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The Role of the Project Manager in Print Software

Every business owner has ideas, plans, and a vision for what they want their company to become. There is never a shortage of ideas; there is a severe lack of execution. Good project management can convert more of your ideas to reality through a disciplined execution process that annoys most people involved (especially impatient, attention deficit prone business owners).

By Jennifer Matt
Published: February 2, 2015

What is a project? According to David Allen, best-selling author of Getting Things Done it’s anything that takes more than one step to complete. For our purposes we’re going to talk about projects that have the following characteristics; they have a business goal, a timeline, a budget (time and/or money), and they require the participation of multiple people to bring them to completion. All of my project management experience revolves around technology projects; the implementation of a new technology, building a new piece of technology, launching a new technology to market, and/or the integration of two technologies.

What is project management? Project management is a role played by an individual whose primary focus is to monitor, track, and manage the individual resources required to meet the project objectives while tracking timelines and budgets. Not all projects warrant a project manager but most technology projects fail without one. People are busy, people get easily distracted, people make promises they don’t keep, and people miss deadlines. None of this behavior is typically malicious or due to laziness, important things come up, life happens, work happens, the project suffers. Without the focus of a project manager projects simply fade away. I have heard this statement so many times, “we started working on this initiative three or four times, then things got busy and we moved onto other priorities.”

When there is a good project manager on the project you aren’t allowed to forget, you are held accountable for commitments, you are asked to give estimates for deliverables (this is where the annoying part comes in). Project managers play the role of keeping the team on schedule, holding people responsible, and helping everyone understand their impact on the overall project. When projects are being properly managed they take on a “boring” momentum; meaning — things are getting done, budgets are being met, and there is very little drama.

I am typically involved in three or four large projects at once and then several smaller ones. For the larger projects we have a dedicated project manager because without them we would undoubtedly fail. This project manager is like a conductor of a marching band, keeping us all moving and then monitoring our progress. The result of this kind of attention to a project is that there are no surprises, nobody looks up and says, uh oh we’re three weeks behind schedule and over budget! Our project manager is monitoring the budget and timeline constantly and then communicating that to the internal team via weekly meetings and the client via weekly meetings. The project takes on a natural cadence that everyone understands.

Today project management can happen in real-time, through collaborative tools that can be shared with everyone involved in the project. We use a tool called Trello. What I like about Trello is that it mimics the tools I feel most comfortable when trying to organize a complex idea or project – index cards, post it notes, and a white board. Trello creates a shared space for the project team to get a visual of the overall project tasks, what is being worked on now, what is been done, what is left to do, as well as store project assets, and collaborate across individuals. It’s like we’re all in the same office writing on the same white board, yet we’re on at least two continents across five time zones.

I’m not suggesting you run out and hire a project manager. Projects can be managed by internal resources you already have. Often merely assigning a project manager to a project can go a long way to formalizing your intention for someone to be responsible to deliver the desired result. Let’s say you’re going to buy a new print MIS this year to replace the legacy system that isn’t supported anymore. This is a project that definitely warrants a project manager from your team; don’t assume the project management role will be provided by the vendor.

Here’s how to think like a project manager:

1. The Desired Business Result: First and foremost, clearly describe the desired business result. Do not start a project without this, do not assume everyone knows. Write the goal down, explain it several different ways so everyone gets it, ask people to describe it in their own words. The worst possible project is one that gets executed (money and time spent) and delivers unexpected results because the goal wasn’t clear up front.

  • What business results do you want to accomplish with this project? Don’t simply say swap out your print MIS solutions, you should have higher goals than that. What specifically do you want to be able to do with your business because you’ve made this serious investment in a new print MIS?
  • How will you know the project is done? What metrics will show completion?
  • How will you track the project’s progress? How will you know it’s heading in the right direction?
  • What are the artifacts of completion? (e.g. legacy print MIS has been decommissioned, new print MIS is now live in production, you have a trusted system of record for your business, you have access to data about costs that you never had before, you now have a real inventory system, etc.)
  • When delivering the business goals give as much context over the “why” as possible, the more context people have, the more anchored they are to the outcomes and the better thinkers they will be when making decisions in the weeds of the project.

2. The Resources: One mantra of project management is “projects fail due to goal confusion and role confusion.” After you get the goal understood (#1), then get the roles perfectly clear. Who will be involved, what will their responsibilities be, and do they have the time required to execute on their portion of the project? The most common mistake in project roles is to overburden your best people with more projects than they could possibly execute on.

  • Who will be involved?
  • How much will they be expected to participate?
  • Are they available?
  • Do you need to get outside help because your resources are too busy “drinking from the fire hose of your daily business?”

3. The Tools: There are some great tools for helping project communication and shared storage of project assets. The project manager’s job is to make sure everyone has access to what they need to complete their project tasks on time and on budget. This ranges from shared file repositories (e.g. DropBox, GDrive) to group chat. In general, I don’t like projects that are managed via e-mail because e-mail has a lot of overhead for each individual, we spend far too much of our work lives fighting our dreaded inbox. Moving our collaboration and communication out of e-mail and into a centralized, open, and shared task management system creates a more cohesive environment and gives everyone a way to keep informed without getting cc’d on every e-mail exchange. Most of the tools are free or close to free for limited functionality.

  • Project Management / Task Management: examples: Trello, Basecamp, Asana, JIRA
  • Shared File Repositories: DropBox, GDrive, Box.net
  • Time Tracking Software: Toggl

Project management is a role that formalizes your approach to execution. Ideas are cheap; talking about ideas is even cheaper, real differentiation in business is developed through the boring and consistent execution of projects that turn your ideas/vision into reality. Formalize your approach to projects, just enough to create a team who understands their role working towards a clearly defined role. Assign someone the project management role. Their job is to “herd the cats” in the right direction to get you to your business result, on-time, on budget so you can move onto the next idea.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.


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