Herding Cats: Lessons Learned in Five Years on the Front Line

My name is Lindsay Hutton, and I am the senior project manager here at EMN. When I started working here almost five years ago, the world of digital and web development was all new to me. After a brief training period I was thrown into the deep end. That may sound a little harsh, but one of the great things about EMN is the culture of continual learning and improvement. Having a team that trusts in your ability to figure things out is immensely encouraging and a big confidence-booster. That trust gave me the freedom to find my way in a way that made sense to me, and allowed me to contribute to and improve the production process and the project management team.

This will be my last week here at EMN. After a lot of dreaming and careful planning, my boyfriend and I are running away to be dirtbag rock climbers. For the next year we’ll be traveling the country, living out of our van, climbing mountains and chasing adventure. As much as I’m looking forward to days free of deadlines and meetings, I can’t say that it’s easy to close this chapter and turn off that project management side of my brain. I won’t miss the stressful launches or the late-night client deliverables. But I will hold onto fond memories of team collaborations, group lunches, and inspiring creative development. As I tie up loose ends and get ready to hand over the reins, I reflect on the things I’ve learned during my time as the circus ringmaster.

1. Nobody speaks the same English.

As the center hub of the wheel, all information about a project should ultimately go through the project manager. Communication is key to making sure everyone has what they need and things are getting done on time, but there’s more to it than just passing instructions from person A to person B. As the project manager, you also have to be a translator. You’re the first in line to hear the client’s requests and try to make sense of them for the dev team. And you’re the last one to relay information back to the client—statuses, features, and how things are going to work—in a way that they understand. A good project manager has to be able to speak developer, lay-person, and manager, and translate fluently between all three.

2. There’s a difference between managing a project and owning a project.

This one took me a little while to figure out. There are a lot of different tools for tracking and organization that, if used properly, could allow just about anyone to handle the very basics of project management. But there’s more to it than just moving pieces around on a board and checking items off of a list. Going from good to great means taking ownership of every aspect of a project: requirements, time management, quality control, etc. You don’t have to be a designer or a developer yourself, but you do have to make an effort to understand how all of the pieces of the puzzle will fit together, and claim responsibility for making sure that each piece of the puzzle is in place. You’re the client advocate and you have to make their needs your needs.

3. Everything happens at 4:30.

It doesn’t matter how smoothly things are going or how quiet a day has been. If something is going to break, it’s going to happen at 4:30. I don’t know how or why. It’s just a law of nature. So brace yourself.

4. Rooftop barbecues lead to higher productivity.

Okay, maybe there is a slight dip in productivity on the day of the barbecue, but I’m talking long term here. It’s not a revelation that happy employees work hard. Some companies achieve this with in-office perks like game rooms and company swag. (Here, we have an endless supply of Jane’s Ice Cream.) But more important than just stuff, showing appreciation for the team and making an effort to create an atmosphere of support and camaraderie makes a difference. Take some time every once in a while to just relax and socialize. A positive group dynamic will only benefit the production process. And let’s face it, the developers are the real heroes of the team. Don’t forget to thank them.

EMN-Team

It’s a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye. I’ve learned so much from this team and have developed some amazing friendships. I’ll miss you all.