It’s Thursday, six pm. Two days from month end. You’re about to send an apology email to your client explaining yet another scheduling setback. Fire-fighting again. Meanwhile, you’re wondering if the dwindling revenue from the trainwreck of project delays is going to cover this month’s payroll.
You need to compensate by starting more projects. But first, you have to outsource talent to deal with the growing queue of work that your over-capacity team should have finished weeks ago. You know the quality might suffer and the increased freelance rates will hurt, but you’re out of options.
The phone rings. It’s your kid asking if you’ll be home for dinner. You won’t. You make another call to Domino’s: you send two pizzas to your house and then realize you’ll need at least two more large pepperonis to feed the dev team who’s also working late tonight to meet last week’s Nephron deadline. Your website says you “deliver exceptional experiences,” but it’s mostly a lie. This experience you promise is far from exceptional. It’s a grim reminder of how far you’ve strayed from the vision you started with.
Don’t despair. This isn’t a problem with your team or your clients. It’s not a problem with your sales or even you—this is a project management problem and it’s a problem you can solve.
Project health = business health
People give us weird looks when we tell them we’re obsessed with project management.
It’s underappreciated and misunderstood, especially in tech and design. Most organizations (at least the ones that pay attention to project management) have adopted the same pre-industrial methodologies that construction companies use to build bridges and factories. They set up their organizations around obsolete means of production that have little to do with the ways they design and build digital products. Just look at how many project management tools are built around the concept of tracking and selling hours (guess what: you don’t sell hours—you sell value and results). Look at the general-purpose certifications shops ask for on project management (PM) job descriptions. How are those PMP and Prince2 certifications helping with rapid iteration and the necessity to estimate new, unfamiliar technology in every single project?
The fact is, nothing affects the profitability and sustainability of your company more than the health of your projects. If you care about your team’s mental health, the experience you deliver to your clients, the consistency of your cashflow, and your ability to innovate in a time of exponential technological advancement, you need to look deeper than what you do and redesign how you do it.
Louder Than Ten
We’re here to help close the skills gap, elevate modern project management standards, and train the best damn project leads our industry has ever seen. Our one-year program supports and nurtures critical thinkers who develop the soft and hard skills they need to keep your projects—and your organization—profitable and sustainable. Healthy projects equal healthy companies, and with our training, these folks can keep you in fine form.
The secret is project management
The titles vary… you might call them Project Managers, Digital Project Managers, Producers, Account Managers, Product Owners, Creative Directors, leads—sometimes this role even falls to you as an owner. These people are the unsung heroes that communicate with clients and internal stakeholders, set and enforces deadlines, manage scope, rally the team, and define the experience of working with your company. In other words, they aren’t calendar jockeys hired to churn out tasks. They are the super glue that seals the lot together. The better they are, the better you do.
Let’s look closer:
Your team sweats for hours producing user experiences that make unicorns weep. Your shop fine tunes its sales process and positioning until Biz Dev Terry feels like a god pitching to your prospective clients. But stop for a moment: have you ever thought about what the experience of working with your firm is like?
- Do your clients sign up for additional phases after you finish the project or do they go dark?
- Do your designers and developers stay with you past the two year ‘best before’ date or do they cycle through a revolving door?
- Do your leads know how to handle capacity changes and resourcing or are projects scheduled like a wreck of train cars?
- Can they offer your clients a calm, supportive environment where great work will be done, or are they stressed about deadlines without even realizing how your company makes and spends money and how their projects directly affect your cash flow?
- Does your team realize that one missed deadline can set off a chain reaction resulting in delayed payments, delayed project kickoffs, team overtime, frustrated clients, and even premature growth and outsourcing?
If you want happy clients and teams, you need project leads who understand the relationship between the client project, its revenue, and how that project impacts your shop. Happy projects equal happy businesses.
The many hats of a great PM
A trained project lead is a gatekeeper of scope and time, an unexpected customer service agent, and even a secret business developer. A PM knows when to catch those sneaky requests that lead to scope creep. Rather than squeezing them into your finely-tuned estimate and pressuring your team, PMs know how to ask the right questions and set up additional phases that increase project value and reduce the pressure for new clients without sacrificing quality or time. Returning clients are always more valuable than new ones and no one has a better chance at upholding that relationship than a well-trained project lead.
The master project manager:
- Fosters respectful, trusting partnerships with clients
- Increases repeat business
- Defends and protects your team so they can produce their best work and feel valued
- Ensures your projects stay profitable and are ready to bill on time
- Anticipates risks and red flags
- Produces accurate estimates that set the stage for successful projects with profitable follow-up phases
- Makes scheduling and resourcing more predictable
- Protects time for internal innovation and development
- Only writes as much documentation as necessary (the stuff people actually read)
- Is flexible enough for any variation of methodology whether it’s waterfall, agile, or something in between
When you ignore project management or adhere to those old-school bridge-building methodologies, you miss out on these secret advantages. Students don’t learn this in a three-day bootcamp, self-directed course, or even in a three-month continuing ed course. It takes a grueling combination of practical theory, experience, mentorship, and immersion to become skilled in project management.
Managing projects without proper training or adequate experience is difficult and risky—real life mistakes quickly lead to blowing way over budget or losing a client. Project leads are often siloed and left to sink or swim. Unlike design or development (or most other professions: law, medicine, aviation, or military) project management training rarely includes opportunities for simulation or practice. How can folks learn safely when they can’t experiment without posing a risk to the organization they work for?
