3 Lessons from a “Former” Type-A Project Manager

17 Oct 2016 Photo Credit: Roy Lichtenstein

Editorial note: Carly Hohl has done it all. And since she joined TradeMark six years ago, when it was still a modest little digital shop, Carly has seen it all. Big projects. Small projects. Medium projects.

Eventually, Carly formalized her boots-on-the-ground experience by earning her PMP certification. These days, she oversees a six-person team of project managers and coordinators—helping to escort complex digital projects from inception to launch.

Here, Carly tells you what a Project Manager at a busy digital agency thinks about. It’s a peek inside the mind of a… well, you’ll see…


Confession right off the bat: I’m still a Type-A project manager. To wit:

  • I’m an obsessive list-maker.
  • Unknowns raise my blood pressure.
  • I actually wake up in the middle of the night thinking “I didn’t get a update from so-and-so today!!!”

But after six years of managing major website redesigns for TradeMark Media, I’ve learned some helpful lessons. Here are a some of them...

1. Make a plan. Then prepare to deviate from it.

A project manager should own the project timeline.

Make certain that a project timeline accounts for all required deliverables and that the calendar is realistic. Along the way, ensure that tasks are being completed so that the proceeding tasks can commence.

But here’s the thing: No project manager can predict the future…

  • A stomach flu could wipe out your development team for a week.
  • Your client could undergo a sudden shift in leadership that shakes up everything.
  • The plan for a certain technical component could fail and you have to go back to the drawing board.

Stuff happens. That’s OK.

It’s human, even.

What matters is how you respond to the unforeseen. Trying to cram a no-longer-workable timeline onto a disrupted project stresses everyone out. When circumstances go haywire, keep a big-picture perspective. Determine how the news impacts the project. Brainstorm possible solutions.  

Have a honest conversation with your client. Then implement any necessary changes in the project plan and timeline and move forward. Stay true and honest and forward-looking. Don’t get mired in the weeds.

2. Trust your team.

Nobody loves a micromanager. Nobody.

But sometimes, it’s necessary. When you have to dive into the details of a project, trust that your team understands the project’s requirements and is committed to its success. Without trust, you’re doomed.

Help them succeed. Establish project requirements and milestones, a realistic timeline, and clear expectations.

For example: If you have weekly check-ins, what information should they be prepared to share? If a deadline is missed, what are the implications? How should they communicate with you if they’re concerned about deliverables and timeline?

If you’re able to answer these questions, you’ll be fine. Step back, find comfort in your team of experts. They know what they’re doing and they’re invested in the project.

3. Acknowledge the hiccups. Learn from them. And move on.

Things happen. Life happens. A deadline can be missed, miscommunications worm their way in, a deliverable or feature of the project just isn’t working as intended.

Be open and honest with your project team and client, determine if anything needs to change on the project, and move on.

When asked how he remained so spry, productive, and happy at 93 years old, Norman Lear, the lifelong TV producer who created most of the wonderful shows of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, said, "It really comes down to two words. 'Over' and 'next.' When something's over, it's over. And then it's on to the next thing."

I love that.

Don’t dwell on the hiccups; doing so will only distract you from other aspects of the project.

A project manager is the central hub of a major project—and they often set the tone for the other project team members. If the project manager is stressed and frazzled, or can’t get past something, it will often impact the project team—which, in turn, impacts the success of the project.

The Takeaway

  1. Stay flexible
  2. Delegate
  3. Let go

Carly Hohl

Project Management Director

Overseeing our robust project management team, Carly knows how to usher digital projects from kickoff to launch.

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