How to hire the right candidate the right way

Job description

As a Digital PM, you’re the nucleus of the team: you interact with designers, developers, researchers, content writers, and owners and execs to keep projects healthy, happy, and on track. You also work directly with clients and other decision-makers to help define business goals, align project scope and features, and ensure that everyone has what they need to build highly usable and beautiful products. You’ll be planning and writing project documentation, running kickoffs and facilitating all sprints and meetings. You’ll also be working alongside our business development team to align incoming projects on estimates, scope, schedule, and the team’s capacity. As well, you’ll be managing stakeholder expectations and reporting back on the progress of daily and weekly budgets, outcomes, and tasks. Look forward to playing a strategic role here by supporting and guiding the team through projects of all sizes as you help craft both the high-level details and the tiny ones that make projects and the products we build truly successful.

Role

  • Plan, run, prioritize, and support the launch of valuable and profitable projects/products
  • Adeptly forecast project revenue, potential risks, and resources needed
  • Play an active role scheduling and leading all stakeholder meetings including kickoff
  • Support the development of the product vision while scoping, managing, and prioritizing requirements
  • Work with the team to build the product roadmap and strategy
  • Assess the efficacy of business models on products you manage
  • Plan projects to ensure that they are completed within defined time and budget
  • Monitor progress of projects to ensure they meet targets and client expectations
  • Ensure all stakeholders have a clear view of activities, milestones, costs, and risks at all times
  • Check in with teammates to ensure they are not over-scheduled on project tasks and have everything they need to work effectively and efficiently
  • Collaborate and communicate regularly with internal team leads on project resourcing, progress, and challenges
  • Provide regular status updates during standups, check-ins
  • Actively work to reduce and manage risk on projects
  • Manage day-to-day operational aspects of projects, including:
    • Allocate appropriate resources
    • Review and update project schedule
    • Plan and manage project timelines and budgets
    • Supervise and review work done by the project team
    • Maintain project documentation (as little as the team/client requires)
  • Ensure smooth onboarding and offboarding processes with stakeholders
  • Establish and support positive work and stakeholder relationships
  • Provide estimation and planning support for business development roles
  • Facilitate presentation of milestones/deliverables to the client
  • Interact closely with leaders and clients on any issues or questions that arise day to day

Experience (ideally)

  • Junior: At least one year
  • Mid-level: At least two to three years experience in digital project management
  • Senior: at least five years

Digital producer/PM qualifications

  • Familiar with Lean, Agile, Waterfall and hybrid approaches and methodologies
  • Understanding of latest technology, principles, and approaches: lean PM, responsive design, rapid prototyping, digital style guides, content with design approach, UX design, people centered design, design thinking, accessibility (VR/AR, AI a nice to have)
  • Clear understanding of other teammates’ roles: research, content, design, development, QA testing, data collection, social media
  • Ability to successfully scope and estimate digital products (both apps and websites)
  • Comfortable setting clear boundaries, liaising and negotiating with the team, executive decision makers, contractors, vendors, and clients
  • Clear focus on people and communication (budgets and process fall in line when your PMs know how to handle people)
  • Experienced with various apps and tools: https://louderthanten.com/resources/
  • Personal qualities: leadership, great sense of humour, excellent communication skills, emotionally intelligent, empathetic, masterful expectation management, great attention to detail, fantastic negotiation skills, process adaptable, organized, willingness to learn new things

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What to look for in stellar PM candidates

When you’re hiring, focus less on how many years of experience your PM candidates have and in what industry, and more on their openness and ability to learn, grow, adapt, and demonstrate expertise in people management and workflows. Veterans in PM may be great at client management, but they also pick up bad habits like a ‘my way or highway’ mentality and they might not be as open to adjusting processes. On the other hand, inexperienced PMs may lack confidence and the ability to set clear boundaries and expectations that keep projects healthy and profitable. We’ve trained technical writers, developers, marketers and seen them all become successful PMs because they wanted to learn how. It’s more about a curious and adaptive mind and an itch for new information.

We also believe anyone who has worked in the service industry (baristas, bartenders, teachers) are better candidates than stodgy or task-oriented folks who don’t understand that the real job they have is to support the people doing the work on the project, not just the actual pieces of the project themselves. A process can’t come before a person. Candidates who put process before people grind people up in those processes. Instead, look for candidates who get buy-in and alignment around process.

Emotional intelligence

You want candidates to understand different kinds of people and how they think and work. They can have tough conversations with your team and client decision makers. They demonstrate how to say no and have a justifiable reason or business case and they can align decision makers around a common goal. They are accountable for their behaviour. They’re accountable to their team.

  • Watch for ‘I’ vs ‘we’ language (we indicated collective thinking vs siloed credit taking)
  • They take actions that bind the team together and will not throw anyone under the bus
  • They embrace discomfort and help everyone else work through discomfort
  • They create a supportive, safe environment for the people around them

Integrity

Great candidates are confident and have an opinion: they don’t just mimic what you want them to say. They are willing to question your processes and ensure that your company and processes are a fit for them, too. They inquire about the way you treat the team and the way you work, and if you’ll go to bat for them when they stand up for a decision they believe in.

  • They don’t back down just because something intimidates them; they will seek to understand it, engage with it, or question it
  • They embrace change and the uncertainty that comes with it
  • They don’t hold back—they are proactive and communicate risks up front with ease

Critical thinking

They love to solve complex problems. They love to learn. They carry no ego and no sense of entitlement. They ask why a lot.

