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A Comprehensive Guide to Project Manager in Agency Settings

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Updated on:
February 18, 2024
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Every agency needs a good project manager who’ll keep track of the ins and outs of complex tasks while keeping all members on track, too. They’re vital to any project and can mean the difference between success and failure. Indeed, organizations that use project managers report a 92% success rate in meeting project objectives.

That said, not all project managers are created equal. There can be vast differences between the traits and skills of an individual and, likewise, their management styles and tools. Read on to find out more about effective project managers and what they utilize to get the job done.

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager oversees a project, process, or product from inception to completion. Unlike departments or team members with one role, the project manager takes a holistic and overarching view of the entire task, often in various roles. These vary based on the project but can include motivating, delegating, and facilitating effective communication.

The idea of project management can trace its origins back to Microsoft in the 1980s with the development of Microsoft Excel. In it, a vast number of teams, departments, and resources needed to be managed and overseen effectively. Microsoft had the idea to make this the responsibility of a single person; thus, the project manager was born.

In an agency setting, a project manager oversees client briefs and the creative solutions that the agency develops to answer them. It requires a level head and a number of skills (innate and learned) to be effective in this role. These include the following:

  • A thorough working knowledge of a project, the industry, the agency, and the client
  • Technical expertise and the ability to automate tasks with the right software
  • Excellent organizational skills, e.g., time management, multitasking, etc
  • Creative savvy and an eye for what works
  • A forward-facing view of things
  • A certain amount of idealism for a project’s desired goal

Not all these skills will be needed for every task, but they are definitely common to many effective project managers.

The 10 Key Responsibilities of a Project Manager

Every project is a sum of many moving parts. It’s the project manager’s duty to hold it all together, keeping information flowing and all players in constant communication. They keep the project on track, on time, and within budget. They also act as a bridge between agency and client, striving to keep both in alignment.

The key responsibilities of a project manager may vary in specifics from task to task but essentially remain the same. Here are the most important areas where a manager needs to excel.

Resource Allocation and Planning

Seeing as around 70% of projects fail, successful planning is a crucial necessity. A project manager needs to plan for any undertaking adequately. This includes factoring in agency resources, the client’s budget, the expected and projected time frame, and the overall scope of the project.

Once a plan is composed, the project manager should delegate team members and resources for optimal efficiency.

Effective Budgeting

Budgeting is a crucial part of project management. A badly managed project may cost a client more than they expect or lead an agency to incur losses by overdelivering. Budgets should be set at the start of every project and constantly reviewed to make sure that costs don’t spiral out of control.

A budget should always be transparent with the key stakeholders. Extra funds should also be set aside for any unforeseen expenses.

Time Management

Time is a key factor in any undertaking. A project manager has to be aware of the client’s desired timeframe for a task and the agency’s ability to deliver on it. This requires a realistic understanding of the times needed to complete the components of the project. What’s more, they need to set clear deadlines for both short and long-term goals.

A project manager should be involved in creating a project calendar, tracking tasks, monitoring daily progress and activity, organizing schedules, and monitoring time sheets. If a certain area is lagging, they should be able to prioritize and reallocate resources.

Incisive Analysis

A good project manager knows the industry well. They are aware of the client’s target market and what competitors are up to. This analytic ability is vital in ensuring the effective organization and direction of the project, keeping it relevant and as effective as possible.

However, this incisive eye shouldn’t stop at the planning stage. Project managers should recognize new opportunities for growth and effectiveness as the project progresses and know how to capitalize on these effectively.

Keeping Motivation High

While any project can begin with high hopes and enthusiasm, these can be slowly worn down with time and constant client reverts. A team needs motivation to deliver projects effectively and punctually. Accordingly, a project manager should set clear goals for all involved with the project, creating workable objectives and clearly signposted achievements. Red tape and extra tasks distracting from a team’s work should be monitored and minimized.

Moreover, a good project manager keeps their feet on the ground with teams, providing information and addressing any problems or grievances if or when they arise.

Risk Analysis and Mitigation

Every project carries with it some degree of risk. In fact, risk mitigation measures are one of the most widely adopted practices industry-wide. An effective project manager should be able to identify and analyze risk with any task effectively. While risk itself can never be fully eliminated, it can be accounted for and steps taken to minimize its impact.

