What it’s like to be a PM in a digital agency


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As a CEO, I’m not actively involved in projects anymore, so this doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does, I’m much more prone to noticing it. This story is meant to show all other team members of a digital agency and other innocent bystanders how difficult lives can be for PMs.

The DEV process is a black hole to us and we can only hope that projects come out OK in the end. The fear of the unknown really makes us nervous, but that’s how it goes. A good PM is one that has a thick skin and calm nerves.

I would like to take you on a journey of being a Project Manager in a digital agency. It is a position I keep in very high regard and one that I think is crucial to the success of a project.

The story is “purely” fictional and hopefully not real life for all PMs all of the time.

Your project begins with you trying to think of an idea you could present to your client. You dream about a client's problems and you try to match them with your knowledge of digital and business to come up with a solution that would make some sense. Meetings upon meetings, as you try to persuade the client that the idea is good and that it will solve their problems. You give it your all, you give it your best.

The client goes for it! OMG you are so happy, even though that means more work for you.

You prepare the contracts and other necessities and you book a designer to help you put your team’s ideas to life. You sit with him, drawing features and solutions, you basically become an internal representative of the client. The team tries to tear your idea and the client’s requirements apart, but you fight and stand your ground. Despite everything you somehow get the designs done and confirmed by the client… But what comes next frightens you.

You have 3 weeks to finish the project and you do your best to prepare everything in time. That's 3 weeks less than you anticipated 🙂

You send the designs, technical documentation, timeline and everything else you can think of to the black hole, also known as the DEV team. Even if you are not religious, you know a lot of praying to the DEV gods will follow.

T -15 days

The first few hours after sending the project requirements, you sit at your desk and sweat. You are waiting for a backlash on the project’s Slack channel, “The project is complex”, “The documentation is not complete!”, “The project can’t be done in time!” all of which you’ve heard before and they all frighten you equally.

Nothing happens; you are relieved. You believe that they are reviewing the documentation you have sent them and all will be fine.

T -10 days

During the first week, you don’t dare to ask anything, but in the second week you ask, “How are things?” You expect this long and comprehensive detailed report of the progress, but the people from the black hole summarize it for you in short, and you just get, “Fine.”

So little can make you so happy! You go to your partner, kiss her and tell her everything is going to be ok; we are, “Fine!”

T -5 days

Days go by and the client starts asking if they can see something and when can they test it? Even though you sent them the timeline, the client is anxious, same as you are. It takes some courage, but you ask the team again, “How are we doing now?”

Devs typing… and it goes away, then again you see Devs typing,… you sweat… nothing happens for some time, then you get, “Fine, don’t bother us; we are busy.”

Hooray, you are happy again and very grateful. You write an extended report to your client, explaining how you are on schedule, how the features are coming together, how HTML acts nicely and JS is helping out…. You are one good storyteller.

T -1 day

At one point you stop counting days and you start counting hours. By now, the client has stopped sending you emails and is calling you instead. You manage to get a screen-sharing Google Meet call with your devs, and you see a lot of your designs live. But, and there is always a but, all of those nice frontend designs are followed with a comment, “That’s done, but we are missing this little thing,” “We need to connect this to the API,” “We need to deploy, but we are super close.” Sometimes you don’t understand these buts, but you feel reassured everything will be ok because they add “These are small tasks. It will be done in no time”. You do your best to get what is missing and send it over to the black hole.

Day of the launch

On the day of the launch, your arm is hurting from the CTRL+F5 combo you use to refresh the staging link, but nothing new is on the site. You ask on Slack what is going on. Silence. The phone keeps ringing, it’s the client. You don’t dare send them the staging link because you know it’s incomplete. The deadline is very close and you have nothing to show them. You are super nervous, you start DMing devs, “When can we have it? Please :(”

You don’t dare ask too many times, but you need to know.

You tell your partner that the end is near, that she needs to bear with you just a little bit longer. You start munching on your nails, you’re watching those unanswered calls from the client pile up, and you don’t know what to do. You are super stressed and you start losing your mind. You seek comfort from your fellow PMs.

Then, like a ray of shining light: Devs typing… You get a dopamine rush. They say, “We pushed everything to production.” You go to the production link, sit back in your chair like a boss and press CTRL+F5.

You look at the screen, all you see is a 500 error.

Your eyes tear up. WTF is this, it’s not my design. You start freaking out.

You reply back on Slack, no answer. Seconds feel like hours… Then you get a message, “Sorry, something went wrong, now it’s live.”

It’s like the birth of your first child. You check it, everything is good. You send it to the client and they are happy with it.

The project is a success.

You sit back, relax. You go to the bedroom, tell your partner you are the man. You pull out some gray hairs in front of the mirror. Your face looks a bit older, it’s like you’ve aged a year in those 3 weeks, but you feel stronger, you feel confident.

You go back to your desk and see 1 new email… It starts with, “New Inquiry…”

You put your game face on, click REPLY and write “Yes we can do it!”.

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