The second installment in our series of interviews with project managers brings us to London for a conversation with Holly Davis, an agile project manager at Deeson. She has worked as a PM at White October and has served as a contributor at Every Day DPM. She addresses a problem confronted by many PMs: how to get feedback on your work and grow in your job if you’re the only project manager at your company.
Tell us a little about your role and the work you’ve been part of. What are you most proud of?
I work at Deeson, one of the UK’s longest-established open source agencies. We build innovative, stable, and effective digital properties for a range of high-profile companies and organizations.
My role as an agile project manager involves providing high-level, agile-style leadership to the development team, managing the working environment in which the solution is evolving, and coordinating all aspects of project management at a high level.
In terms of work I’m really proud of, in my previous role at White October I was part of the team that designed and developed Let’s Talk FGM, an iPad app that helps health professionals talk to patients about female genital mutilation. We had a small budget but designed and developed a brilliant tool for social good which even won a London Design Award at the end of last year. It’s hugely rewarding to build something that has the ability to change lives.
In our last column a producer discussed the challenges associated with the ambiguity of her title. Is this something you’ve encountered?
I enjoyed reading Grace’s column. I think the emergence of new job titles are attempting to reflect the movement towards a more empowered and self-directed approach that recognizes project managers more for their ability to facilitate than manage.
What is currently your biggest challenge as a project manager?
I’ve always been part of a team of project managers. I’ve always enjoyed working with other PMs and learning from their experiences. At Deeson, I’m their only agile project manager. It’s challenging to now find myself in a position where essentially I’m the sole person accountable for delivery within the agency.
I’m fortunate to work closely with a number of project leads and agile coaches who are also passionate about process improvement. We have weekly delivery meetings which give us the chance to discuss current challenges and possible solutions, ensuring we’re always moving forward.
In addition to working with the wider team, what else are you doing to counterbalance being the only person in your role?
I read a blog post by Helen Lisowski about the benefits of having a scrum buddie. I tweeted to see if anyone wanted to buddy up and was pleasantly surprised when Helen herself offered her time and support. We have only met once so far but it’s already been really useful. We chose one goal for the next week in each of these categories: personal, learning, and career.
My first personal/learning goal was to reach out to someone in the community who I admire. I contacted Roisi Proven and asked if she fancied meeting for coffee. We met last week for the first time and over a delicious coffee discussed estimating, servant leadership, and data. I’ve learnt to lean on the community I have around me for support and inspiration.
I’ve also always been interested in doing a work swap: spending some time in another person’s work environment and then sharing learnings and exchanging knowledge. We would pick a challenge in each respective workplace and use the time together as a discovery phase to explore possible solutions, a mini process hack day if you will. It would conclude with some actions you could take. Your partner would then be able to hold you accountable for getting them done and provide feedback.
I’m not currently aware of a scheme that matches peers to support each other in this sort of way. Despite good intentions with a friend in Manchester who wanted to try pairing up, we were unable to find enough focused time away from paid client work. My search continues for the right opportunity and format.
Meeting with peers and mentors is a great way to learn and grow, especially when there are no other PMs at your company. Is being the only PM a problem you’ve encountered? Let us know how you tackled it in the comments below.