Clients should have their concerns addressed and be given predictable outcomes for any project.

Maintaining Client Relationships

Speaking of clients, a project manager needs to ensure that they are constantly in the loop for the duration of the project. Any feedback should be promptly given to the agency, and the client should receive regular updates and reports. Project managers should keep the creative teams from straying from the brief and ensure client goals are met.

A good project manager acts as a bridge between both parties, keeping communication smooth and information flowing.

Monitoring and Collaboration

The project manager oversees the entire creative process from start to finish. This includes any reverts, delays, and unforeseen events. To stay effective, the project manager needs to actively collaborate with all involved in the project, including the client. Consistent collaboration allows for more effective management and the ability to respond to issues as they arise.

Information and budgets can change fast, and a project manager needs to stay on top of it all.

Quality Assurance

Not only should a project meet the standards of an agency and client, but each component within it should do so as well. Work from all players should be constantly monitored to ensure quality is maintained. A project manager should also work closely with clients and any QA departments to ensure that the work produced meets brand requirements.

Constant quality control will not only ensure client satisfaction, but minimize the time lost to reverts on any subpar work.

Constant Reporting

Regular updates and reports are essential for the clear flow of information. Fifty percent of businesses say that stakeholder engagement is crucial to their success. A comprehensive final report on a project provides valuable insights into the successes and failures of a completed project and identifies areas for future improvement.

This can help both the client and agency better understand a project’s workflow and efficiency. Project management software like Bonsai even comes equipped with report templates to facilitate the process.

It’s not just about the end, though, and regular updates should be given by the project manager at all major checkpoints and milestones of a project. An accurate and incisive report is crucial in keeping all parties happy and the project on track.

The Important Questions

Knowing how to oversee a project best depends on asking the right questions before it even starts. A good project manager should always ask the following:

  • What is the scope of the project?
  • How soon does it need to be delivered, and how soon can we have it?
  • What is the budget and the projected costs?
  • How many people and departments will the agency need to assign to this?
  • How many changes and reverts should be accommodated?
  • What is the most effective way to organize this project?
  • How should feedback be tracked and considered?
  • How regular should updates to clients be?

Once a project is underway, the project manager should examine the fluidity of the process and thoroughly review the project’s outcomes on completion.

What Type of Project Manager Is Best?

Knowing what type of project manager an agency requires is important to maximizing their talents. Large agencies may have several in-house managers to monitor various projects, while smaller ones may hire an outsourced manager to complete specific tasks as needed. Your choice of project manager will depend on your needs.

In-House

In-house agency project managers have a close relationship with co-workers and an in-depth knowledge of the culture and workings of an agency. Moreover, they are more likely to align with company values and interests.

They are typically on-site to oversee tasks and mitigate emergencies, which can be necessary for large projects and the management of various departments.

On the other hand, in-house project managers are more expensive due to their salaried positions. Companies may also find them ineffective or inactive without a regular influx of jobs that require their oversight.

Outsourced

Outsourced project managers are typically hired for a short period or per-project basis. This is a cost-effective way to utilize their expertise for smaller agencies, which may only see an occasional large project. The outsourced manager’s freelance nature can lend them a wealth of fresh insights and ideas that may not be apparent to those in the agency.

This outsider status can also be a hindrance. An outsourced project manager will have little to no knowledge of the workflow of the agency. Consequently, they may take more time to familiarize themselves with both clients and teams than the timeframe may comfortably allow. Their freelance nature may also mean they aren’t as invested in agency success as a full-time employee.

Creative and Technical Project Managers

While not a distinctive category from in-house and outsourced project managers, creative and technical project managers differ in their roles and approaches to tasks. A creative project manager typically operates with an overarching view of the project as a whole, delegating and organizing holistically.

On the other hand, a technical project manager is intimately involved at ground level with the nitty-gritty of the various tasks. Technical managers are more common when a tangible product needs to be delivered as opposed to creative work.

