The Problem With How Our Industry Understands Project Management

When I do a Total Business Reset of a firm, there are six modules we work through, and one of those is around roles and people and how to structure them. One of the most head-scratching things I find, consistently, is how some firms scoff at the idea of any need for account managers, while other firms let account managers run the place. Some of it probably has to do with their own experience with AMs or PMs, but when you dig deeper, there's very little logic to it.

I studied 23,000+ individuals in the creative, digital, and marketing space. Each completed a detailed survey, a personality profile, and a 30 minute individual interview. The total cost (not including labor) exceeded $300,000. I'm going to pull a narrow slice of those findings out and talk specifically about project management (PM). I call them Resourcing people, but they are often called producers.

Here are the biggest mistakes we are making around PM.

We are wrong to think that it is just "traffic"

That's an old advertising term. Everything in traffic is included in PM, but there's way more involved, and to just call it traffic is to diminish its role. Traffic had nothing to do with pricing or capacity prediction or QC.

We are wrong to lump it together with account management

*Especially if it's done by the same people. An account management role is designed primarily to close the new relationship after sales determines that there's a fit, to speak for the client, to grow the account, to sell your recommendations, to handle disputes, and to pull necessary information that you desperately need. Great PMs are not good at any of those things. In comparison, a PM's role is primarily to establish objective pricing, manage capacity, oversee QC, coordinate with outside contractors, watch profitability, and maintain deadline compliance. AMs are notoriously terrible at all those things. If you don't have someone following AMs around cleaning up the messes, you probably don't have AMs. But while you need those kind of AMs, your PMs exist primarily to protect the firm from crazy promises, to deliver what you promise, and to predict and maintain profitability. Here are some good episodes on Understanding Account People and Seven Strategies to Grow Accounts.

We are wrong to view a PM role as a stepping stone to an AM role

This one makes me angry, if I'm honest, because it diminishes PMs, who are consistently paid less and not viewed as equals in that AM:PM arrangement where that healthy tension should not be resolved but rather stoked. Besides, the personality profiles of the two are polar opposite, and someone isn't going to change who they naturally are when they are "promoted" to a completely different role.

We are wrong to attempt to resolve the tension between an AM and PM team

Taking the earlier point further, AMs with too much power turn you into a client-driven firm and PMs with too much power don't grow accounts and misread signals. A PMs outlook is to deliver on carefully made promises. The last thing they want to do is to look for growth opportunities that just load their plate with more promises, each of which is yet another opportunity to fail. AMs represent the client and grow accounts. PMs protect the firm's profitability and the work/life balance of the team.

We are wrong to not notice the creeping power of AMs

They are very good, which is how they can do it, but they need to do it to your clients and not your firm. There are three major AM power grabs to watch out for, and control over PMs is just one of them.

Remember that it's a failed role. People fall into it. You look for experience and aptitude and not college courses. Yes, there is some certification, but there's no obvious way to spot terrific PMs without experience and aptitude. Please don't lessen their role. PMs are invaluable people, and especially if you have the right ones on your team.

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