The Focal Point Blog // Project Management // Dave Annis // June 22, 2021

Unlock Agency Project Management Superpowers: Visibility

Many digital services companies and tech consultancies don’t fully leverage the skills and value of their project managers. They often view project management as an administrative necessity versus a critical value-adding function. Parallax wants to change that by helping digital services companies and consultancies celebrate and elevate the role of project management.

Our quarterly project management blog series will dive into challenges agency project managers face today — and how they can use their unique PM superpowers to evolve from project leaders to agency leaders.

Is our project on track? When will it be complete? How much will it cost if we build “x” feature? A project manager who can quickly and accurately answer these questions is a significant value add to digital agencies and tech consultancies. Their ability to answer these questions on-demand builds trust in the project team, improves client satisfaction and retention, and increases the chances that this client will refer you to other businesses.

Unfortunately, most agencies haven’t done enough to promote how valuable it is for project managers to answer these questions efficiently. Often, it’s just what agency leaders expect of their PMs. They seem like easy questions to answer (if you’ve never worked in project management).

Disparate agency data creates a tough job for project managers

The reality is that answering these questions is often manual, time-consuming, and frustrating. No single person in the agency has access to all of the project inputs needed to answer these questions on the fly. Data is often scattered between different spreadsheets and tools. Resource plans are in one place, assigned tasks in another, and actuals in yet another tool. Project managers have the often-thankless job of piecing data together from the agency’s disparate tools to gather the necessary insights.

Thus begins the familiar project management workflow; project managers toggle between tools to:

  • Adjust project timelines and milestones as things evolve and change almost daily
  • Update resource plans and review and reconcile timesheets weekly (often having to play professional babysitter to get their teams to submit their time)
  • Compare actuals to the budgeted work

They do this so that when clients or agency leaders ask the golden question, “Is this project on track?” they can piece together all of the different data inputs in spreadsheets to generate insights from all of the disparate systems the company uses.

Not only is this time-consuming and can easily lead to incorrect reporting because spreadsheets quickly become clunky and error-prone, but agency leaders begin to view project managers as administrative resources. They see project managers as admins who simply compile information, make and adjust project plans, organize task lists, and produce reports when asked. On repeat. High-performing project managers often fly under the radar, invisible to the rest of the organization. Their projects are on time and on budget, so they’re left alone in their corner of the business to continue creating and adjusting project plans. Agencies and project managers alike often see this invisibility as a project management superpower. The PMs aren’t in the spotlight because their projects are going smoothly. But this invisibility also holds project managers back; it limits their value to the agency.

From an invisible project manager to a driver of visibility

Expecting project managers to strive for invisibility undercuts the value they could provide if empowered by agency leaders and given the right tools. PMs can add significant value to client projects by proactively spotting project roadblocks and solving them before they impact the budget or timeline. But when project managers operate as administrative resources, they don’t provide enough value to justify charging for project management as a capability (which we strongly recommend agencies do).

So, what’s the agency to do? It’s time to transform project managers’ invisibility superpower into one that enables them to drive visibility across the business. When agency leaders elevate the value of their project managers, project managers can become strategic agency resources with a clearer value to the company and clients. Here’s how to empower project managers as visibility drivers:

  • Combine all of your project data into one system that’s accessible to everyone that needs it. The system should combine data points from resource plans, project plans, and project financials. This single source of truth eliminates the need for project managers to sort through all of the agency’s tools to compile data. It also provides visibility that’s difficult to achieve when toggling between tools.
  • Choose a system that generates real-time insights and reports. The product you use should also enable your project managers to gather insights quickly to help them proactively plan projects and spot roadblocks. Rather than relying on multiple pieced-together spreadsheets, the product should be a single source of truth for your PMs. Instead of manually editing (and then re-editing) spreadsheets, project managers can focus their energy on reviewing the insights and using them for proactive and strategic discussions with clients. Some of the insights the tool should generate include:
  • Actuals compared to the budget
  • Resource demand compared resource capacity
  • Projected utilization based on resource plans
  • Profitability of in-progress projects

(By the way, we happen to know a platform that does all of this — and more — pretty darn well. 😉)

  • Expect project managers to have strategic client discussions. Increased visibility into data and insights also means project managers can more easily model different project scenarios out for clients. If a client asks how long it will take to build out a particular feature, project managers should be able to go back to the system, make updates, and report back to the client. Given that all data now feeds into one central system, these modeled scenarios and projections update in real-time, enabling the project manager to act as a strategic advisor and problem solver with clients. Add these client conversations as a critical aspect of your PM’s job description to elevate their role.
  • Enable project managers to operate as protectors of their teams. One of the biggest challenges project managers face is constantly having to compete for resources. By the time they realize their assigned resource is no longer available, it adds a project delay. Improved visibility into resource plans and insights helps project managers spot these resource issues proactively, so they can work cross-functionally with internal teams to solve them. Clients gain significant value when their project manager can effectively protect the project team’s time.

Agencies miss out on significant value creation when project managers work behind the scenes and strive for invisibility. It’s time to recognize and elevate the skills of talented project managers to help them — and the business — reach their full potential.

The business impact of elevated project managers

Project managers that act as visibility drivers play a leading role in helping the agency and their clients make decisions based on data rather than emotion or gut instinct. When project managers have access to important project insights, they can consult with clients on recommendations and next steps. These proactive, strategic discussions help the business and client accounts operate smarter, healthier, and happier.

Clients are happier with the agency relationship because they trust their project managers to give quick and accurate information on project status. This trust builds stronger, longer-term relationships and increases the likelihood that the client will renew contracts with your company for future work.

The agency saves time — and thus, money — because project managers no longer have to manage multiple, clunky spreadsheets for each of their client accounts. They have one place to look for answers, and these answers are informed by accurate, real-time data fed directly from the tools the agency already uses and loves.

Everyone benefits from greater visibility. If you’d like to learn how you can take the first step toward empowering your project managers to be visibility drivers, get in touch to schedule a time to chat with our team. We’ll show you how Parallax fits right into your existing workflows to free up time and energy you can instead spend on your craft and investments into your futures.

Would you like to receive more articles like this (including our Q3 project manager post about PM flexibility!?) delivered straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our updates.