Management Styles

Different jobs may require different approaches, and some project managers prefer a particular way of getting things done. There are countless methods and styles of project management in the corporate world, all with their own benefits and drawbacks. Here are the major ones that many project managers use:

Waterfall Management

As of 2018, this method of management is the most frequently used. The waterfall management system is a type of Predictive management that’s ideal for completing tasks in a linear and straightforward fashion. Tasks are completed one by one, and each subsequent task can only be started upon completion of the previous one.

This method favors phased completion over simultaneity and is best suited to clearly defined products that need order and depend on sequence, like the cascade of a waterfall. Like a waterfall, though, the system is impossible to adjust once begun, and any major problem will necessitate restarting the entire process from the beginning.

Kanban Management

The Kanban system is a type of Agile management that allows for greater flexibility than a Predictive one. Essentially, the Kanban system lays project tasks and components as papers on a board and tracks their progress along vertical columns from beginning to completion.

One aspect that sets this system apart is its collaborative nature. Teams can update tasks themselves and track the progress of others. Tasks can be completed independently and are therefore open to revision and adaptation. This method isn’t free from limitations, and the lack of swimlanes prohibits tasks from being broken down into smaller modules.

Scrum Management

Scrum is another Agile management system that focuses on productivity over the production process of the Kanban system. Projects are divided into two-week “sprints” with a series of clearly defined goals. There are daily meetings within and between departments before work begins to discuss best practices and a detailed review once the entire sprint is finished.

A scrum system is headed by a leader (called a scrum master) who oversees the process. The scrum master coordinates, coaches, and organizes.

Unlike the Kanban system, the scrum has several concrete steps that need to be followed, making it the less flexible of the two Agile systems. This can give much-needed structure and direction but can also serve to hinder in some cases.

Management Technology

Any large agency project can involve many tasks and information that can be both frustrating and time-consuming to manage. For this reason, many project managers turn to dedicated software to help automate tasks and streamline their workflow.

The adoption of project management software is still low, with only 22% of organizations using it regularly. Without it, though, effective reporting and communication can be hampered, and projects can quickly overrun budgets. The right software is becoming increasingly integral to the role of project manager. Here are a few industry leaders.

Bonsai

Bonsai is a versatile software offering that makes organizing projects simple. It allows project managers to delegate tasks and effectively track their progress. Among its many features are:

  • Effective time tracking that keeps projects and track and bills paid on time.
  • Organized task management through a digital Kanban board accessible to all.
  • Easy document and report creation and organization tools.
  • File-sharing services that enable quick access to resources from anywhere in the world.

Bonsai’s software is more than just a simple project management tool, though. There are a variety of other features to boost agencies’ productivity. These range from tracking client leads to tracking finances and content. It’s a convenient way to manage clients, jobs, and budgets while staying both collaborative and flexible.

Nifty

Nifty keeps its focus on project management and streamlines the process in an easily understandable format. It’s designed with Agile systems in mind and can be customized according to agency needs. The software has several features, including automated milestone notices, time tracking for all parties, and even the ability to organize legal cases in projects.

Unfortunately, Nifty’s full customizability is only available to the highest tier of paid members. In addition, many users report that the software’s dashboard itself is too rigid and not easily changed.

Trello

Trello offers users a Kanban management system to organize their projects. Notifications of task completion and milestones can be automated by custom triggers. What’s more, the software offers team collaboration by making the system accessible to all.

That said, Trello does little more than simple project management. There are no reporting or content management features. The lack of swimlanes means tasks can’t be broken down into smaller components, and any extra software functions require extra add-ons to be installed.

Wrike

Wrike is one of the more expensive project management offerings, but it offers a great degree of customizability and ready-made templates to make up for it. Its dashboard is intuitive and user-friendly, and tasks can easily be broken down into smaller components. The software also uses AI in its Work Intelligence Suite to automate processes and organize tasks automatically.

The biggest drawback of Wrike is its price. The software is expensive for a project management tool, and the full range of features is hidden behind a paywall.

Make It Manageable

Project managers are a vital part of an agency’s success, no matter the size or nature of a task. This success is driven by their character, management style, and the software they use. You should now have all the information you need about project managers and can effectively decide on the right one for your next major agency project.

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