Project Management

How Many Project Managers Does Your Agency Need?

AMs and PMs - how many project managers does your agency need? Punchlist

One of the first things I do every morning is go through my to-do list… and my to-don’t list. And from what I’ve seen in 30 years — as a digital agency owner plus running the Bureau of Digital — project managers are the ultimate keepers of lists on any team. They really keep things humming. This week’s topic was inspired by a conversation in the Bureau Slack about when you might need more project management (PM) help, and when an account manager (AM) might be a better hire.

All-Day Productivity: AMs and PMs

Project management is a big deal. After all, getting things done keeps everything moving, especially cash flow. And with all the respect to the late Notorious, more money is a problem most shops are hoping for. With PMs at the center of operational success, how do you decide what they should be doing, how they work with account managers, and how much work they can handle? Here are some areas to consider.

Look at the Work

Start by evaluating all the projects on your plate, and how much time it takes to manage them. Remember that large projects don’t necessarily take more PM time, and some smaller jobs require more in-the-weeds management. There might also be a lot of simple tasks that are taking an inordinate amount of time, like tracking status in your management software, that could be done by AMs, project coordinators, or others. This is also a good reminder that you should perform regular assessments of all your clients, to identify anyone who isn’t paying enough for the handholding or hassle they may cause.

Defining AM vs. PM

That brings us to a larger question of what role your PM plays in your company. The consensus among Bureau members is that most shops use their project managers as behind-the-scenes leaders who make sure things get done, rather than interfacing with the client. That leaves the AMs to handle direct client communication, gathering requirements, sending deliverables, etc. The more you specialize the workload of both PMs and AMs, the more efficient they can both be. 

Consider Individual Capability

As with any other position, one PM’s abilities will differ from others, and they will also vary based on the duties you assign to the position. If you’re bringing in someone new to wrangle that difficult project, don’t expect them to be able to handle as much as a seasoned veteran who knows your business and your clients. Lean into the strengths of your people.

Don’t Skimp on the Talent

When it comes down to it, if things aren’t getting done you might need to add more people. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be more full-fledged PMs. Maybe a role like a project coordinator could handle some of the day-to-day things like taking notes or assigning tasks, to ease the burden on existing PMs that are managing staffing and schedules.

Lead Your Leaders

You’re dealing with people, and you need to give them proper support to do their jobs effectively. Try not to define their struggles as failure unless you already do everything you can to equip them for success. Your AMs and PMs should be working together like a well-oiled machine, but it’s up to you to make sure they’re not spinning their wheels, duplicating tasks, or stepping on one another’s toes.

Oh, and remember to reward them too! Like maybe send them to the Digital PM Summit?

Good agency owners know that if you take care of your people, they will take care of you. This is especially true of your project managers, and even if yours seem to be handling things well, it’s worth a conversation to make sure they have what they need so they aren’t on the road to burnout.

This article was re-posted with permission from our friends at the Bureau of Digital, a community of which Punchlist is a proud member.

Carl Smith

Carl Smith

Carl Smith is the owner of The Bureau of Digital, a community of thousands of digital leaders at agencies, in-house teams, product shops and many of the world’s largest companies. Previously he ran his own interactive agency for over a decade.
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