They like systems and processes. They think big but see and love small details. They like to understand how to put things together and how to take them apart. They love to tinker. Their curiosity drives their intent. They see how systems drive the story of how their team and clients get work done. If they don’t like systems, process, big pictures, or details, they won’t like this job.

  • Ask them to describe how they would explain a complex PM task or feature to someone who had never done it before (e.g., how would you explain how to prioritize tasks on a project?)
  • They can demonstrate that they have made improvements and reduced inefficiencies in broken or limping systems
  • They make tweaks and question process when it hurts people and projects
  • They help decision makers prioritize effectively
  • They remove barriers and blockers that prevent the team from doing good work

Intuitive communication

They listen, read, write, and communicate well—really well. And you check their work before they send it (aka no spelling mistakes). Professional communication is key in this job. They’re aware of and sensitive to others’ needs and adapt their communication style and approach to fit the needs of all decision makers.

  • They bump communication up to more intimate methods as the topic and tone become more serious (aka a video or in-person meeting is a more sensitive way to deliver bad news than an email)
  • They focus on the big picture for Director style communicators and drill down to the details for Thinkers. They engage Relators and effectively manage Socializers
  • They internalize valuable scripts to get buy-in and alignment

Candor

They are fun and genuine and others say they have a candid sense of humour. They give everyone an equal voice at the table and strive to be a champion for their team. They commit to honesty even when it’s difficult. They know how to manage client and team expectations. They can manage up with grace and affinity.

  • They celebrate wins and create blameless environments around failures
  • They communicate effortlessly and control the channels through which they give and receive information

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Good project leaders versus great ones

Good project leadsGreat project leads

Keep projects on time and on budget.

Guide healthy projects and processes that positively impact the financial health of the organization.

Keep decision makers happy.

Drive the experience of working with your organization and push back on requests that take decision makers further from their goals.

Have a solid understanding of their organization's PM methodologies.

Methodology agnostic. They eat methodologies for breakfast and apply the best approach by understanding the needs of the goals, people, and outcomes of each project.

See the big picture of their projects.

Shape and align the bigger picture of their organizations. Get them ready for the future.

During the interview

Just a quick note here: unless formally trained, many PMs (even senior level candidates) may struggle with some of these questions. We have a high bar that we set for the apprentices we train, and we expect them to be able to answer all of these comfortably.

Scope

Have them describe how they handled an out of scope project (did they reduce scope, prioritize effectively, reset expectations?)

Communication

Let them talk about how they dealt with a difficult personality on the team or with a client (did they get alignment, work toward a positive outcome, build a better relationship, save the project?)

Project plans

Have them detail a complex project and how they tackled the project plan (are they including buffers and internal reviews? Are they anticipating delays? Are they prioritizing effectively?)

Estimation

Get them to describe their estimating process for a complex app (watch to see if they include the team, do they work towards confidence on estimates, do they include risk analysis)

Red flags and risks

Get them to describe common red flags on projects and how they’ve mitigated them in the past (watch to see if they recognize how risk can be positive or negative and how they use red flags as an opportunity for team education and preventing scope creep)

Profitability

Have them talk about how a one week delay impacts the profitability of your project (cost of delay, blocking new projects from starting, not being able to collect from client)

Stakeholder management

Get them to respond to a difficult email and reset expectations (watch for tone and clarity)

Alignment

Ask them why they love being a PM (look for more words about people than projects)

Emotional intelligence

Ask them to describe how they supported a teammate in a past job (look for examples of mentorship, education, bolstering, and expert communication)

Candor

Ask them what they would do if a teammate was a new dad and was consistently coming in late to meetings

Critical thinking

Ask them how they would handle a situation where they knew the team didn’t have the skills for the project (watch for empathy and blameless communication; opportunities for growth)

Scheduling

Ask them to describe how they would create a more productive team schedule (look for things like time blocking, agile approaches, focused productivity aka no meetings, retrospectives etc.)

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Comparing project management roles

Here’s a handy high-level table to help you compare the ins and outs of modern project management related roles.

CoordinatorProject ManagerProducer

Overview

Works on tactical day to day management tasks on projects.

Works on tactical and strategic planning on projects.

Works on strategic planning and tactical tasks on projects and products.

Team facing or external facing

Team facing

Team facing and/or external facing

Both team and external facing

Tasks

  • Manages schedules
  • Creates and assigns tasks
  • Reports on progress
  • Documents requirements
  • Communicates with teams
  • Supports resourcing
  • Supports scoping and estimating
  • Helps prioritize the work
  • Takes notes

Plus a slough of other tasks thrust on them:
  • Admin work
  • Invoicing
  • Coordinating team events
  • Coordinating meetings

  • Runs client facing (and team) meetings
  • Sets and manages schedules
  • Monitors and assigns tasks
  • Requirements gathering
  • Reports to (or manages) clients/execs
  • Makes and monitors resourcing plan
  • Writes, proofs and/or finalizes documentation
  • Risk analysis and assessment
  • Scopes and estimates the work
  • Prioritizes the work
  • Quality assurance
  • Sometimes: Business development

Everything a project manager does plus…

  • Client & exec management
  • Roadmapping
  • Documenting and feature prioritization
  • Market strategy
  • Subject matter knowledge and implementation

Like what you’re reading? We teach this and more during

The Louder Than Ten apprenticeship

Our one-year training program creates strategic project leads who run healthy projects, strengthen happy teams, and support nimble digital agencies, departments, and product studios.

Learn about the program

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