The Rise of Digital Project Management

August 13th, 2021 19 min read

We live in a digital age. Our digital world is filled with millions of talented people working on a diverse set of projects that power our online and offline lives.

The people who design what we access on our screens are masters at planning, communicating, collaborating, and ultimately creating.

These are the people who make up digital project management, and at the center of digital project management is, naturally, the digital project manager.

If you have come across these terms during conversations at work, but aren’t familiar with what this really means, we break them down for you here.

What is Digital Project Management?

Digital project management is a young practice in modern businesses. Because of this, there are multiple ways to understand it. Some define it as project management with a digital flair. Some don’t think it is project management at all. Others use it interchangeably with IT project management. So what does digital project management really mean?

Digital project management is about getting things done in a digital world.

Maybe that seems too simplistic.

The thing is, digital project management has a simple goal, but can employ multiple complex tools to get the job done.

What is digital project management?
Image via apessay.com

For more visual learners, check out this video on the fundamentals of digital project management.

What is Digital?

Let’s start by breaking down digital. Digital typically refers to all things connected to the internet that use data, screens, pixels, etc. There are many channels for digital connection and communication such as websites, social media, apps, online games, email, eCommerce sites, etc.. The bottom line is, you’ll recognize digital when you see it or use it.

It is the content, apps, and services you use online.

That leads us to the ‘getting things done’ part of digital project management. All of the content and services you use daily came from somewhere, right? They were developed by people. Those people had to communicate, work together, and get the job done.

Digital project management is the process of organizing and executing these digital projects. This means bringing together companies, stakeholders, developers, marketers, sales reps, content writers, and other involved staff to work together. Additionally, they collaborate, using software solutions, to finish an assignment within a designated budget and timeline.

The Individuals Behind Digital Project Management

Digital project management requires strategy and diversified skill sets. The content you see on Youtube, the influencer blog you follow, or the personal finance app that keeps your money organized did not develop overnight.

The people behind those videos or tools needed to know why they were doing a project, what benefit it would have, who would view their material or use their tool, what technology would bring it all together and at what cost.

The different pieces include business analysis, digital strategy, customer and user experience, design, content writing, technological development, and more.

Digital project management takes a great deal of planning and tying together all of the pieces needed to develop a digital project.

Why is Digital Project Management on the Rise?

Over the last several years, digital project management has grown to be a more recognized and organized field.

Prior to recent years, the role of a digital project manager didn’t exactly exist. People did the job but under different titles, such as account managers, founders of agencies, designers, developers, or digital marketers.

As the need for high-quality digital content across industries rose, the term ‘digital project’ manager started to take form.

In 2013, Happy Cog hosted its first annual Digital Project Management Summit. It was the first conference for people who manage digital projects in the US. It was then followed by similar conferences in other countries.

The inaugural summit was capped at 150 people. Just five years later, the same conference had more than 300 attendees, at least two times the size of the original gathering.

Why is this summit so significant for the development of digital project management?

Before this summit, there were conferences on design, agile methodologies, development, or project management in general but according to Dave Prior, reflecting on his experience at the first summit,

“Those conferences don’t really speak to the audience that is present here in Philly this week. For the folks who manage projects at digital agencies, there is a different need.”

As technology changes and advances, there will be a greater need for sophisticated digital project management.

“I predict the next decade in UK digital will see digital project management move firmly out of the realms of a profession populated by ‘ex-whatevers’ and establish itself as a serious area of digital, respected by designers and developers alike.”

~ PM consultant Sam Barnes

Though he is speaking about his own community in the UK, this quote can apply to trends in digital project management in the US and around the world.

Digital project management is a relatively young but quickly growing field. Just one search on indeed brings up hundreds of job openings from digital project managers. As this practice grows, it will be important to track how it evolves in a constantly changing digital environment.

Who is the Digital Project Manager?

The digital project manager is the one bringing all the pieces of a project together and delivering the product. Let’s take a close look at what role a digital project manager plays, what they do, what traits they need, and what tools they use.

Who is a digital project manager?
Image via p4digitalblog.com

A Digital Project Manager’s Role

The digital project manager plays a very important role when developing digital projects. A digital project manager is a person who wears many different hats in a day.

They fill the role of a project manager, account manager, digital strategist, business analyst, sales manager, SEO consultant, and quality specialist. Most have an eye for good photography and can talk HTML code with the developers.

They communicate with stakeholders, clients, and team members on the project. Likewise, many project managers in the digital world describe themselves as the ones bringing order to the chaos of a project.

People with this role serve as planners, strategists, analysts, leaders, facilitators, and communicators. On a normal day, you can expect them to:

  • Manage people, budgets, tools, and timelines
  • See with a bird’s eye view, while keeping their eye on the details
  • Being structured to manage, yet flexible to show empathy and understanding to each department.
  • Connecting with the whole team, yet is the one who is responsible for the completion of the final product at the end of the day

Because of the versatility of the role, professionals with this title come from very different backgrounds.  

What a Digital Project Manager Does

Digital project managers organize, communicate, and coordinate a team to get the job done.  

