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The Project Management Role in a Web Firm

A few years ago, when we decided that wed accept the growth that was kindly being forced on us by new clients, we knew there would be problems. We grew roughly from 6 full time employees to 18 in about three years time. We were aware that many businesses in the marketing sector go out of business when making staffing leaps such as this one. What we didnt know was what those problems would be exactly – but we had an idea.

We were fairly sure that we were going to have a hard time staffing programmers. We thought wed have difficulty finding good ones and training them quickly enough to deal with our clients increasing demands.  While there have been a few bumps along that road, weve been blessed with a great programming crew of four guys, Jim and Steve from the Providence office and George and Nolan here in the Carrboro office. Supporting them, we have Mike and Dave, who make sure that the programming role is more efficient and enjoyable as time goes on.

These days, were selling more work than ever, and it is not uncommon to have one or more of the four programmers asking us what they can do with their free time. This is a good thing.

No, programmer staffing was not the pain spot we targeted it to be. We got sucker punched by the role of the project manager.

Three years ago, I managed every project Newfangled had. As we started to grow, it became clear that I could not simultaneously do this while also handling all the sales and the general running of the company. So, the age of the project manager began, and it really has been in flux up until this quarter… phew! It has been an intense ride. 

I believe that weve figured out how to staff and grow our PM staff. This might sound elementary to a lot of people in the marketing industry, but our reality is a little different from the standard agency model. The main reason is that we have hundreds of clients, any number of whom might have a simple or complex need any day. A Newfangled PM has to be well versed in all of our legacy clients websites, in addition to managing new projects.

Ill spare you the history of all of our attempts at growing this group and cut to the success. What weve finally figured out is that it is about the team. Each PM now has a dedicated assistant, a PMA, if you will. The PM role is responsible for managing new projects and (coming in 2009) proactively reviewing our legacy sites, and helping clients improve the sites weve built for them over the years. The PMA role supports the PM in the new project, mostly through doing the prototyping work, and is responsible for managing all of the miscellaneous client requests that come in each day. This last part is important. It was these requests (which varied greatly in count from week to week) that would make our PMs time unmanageable. Now, the PMA role adds an extra layer of support and accountability that the project managers need in order to truly be the guiding, creative and available resources our clients need them to be.

Despite knowing that we tried our absolute best, I feel badly it took us this long to get it right. Fortunately, we have a lot of very patient and wonderful clients who are going to have their socks knocked off now that weve finally figured this out.

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