing the project's daily tasks and activities

  • Communicating regularly with stakeholders so that everyone is on the same page

  • Checking in with the internal team to ensure they are working effectively and without blockers

  • Managing budgets to keep the project within scope

  • Reviewing designs and creative assets to check they meet the project's requirements

  • Troubleshooting any issues that arise

  • Staying up-to-date with industry trends to ensure that the project stays current

Ultimately, my goal is to ensure that the project runs as planned and yields great results. This requires a combination of organization, communication, leadership, and creativity, and I take great pride in managing all aspects of the project to ensure its success.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give a PM who is just starting out?

Be curious and seek out knowledge! Courses and books can be the fundamental building blocks to your career when you start out, but don’t stop there. Immerse yourself in new experiences and ask those with more expertise for their insights.

What makes a project successful?

Several factors contribute to a successful creative design project:

  • Define clear goals and objectives aligned with the scope of the project to achieve milestones efficiently

  • Establish open communication between team members, including check-ins, feedback, and collaboration

  • Focus on user-centered design, paying attention to detail, and ensuring consistency

  • Manage resources effectively to stay within budget and timeline

  • Promote positive team dynamics and a supportive work culture. This fosters creativity and innovation, improving the quality of work.

What factors can prevent a project from reaching its full potential?

In our industry, time is money. This means that when a project doesn’t turn out as planned, it can be a source of frustration and financial burden for everyone involved. Even with meticulous planning, projects can fall short of their intended objectives. I believe the following three factors contribute significantly to such failures, especially in the realm of digital design projects:

  • Unclear goals and objectives: Without clearly defined goals and objectives, it becomes challenging to gauge progress and avoid exceeding the scope. That’s why it’s crucial to establish precise definitions, plan effectively, set attainable goals, assign tasks, and allocate appropriate resources.

  • Inadequate communication: Effective communication lies at the heart of successful project management. It fosters clarity, accountability, and timely completion. Regular and open channels of communication help minimize misunderstandings, ensure alignment among team members, and prevent missed deadlines.

  • Insufficient research: A lack of thorough research can be detrimental to digital design projects. Insufficient understanding of user needs, industry trends, and competitors may lead to flawed design decisions and subpar outcomes. Proper research helps identify target audiences, uncover user preferences, and create designs that resonate effectively.

By proactively addressing these factors during the early stages of the project lifecycle, organizations can increase the likelihood of success and minimize the risk of failure.

Do you have any tips for having a successful conversation when presenting a deliverable to a client?

In my experience, there are a few steps you can take to make the most out of your presentation:

  • Have a pre-call with the internal team to fully understand the deliverable you're presenting

  • Set up an agenda beforehand to align everyone

  • Ask for permission to record the conversation and take comprehensive notes

  • After the call, send a follow-up email summarizing the conversation and any agreements made, while also inviting asynchronous feedback

  • Offer up to 48 hours for feedback before applying and moving on to the next deliverable

Imagine this: A due date is approaching in two days, but the team has not been updated on the timeline, so the deliverables aren’t ready. How do you handle this?

Even on a remote team, with consistent communication a project will never get to this point. When facing a setback like this one, however, take action instead of dwelling on unproductive discussions or regrets. Schedule an internal call to assess progress in the next 48 hours, then email the client an action plan based on the team's feedback. If progress cannot be made, schedule a face-to-face meeting with the client to explain and reschedule the deliverable. Only as a last resort, consider adjusting pricing, especially if the delay will have a financial consequence for the client. Show empathy and have a plan to ease their concerns.

To prevent future issues, ensure consistent communication between the internal team and with the client, and address what happened in a structured retrospective meeting or workshop.

How important do you think it is to have good rapport with clients during projects? What do you do to generate this?

Having a strong rapport with the client (as well as with the team) is crucial in my opinion. It's not about being "friends" with the client, but rather building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Personally, I strive to achieve this through clear and transparent communication at all times. Creating a sense of interdisciplinary teamwork, where everyone is pulling in the same direction, is key. This gives the client the impression that you aren’t separate teams, but rather one cohesive unit working towards the same objective. Oh–and one more thing–it's true that the client is the ultimate expert in their business, which is why active listening is both significant and necessary.

How do you manage frustration among your team or clients?

As a project manager, you're constantly under demand from various sides. That's why it's crucial to be impeccable in your communications, leaving no room for assumptions, taking nothing personally. It's about conveying calmness and maintaining healthy relationships.

Additionally, knowing when to push back and when to let go is key. Often, clients are pressured by investors or stakeholders who expect quick and effective results. Or perhaps a team member is going through a personal situation. We are human beings, and our work doesn't involve saving lives in an operating room. What I mean is that nothing is a matter of life or death–everything has a solution. Take a breath, and remember that tomorrow will be another day.

My recipe: Create an instance of synchronous communication among those involved to discuss the situation face-to-face and problem-solve.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your personal or professional development as a PM?

To be flexible! As a PM, it’s my job to give structure to projects. But every project comes with unexpected twists and turns, so I have had to learn how to think on my feet and adjust plans when necessary.