Meet Lori Dunkin, Director of Operations at FINE. I had the pleasure of meeting her in October at the Digital PM Summit, and since then we've chatted and planned a bit about the vision and planning for PDX Digital PM. She has some great ideas about where things could go, and has some potential plans of her own to build on top of the monthly meetups. Stay tuned!
I'm also excited to announce that she'll be one of the panelists at the first meetup in January! Read on to learn a bit more about Lori below.
Who are you, and what you enjoy most about your current organization?
I'm Lori Dunkin, Director of Operations at FINE. I oversee our team of digital Project Directors and actively manage digital projects as well. What I enjoy most is how we start each project "from scratch" to compose the ideal solution from a user perspective, rather than force-fitting into fixed technologies or platform solutions. I also love the quality of life that comes with working with people who have a shared appreciation for exceptional design and experiences.
What makes a stellar digital project manager?
Mental agility, in the original sense of the word. The ability to pivot from one project to another without skipping a beat.
What was your path to becoming a digital PM?
I started out in hospitality, which combined high-end customer service with a tremendous amount of multi tasking. Nothing trains you faster on juggling without dropping a ball and managing customer expectations like working the front desk and phones at a resort during peak season - solo. Eventually, I also took on all IT and marketing projects there. It was a nice entry into project management from the client side, which helps me empathize with the life of a client.
What aspect of project management keeps you excited and coming back every day?
The technology changes so fast, what used to be a major technical hurdle becomes a minor afterthought. And then a new hurdle pops up. I love how fast the industry changes and how impossible it is to be bored.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to a new digital PM?
If you do not know what's going to happen next, surely your team and your client don't either. Also, don't get caught up in the tools of the trade. A great PM can lead a team with nothing more than pencil and paper. There are certainly a lot of great management tools out there, but nothing replaces a well handled conversation.
What has been your biggest challenge as a digital PM?
Over the last few years especially, projects have more technical integrations than we ever thought possible. It's not uncommon to have a list of 15 third party sites or services to work into a project, from Facebook integration to third party API's.
Understanding what each one delivers, how best to leverage what they do and how much flexibility your team will have to shape the way it behaves has become a significant part of discovery. I've learned to get the discussions of third parties and integrations out in the open at the very beginning, asking clients for a list of all their vendors so we can identify integrations that are obvious, as well as unearth ones that may be hiding only to pop up and surprise you right before launch.
What is the one tool you can’t live without at work? Why?
Simple, the apple Mail app. It's the center of my world. Whiteboards, Google Docs, Evernote, Wunderlist, OmniGraffle, MindNode, Skitch, Redmine, Harvest are all nice too. But Mail is where it's at.
How do you succeed at managing projects where you’re unfamiliar with the technologies being used?
I start with identifying what problem the technology is meant to solve - what is it for? Then I work with our technical team to make sense of how the technology solves the problem, or whether it does at all. This helps provide context for how we approach using the technology, but also may open the door to helping clients understand the pros and cons of whether it should be a required technology or what their options may be.
What do you consider the key to motivating your project teams?
A bright view of what's to come. Anyone on a project (including a PM) has a difficult time working in the dark, just crossing off the one task ahead of them. Maybe I can't leave behind the hospitality roots, but I see a PM as a cruise director for both the project team and the client, ushering everyone from the Karaoke bar to dinner, letting them know there will be a talent show after dessert. It is a delicate balance to ensure the whole project team shares the same vision of where the project is generally headed, without suggesting anyone can predict all the specific obstacles to come. They need to trust the PM will remove those obstacles before they become barriers but also not get bogged down by worries in the distant future.
What do you enjoy when you're not busy managing projects?
At work, digging into operational challenges like finance, tools, systems and solutions. Outside of work, my 9 month old son, traveling to far off lands, finding good food. Oh, and Pinterest.