DPM School: Week 1 – Project Management Essentials

Using an agile-inspired approach can lead to work that surprises all in involved for the better, but getting there doesn’t come cheap.

By Profit Idowu

On November 10, 2019
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Pre-Course Playbook
A week before our session began, I received an email invitation from Hazu (DPM’s online education platform) to create my account. I didn’t have to worry about any last-minute emails or finding my registration info to access my coursework. It’s was my first time using the Hazu platform to learn and from what I’ve experienced so far, the sign-up process and layout have been very seamless.

To prepare before the course began, as mentioned in my previous post, I started with my welcome packet. The contents of the packet Introduced me to the platform, explained what to expect, and additional information on how the course was structured. I recommend you block off anywhere from 5 – 10 hours of work time from week to week to really absorb the material. This buffer of time also includes the one thing that wasn’t covered in the Welcome Packet. On top of the work, there’s also optional engagement with your classmates in your shared Slack channel. Tapping into the brainpower and life experiences available to you during this time of study is important. Don’t overlook the value of a well-placed question, posed to a number of professionals who are able to give you an answer that you weren’t expecting. Just by having access, it holds limitless possibilities.

A Behind the Scenes Look at Week 1
Don’t wake up early thinking you’ll get an email right away at 6:00 AM greeting you into the program. Give these humans time to wake up first. Maybe things might have changed by the time you’re reading this, but my invites started popping in around the 10 o’clock hour to kick things off for our Nov. 4 class cohort. I received my first email from DPM School at 10:45 AM.

Next, was receiving my login for Peergrade around noon. This rounded out the learning platform and grading tools for the next seven weeks.

To formally welcome me to the class, I received an email from Alyson Taylor (Marketing Coordinator) who assists students with questions and needs throughout the course. The email contained other helpful hints and tips as well, but I won’t give you the every-detail-of-my-email bore. The snapshot below gives you an idea of what it was like.

My class section (8) had people from all over the world participating. From COOs, venture capital project managers, art directors, entrepreneurs, and advertising account managers. The geographic makeup represented corners of the world from cities like my own to:

  • Boring, OR
  • New Hampshire
  • Leeds, UK
  • Hungary
  • Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Leicestershire, UK
  • Seattle, WA
  • Portland, OR
  • San Jose, CA
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Mount Airy, NC
  • Melbourne, AU
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Los Angeles, CA

Beginning the Journey of Learning Innovation and Agility in Business
You’ll get two videos to watch to begin your coursework every week. This week’s foundation served as an incubator for digital project managers entering from all different vantage points. Giving a runway to learn things at a high-level overview while providing articles and resources as recommended reading to go deeper as necessary. Ben does a great job explaining the concepts of how digital project management is a branch that differs from regular project management. Sitting down for a combined two and a half hours of hearing him speak in videos might not be for everyone, but the thing I like about him is that he’s passionate about the field.

My first go at formal project management training came from an Introduction to Project Management course at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities over six years ago. We covered topics like the triple constraint, how to work with risk (and manage against it), and received a small batch of templates that didn’t reflect the current or future world of work. For example, Snapchat filters and Instagram Stories weren’t even a thing before I graduated from college. Going on to work with teams who would write scripts and make for these social media channels, the templates we received in school weren’t the kind that could provide steps on how to turnaround something quick for a client. In my years of professional experience so far, I’ve learned every project manager needs to have a toolkit of resources and an established approach to work that helps lead their team. The term “Agile” was debunked for me this week in the course. It’s not a silver bullet approach to fixing a dysfunctional internal process or red pill for immediate project woes. Overall, the focus is on how it improves our ability to deliver value for our client or community we’re seeking to serve. It’s not about scrum or following a particular methodology. Agile improves your ability to collaborate and how you do it is up to the team at hand.

Ben encourages teams to think small, pick something little, and iterate on approaches that work. His questions posed during the first few weeks are the kind that digital project managers can return to at regular intervals for inspiration.

8 Questions to Help Change Your Process or Engagement Model

  • Can you make your sales process more agile so you’re selling in a team for the duration, not a single project with deliverables?
  • Can you adapt your client management process and embed your client into the project delivery team?
  • Can you adapt your project planning process?
  • Can you integrate users into your planning to understand their needs in order to try and deliver incremental value for them that will impact the business?
  • Can you adapt your process so you’re focused on getting the most important stuff done first? With smaller, more frequent releases?
  • Can you give your team more autonomy?
  • Can you get them co-located?
  • Can you get them to start collaborating together more?
  • Can you start to experiment with your UX and design process and make them more efficient by running things in parallel?

A con of some online courses is that they don’t give you the opportunity to have one-on-one time with the founder or creator of the course. It stinks, right? The contract you sign informally by opting-in through paying for certain content like this is similar to the phrase, “Results may vary.” In the untangling of online learning, some courses are hands-off while you do the work. What makes this course different is the option to take advantage of office hours. There’s a commitment to making sure at least someone from their staff is available to connect.

The focus of these office hours is to help drill-down and master the coursework. If you have questions about the topics from the week’s video lesson or need some help tackling a specific part of an assignment—this is the place to work that out. Bigger career level questions can be handled in 1-on-1 coaching sessions which you can pay for depending on the plan or type of package you’ve selected.

A Reminder to Measure New Gold
Awards mean different things to different people. On the one hand, maybe it’s measuring and receiving acknowledgment for marketing effectiveness. On the other, it might mean the world to earn hardware and recognition from industry peers. The common denominator with these two sides of the coin is that there are people powering the effort behind each creative vision brought to life. Beyond the processes that help us get the work shipped, this week served as a reminder to look at the thin spaces in between all phases of a project lifecycle. To help me with this, I looked back on a quote from one of my favorite agency professionals in the industry.

“So when the next big, creative awards show rolls around, think about the brilliant but quiet work you do day in and day out for your clients. Then realize that the metric we measure by and the way we mark success is golden, but not gold.”—Matt Benka

What Benka talks about here is human magic. Every day we wake up is a challenge to not deny the stardust that lies within our bones. The projects and people we encounter help tease that magic out of us. In my 365, I’m collaborating, crafting, and welding various levels of honesty and transparency with my teammates which helps us in our creative process. Agile isn’t easy and experimentation along the way when the road to success is unclear isn’t either. I’ve learned through experience and have felt the same pressure many project managers feel. The delicate balance of feeling like you’re the tennis racket that directs the flow of the game or the tennis ball itself. Going back and forth with the uncertainty of where you’re going to land—in bounds or out of bounds. What’s apparent now is that while using an agile-inspired approach can lead to work that surprises all in involved for the better, it’s important to note that getting there doesn’t come cheap.

It was a strong first week for the course. The DPM team didn’t assign so much work that it was hard to keep the threads of my personal life intact but instead, they architected it in a way that there was enough to build on. And that is what I intend to do for week two.