Project Management for Digital Agencies

Digital agencies operational icons in composition (megaphone, target, statics, launching rocket and calendar)

Every project by nature is unique; and there is no general consensus on how to classify or allocate projects into a common category. Most people like to make a broad distinction between traditional projects (e.g. constructing a building), and technological (IT) projects (e.g. developing software). Digital marketing projects are often grouped as the latter, however, there are enough differences with IT projects that they should have a category on their own.

As with any company, project management (PM) is a crucial aspect of a digital agency’s operations. It normally involves the same general steps: overseeing the planning, execution, and tracking of specific short-term and long-term tasks, assuring that resources are used efficiently and meeting objectives on time and within budget.

One key difference with digital agencies is the ability to effectively manage and communicate with clients in areas not necessarily related to operations, finances or IT, but primarily related to marketing and sales. Setting clear project goals and expectations in this case is more difficult as it deals with market uncertainty and irrational consumer behavior. Regular and frequent updates on progress are more time-sensitive due to the fast changing environment of the digital landscape. A good PM needs to have the ability to anticipate and address any potential issues or concerns that may arise, even outside the original scope of a project.

Another important challenge in digital agencies projects is the need to effectively manage and coordinate the work of a very diverse team. This normally includes assigning tasks, setting deadlines, and ensuring that everyone has the resources and support they need to complete their work, avoiding any bottlenecks or delays that may occur during the course of a project. But when dealing with a team of content creators and creative teams, traditional guidelines and processes do not necessarily apply. Aside from effectively managing the technical aspects of their projects, PMs need to speak the language of marketers, creatives and consumers, and have a clear understanding of the different communication channels and platforms being used in different markets. This includes ensuring that projects are developed using the latest technologies and that they are optimized for search engines, mobile devices, and every social media platform. Considering the changing environment and temporary fads, this is not easy to achieve, and flexibility and fast reaction times are key.

Team and stakeholder management

IT project management typically involves managing the development, implementation, and maintenance of information technology systems, thus coordinating tasks with external vendors and contractors. IT project managers are responsible for ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget, while also ensuring that the final product meets the organization’s needs.

Digital project management, on the other hand, involves managing the development of digital products and services for clients. This includes managing the work of internal teams, as well as coordinating (and often competing) with other agencies and clients to ensure that their needs are met. Times and budgets are more often than not only broadly defined, and constant changes are the norm. It is also difficult to have an objective measure of success.

Another key difference is the focus on internal vs external stakeholders. In IT project management, the primary stakeholders are internal teams, while in digital agencies, the primary stakeholders are external clients. This does not allow for the same level of control, coordination and communication, which creates additional challenges for a PM. While technology projects are more focused on the technical aspects, digital agencies are more focused on the creative and design aspects of a project.

The Project Manager role

In digital agencies, PMs have specific challenges, with a variety of obstacles that can arise throughout the course of a project:

    1. Managing client expectations: Agencies often work with clients who have high expectations for the final product so it can be challenging to ensure that the client is satisfied with an uncertain final outcome.

    2. Coordinating internal teams: Agencies often have multiple teams working on a single project, including designers, developers, and marketers. Considering such diverse backgrounds, making sure that everyone is on the same page is a lot more difficult than how it sounds.

    3. Keeping up with the latest technologies: The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and new technologies are being developed all the time. Agencies must stay up-to-date with the latest technologies in order to deliver the best possible products and services. This in turn creates the need of constant training and investment in new technology and platforms,

    4. Managing budgets and timelines: Agencies often have to work with ever-changing tight budgets and timelines, and frequent changes are the norm.

    5. Managing risks: Every project comes with its own set of risks, but agencies must be able to identify and mitigate these risks when no clear historical data or experience in a similar scenario is available

    While these challenges can be difficult to overcome, there are strategies that PMs can use to mitigate them. For example, by setting clear goals and expectations from the beginning of a project, including clear language on shifting priorities and target ranges rather than fixed numbers. Keeping up with the latest technologies needs to be followed with continuous learning and professional development to always have teams and tech working in-sync. Budgets and timelines need to be realistic but allow a flexible budget that can change with new information.

    In conclusion, project management in digital agencies can be challenging, but by understanding the common obstacles and implementing strategies to mitigate them, there are good options to increase the chances of project success.

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