This is the first in an ongoing series of profiles of Portland’s digital project managers and producers. The series is inspired partly by the Digital PM Summit’s speaker Q&A blog post series, and part by our applicant pre-screen process at Metal Toad.
First up, is Jennifer Thompson, a project manager at Sockeye. She has some great responses to our questions, so give it a read. Stay tuned for more profiles of some of Portland’s digital project management and production talent. If you’re interested in being profiled on the blog, contact us and make sure you’re featured too!
Without further ado, some Q&A with Jennifer Thompson:
Who are you, and what you enjoy most about your current organization?
I am a digital project manager for Sockeye here in Portland. What do I enjoy most? Besides the cool projects, we have a lot of fun. Pie throwing, weird birthday cards, Ouzo shots, rap Friday… not to mention the keg and the snack drawer. Ps. Guess who won the pumpkin carving contest? Yeah me, a project manager.
What makes a stellar digital project manager?
Making something complex simple. The team appreciates the clarity and focus when the project is broken down and makes sense. No one should leave a download feeling confused. Tasks assigned, dates discussed and priorities noted… that’s the way to get it done.
Also, from a creative/developer standpoint, a great PM is someone who knows when to stand ground with the client. Some fights are not worth battling, but when something really matters, it’s important to listen to your team and help the client through the problem. Many times when the client understands our thinking and feels the passion of the team, we can get it through. These are the times we feel like we’ve really made a difference in the process and for our client.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of humor too. Everyone loves a good laugh in the middle of the day!
What was your path to becoming a project manager?
I decided to go into advertising my sophomore year of college after I explored my interests and strengths (yes, I used a spreadsheet). Over the next two years of college, I successfully completed three internships, including two summers in Washington DC working for a digital non-partisan magazine and a large ad agency; plus a marketing internship in Eugene at KDUK where I planned PR events for the radio station.
From there you could say the rest is history. I quickly accepted a position as account manager for BOWG Advertising in Salt Lake City right after college graduation. After four years of tech clients, I successfully started and sold a retail business and then became a freelance project manager taking on complex website projects for various ad agencies and branding projects from personal clients. Currently, I am a digital project manager for Sockeye here in Portland managing all aspects of traditional to digital media projects including NobaProject.com, a platform for psychology professors that took 10 months in development and built in Ruby on Rails. I look forward to managing more digital as I enjoy the challenge and process that comes with technology projects.
What aspect of project management keeps you excited and coming back every day?
Besides working with talented and great people, I really enjoy the crescendo of a finished product. So much work goes into a project and when you see it done and done well, there is great pride and excitement. I love to celebrate our successes with the team.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to a new digital PM?
First of all, not everyone is born to be a PM. I’ve seen the smartest people come through and not be able to keep all the balls going. It’s a science, really. And it takes that little bit of PM magic to make it all work. So the best piece of advice I can give a new PM is this: Be confident and earn the trust of your team by developing a personal relationship with them. Be genuine and curious about the people you work with and then they will want to work with you. This comes naturally to me, but it doesn’t to everyone. Also, review your projects every morning, mid-day and before you leave at night. I am the sticky note queen.
What has been your biggest challenge as a digital project manager?
Keeping up on technology and really understanding what a developer has to do to accomplish a task is always a challenge. This affects budget and timelines. I always ask a lot of questions and if I find someone who likes to talk and provide insight, you’ll constantly find me at their desk. I soak it up and this helps inform decisions I make on the current project, but also sets the stage for future projects. The more you learn, the better prepared you are going forward.
What is the one tool you can’t live without at work? Why?
My paper notebook and my favorite pen. I take it with me everywhere I go. I write notes, keep track of my projects, checklists, etc. It is by far what I use the most. But if you’re looking for something techy… I quite like using Basecamp and Google Docs and I use my iPhone for client calls, texting clients and freelancers, etc. (ok, I’m sort of obsessed with my phone).
How do you succeed at managing projects where you’re unfamiliar with the technologies being used?
Two main points: 1. I always try to work with great talent, so I can ask questions and trust they are providing me with insight and excellent recommendations. 2. Google. I will look it up and figure it out. In my personal life, I consider myself a Wikipedia junkie as an example.
What do you consider the key to motivating your project teams?
Personal relationships. If we are not only work associates, but respected friends, I find we will work together well and both of us will go above and beyond for each other. I had a freelance developer just a few weeks ago add additional functionality just because we developed such a good rapport with one another. I don’t expect this, but it shows the commitment to the project and the team. This is true with clients as well, btw. Also, if I see someone doing something great, I will let them know it. I celebrate our successes and give credit where credit is due.
What do you enjoy when you’re not busy managing projects?
Writing. Yup, I’m actually a rather creative person. I’m definitely right-brained and I must have a creative outlet to feel truly fulfilled. Actually, I think there are lots of ways to be a creative PM without stepping on toes. I’ve got to be creative to solve problems, for one example. But writing in my free time is what I enjoy the most when I’m not in the office. I’m currently working on a novel, historical fiction, based on post-WWII in Germany.
Do you have a work or personal blog where you share about digital project management? Where else can you be found online?
We keep a fun blog at Sockeye that shows all the stuff we get into. Here’s one entry that shows what mile I’ll go to for a project (literally): http://sockeye.tv/blog/2013/boise-state
Also, connect with me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jenxoxo/