The best way to learn
Apprenticeship is as old as dirt. You’d normally associate it with classic trades like carpentry, welding, and even tattooing, but apprenticeship is now experiencing a renaissance in the digital age. You may have heard of Dan Mall’s Superfriendly Academy, or Fresh Tilled Soil’s AUX program or Huge School. 8th Light’s entire team is made up of apprentices who may become mentors themselves. Politicians from all sides are advocating for it, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen it covered in the media as a result of record unemployment, skyrocketing tuition at traditional post-secondary institutions, and a rapidly growing skills gap. Hell, we’ve even written about it here on Coax a number of times. No other format produces a better balance of understanding, absorption, competency, and support than apprenticeship.
The right pace
Nothing affects the profitability and sustainability of your company more than the health of your projects.
Our apprenticeship model is deliberately paced and in-depth. This helps students develop stable comprehension, deep knowledge, and experience, combined with simulation, mentorship, and peer support to help cement the experience.
Bootcamps and crash courses that attempt to fast-track learning are fire hoses of information that make content difficult to absorb. Plus, students face the barrier forgoing employment for the duration of full-time training and the burden of an up-front course fee. Self-directed classes have an attrition rate of up to 90%.1 They normally lack the guidance, support, and required accountability for learners to stick it out and complete the training.
By taking a slower and deeper approach to learning, we actually fast-track a learner’s experience by several years and build a solid arsenal of lifelong skills.
A deeper talent pool
When project management experience is no longer a prerequisite, you have a much wider talent pool at your disposal. You can look in unexpected places for your next hire. That former teacher with superb communication skills, the server with an elephant’s memory, or that brilliant Syrian refugee who can’t use his dental degree in Canada all become candidates that make your organization better, more inclusive, and less homogenous.
When you invest in employees’ education, not only do you impact their careers, you show them you believe in them, and you create a development path that entices them to stick around. Ongoing education is one of the keys to greater employee retention. That senior PM you hire for $100K/yr might be worth the price tag for the year or two they work for you. But when you bring in a beginner (starting at half the salary) and gift them a solid education, they grow with you and are more likely to stay past that two-year mark. You get loyal hearts committed to your company’s DNA.
Resisting the machine
The economy is facing a widening skills gap with mass automation threatening to eliminate up to 50% of blue and white collar jobs in the next fifteen to twenty years. While intelligent machines will rule calendars and everyday tools, the often overlooked creative and intellectual skills of a good project manager will continue to be critical long after other jobs have been rendered obsolete (or until artificial intelligence makes human brains redundant altogether). PM is the perfect gateway for smart, less-technical people looking for a new career path in tech. Bet you never thought you could help save the economy from the machines. You sure can.
The program that pays for itself
Apprenticeships commonly result in net zero cost to employers and have been widely adopted throughout the UK and in trades and technical vocations throughout Canada and the US. We’re confident that, at a minimum, our apprentices will easily repay their tuition through value, increased project revenue, saved costs, and lower risk to your organization within the first year, maybe sooner.
In the United Kingdom, a survey of employers in four industries found that the productive value of apprentices ranged from 60 percent to 90 percent of their training costs—but companies at least broke even on their investment as a result of gains in post-apprenticeship productivity.
- From day one, apprentices can help with things like process documentation, template creation, note taking, meeting coordination from day one (these internal tasks often get delayed/pushed off by the team which creates indirect revenue repercussions)
- They help refine processes shaped by your business goals and work with business developers to vet incoming projects
- Apprentices are encouraged to teach/share their recent lessons with their team each week which means the team improves their PM habits too (the best way to learn is to teach)
- New apprentices pick up projects as soon as they’re ready and can support other PMs with their projects, effectively giving you a project coordinator who can later pick up a full project load
- Apprentices learn how to strengthen client relationships and say no to scope creep which creates additional phases and longer term value
- They get support for real projects so they can avoid common project pitfalls
- The cost of their training comes back in increased revenue, team happiness, and talent retention via loyalty
It’s time for a reboot
The way you run your business today is not the same as the way you’ll run it tomorrow. If you don’t understand how workflows and processes affect your profitability, if you don’t set your leaders up with the training and support they need to take the operations load off your shoulders, if you don’t embrace a learning approach that keeps your team developing and honing its skills, you will fall behind. You will let your business slip right through your fingers. You don’t need to let that happen.
But you do have to let go of something: let go of being a firefighter. You don’t have to do this on your own. You are nothing without your team, so let them help—give them what they need to create an open, caring, and continuously improving organization that thrives as it meets the future.
Close your laptop and look up at the people who keep your company alive. Look at them. They bet on you. On their careers.
Look at the projects bumping along the guard rails of your calendar. You chose them and you chose the clients that came to you trusting in the safety of your process.
Think about your organization. Let it sink in for just a second: mismanagement, frustration, disappointment, and stress could be the dog tags your team will leave on their old desks as they choose to move on to gentler pastures.
Okay, stop. No more torture.
Instead, imagine your projects are running smoothly and effortlessly. Your team is happy and relaxed. Your clients keep asking for additional phases and—yes—offering to pay more for them. You have better cash flow, more money for better salaries, education, and benefits. You can sleep heavy tonight and every night knowing you have a solid project lead who supports a solid team at your solid organization. A project lead who is part of an entire community of Louder Than Ten folks who are rallying around you in support.
Project management is the secret weapon you didn’t know you had. It’s your ace in the hole. Your Moneyball. Your Jamaican bobsleigh team. It’s been neglected for a long time and it’s ready for a reboot. Call us your John Candy. Let’s hit the track.
Get in touch and find out how to sign up an individual or your entire team. We’ve got very limited space to start, so don’t put it off.
Be an industry champion
Need a new face on the team or want to support an apprentice’s development? Find out how this cost-neutral program can improve your company health and elevate the industry at the same time.