The list of tasks a digital project manager does can include:

  • Creating project plans, schedules, and budgets
  • Communicating those plans with everybody involved
  • Distributing tasks to team members
  • Setting deadlines
  • Strategically responding to changes and unexpected challenges
  • Updating executives and stakeholders with reports
  • Ensuring the quality of a product
  • Using data to track project success

Performing all of these tasks manually would be a huge burden. That’s why digital project managers use technology to help them through each phase of their project.

According to one digital project manager, 90% of a project manager’s schedule is dedicated to communication. This looks like many emails, calls, and meetings. Moreover, project managers have to understand which form of communication best fits the personality and needs of each team member.

Top Traits of a Successful Digital Project Manager

Successful project managers have a blend of traits that come from their personalities, training, and prior work experiences.

Some top traits of a great digital project manager include:

Strong Communication Skills

Digital project managers must be able to listen to their colleagues effectively and to clearly deliver their perspective as well. Communication, whether verbal, written, or through other means, is the main way teams can collaborate together. 

Articulating ideas and understanding challenges across departments is key to completing projects in an efficient way.

Communication for a DPM is about far more than their own interpersonal skills. They need to serve as an expert at facilitating communication between employees other than themselves. This can take many forms. Successful digital project managers will provide the tools for rapid, effective communication.

The nature of communication has changed in 2020, and so too must the way digital project managers work. Tools like Zoom and Slack may have gone from useful to essential. 

It is important to remember that many teams will have members who never step foot in the office. Enabling these members to be as effective as those who are in person is vital, or DPM’s risk wasting the talents of their remote employees. 

Reliable Resource and Team Leader

Leaders know how to support and empower their team. They respect and care about the team members because they know that a project requires all the skills that are brought to the table. Leaders are people who staff can look to and trust. 

They are responsible for having information, plans, and organization for executing those plans. Leaders are assertive but likable. Great leaders lead by example, getting all of their work done on time, appreciating other colleagues, and creating a positive culture when stress and challenges feel overwhelming.  

Perhaps most vital for a team leader is effective personnel management. Every employee is different. They will all require different leadership, and indeed, a different relationship with that leader.

 Some come to work and build interpersonal connections, and use them to facilitate their work life. Others work 9-5, and keep their personal life very separate. Neither of these is wrong. Perhaps nothing is worse for a more introverted employee than a forced happy hour, after work hours.

The best DPM’s recognize these differences and understand that each is valid. By understanding the way a team member wants to interact with their leaders, managers can create the most beneficial relationship for themselves and the employee. Managers get the most out of their staff. Employees get the work-life/leader-subordinate balance they want.

Attention to Detail

Digital projects are like huge puzzles. Not only that, but project managers usually have more than one project puzzle to solve at a time. Project managers are responsible for planning, assigning tasks, leading meetings productively, and setting deadlines for the team. If changes occur, project managers must be aware of how those changes will affect the project’s timeline and resources.

Diverse Skill Set

Project managers come from a variety of backgrounds. Many consider themselves a jack of all trades in the digital world. Successful project managers are usually familiar with content marketing, SEO, social media, analytics, HTML/CSS basics, simple photo editing and more. In addition to that, digital project managers must have a working knowledge of how to use certain software that deal with file sharing, presentations, content management, lead generation, and more.

What Tools Do Digital Project Managers Use?

Modern software solutions are the digital project manager’s best friend. SaaS solutions enable project managers to organize, communicate with their teams and clients, assign tasks, share files, and more.

Some popular tools include project management software, agile tools, planning software, data analytics solutions, collaboration platforms and more.

To start with, project management software, as the name suggests, will do plenty of heavy lifting for DPM’s. They will coordinate the planning, initiation, execution, and resolution of projects. These will literally facilitate the “project management” part of a DPM’s title.

Some of the best project management software today is the Top Rated award winners. Each of these has a proven record from real users.

Collaboration platforms have become more important than ever. These will allow you to take advantage of experience outside of the office. Some staff may work remotely permanently. These Top Rated tools will allow you to help the remote staff feel and work like they are next to you. Just as importantly, members of your team can benefit from their remote expertise as well. 

Some other, specific digital project management tools you may benefit from include:

  • G Suite: This is a good starting point for any team that needs to create different types of documents, spreadsheets, forms, websites, and more. Files and calendars can be shared and edited by team members. This makes collaboration simple.
  • Clickup: Clickup is the highest rated project management solution on TrustRadius.Clickup is designed to be modular and work with your specific organizations needs. These will work for all types of projects. 
  • MeisterTask: This solution is an agile project management system for teams to organize and manage their products in a customizable platform. This will help with improving workflow and time management.
  • Slack: This tool is designed to empower collaboration among teams. It features many messaging options, file sharing, and integrates with other popular software such Google Drive and DropBox.

Looking for some other top project management tools? Check out our guide to the Top 10 Project Management Tools.

Digital project management and the role of a digital project manager are rising. Project managers use cloud-based solutions to keep projects running smoothly and efficiently. To learn more about helpful software solutions and what their users think about them, read software reviews today.

Click here to explore and read reviews for the best project management software

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