Monday, 13 May 2019

Job Titles Form Mindset - Digital Producers VS Project Managers


Job titles form mindsets and behaviour. I have been working in digital/web since 2007, worked at several companies and with dozens of Project Managers. Many organisations want to be "more agile", and it is my opinion that one of the first baby steps is to fix job titles. An attitude change requires a mindset shift.

In this article I will discuss how to get your Project Managers to become more collaborative and less authoritative. This is a stepping-stone to a more collaborative Scrum mentality, as Scrum does not have the job title of Project Manager.

If you come from a traditional project management background, then I ask that you please keep an open mind.

Project Managers

Project Managers are not evil, and most of them are not jerks. Very often the pressures that are felt by designers and developers are due the pressures "pushed" onto the PMs from further up stream (eg. client services, the company). This can exacerbate undesirable behaviours such as micromanagement.

Many would agree with the opinion that this stems mindset of what a "Project Manager" is meant to do. They are meant to "manage". However, this elicits certain types of communication and behaviour which can dehumanise their colleagues. It is obviously not the PMs intention, however this is a result.

Every time I hear these phrases / questions, I cry a little inside:
  • How do I book a designer for my project?
  • How do I know which developer will be assigned to my project?
  • When will you be done using Greg? I need to use him for my project
  • Can I have Greg next week?
  • I need a QA resource

These are common things you will hear in a standard digital agency. The problem with these phrases is that they dehumanise the people who they are referring to. The people you work with are no longer people. They are resources to be handled and monitored. I have seen how developers and designers have been micromanaged and traded between PMs as if they were sauce bottles on a dining table. I have also seen really poor behaviour where PMs have become aggressive when it came to "protecting their resource", they were untrusting, micromanaging, and have even stopped other developers asking "their developer" for advice/help. This totally sucks, and is very bad for your work culture and morale.

But but but... how else is a Project Manager is meant to manage things? Isn't a manager meant to manage tasks, people, time, etc. My project success means that I will get a promotion/pay increase.

It doesn't have to be this way...

The Best Manager Does Not Manage Anything

The best "PM" I have ever worked with was an absolute joy. He didn't manage people, he didn't manage our time, he didn't manage our tasks, he didn't manage the client, he didn't assume any type of authority over anything in the project at all. He wasn't a Project Manager in the traditional sense. He was a facilitator

He lined-up work, collaborated at ground level with everyone, asked if we needed him to do anything, he let everyone make their own decisions, he unblocked our obstacles, he cleared our path so we could succeed. He was an absolute joy to work with. He helped us produce great products for our customers. But he was not a "Project Manager". He was part of the project team, and trusted his teammates to do their part. The projects where he was involved in were the smoothest I have ever had the pleasure to work in.

What I have just described is a person who would pass a certification without even doing the training.

The Mindset of a Digital Producer

When you refocus people on producing value rather than managing people/things, then a shift in mindset occurs.

If you work in the digital space, you may have come across the role of Digital Producer at some point. It is very interesting that when a Project Manager title is changed to Digital Producer, then a load of different behaviours can emerge.

There are plenty of PMs out there who are "managing" projects which have little value to the stakeholders/customers. However, a Digital Producer is actually meant to "produce" value. This is a mindset shift which can encourage more a collaborative attitude and behaviours.

Many would agree that the job title Digital Producer better suits an Agile environment. The job title of Digital Producer not only sounds cool, it doesn't come with all the baggage of being a traditional PM. There is no longer an expectation for you to "manage" anything or anyone. The team/company/organisation only expects the person to facilitate the "production" of value for the customer/stakeholder. 

If you are a Project Manager at a digital/advertising agency, you should totally ask for your title to be changed to Digital Producer. It is so much cooler!

Digital Producers, Scrum Masters and Product Owners

Let's talk briefly about Scrum...

The next evolution of Digital Producers, is a splitting into 2 different roles which are Scrum Master and Product Owner.

In scrum a Product Owner understands the stake holder's needs. They line up the features, and have full control of the backlog because they know what is most valuable to the stakeholder/customer. The Scrum Master is the facilitator of smooth workflow. This person is a coach. They prompt and facilitate conversation, and encourage people to be more mindful of good habits and processes. They are a servant leader.

I have seen scrum work properly. It is amazing!

Final Thoughts

Job titles actually form a mindset, and these mindsets form behaviours. "Project Managers" are not bad people, however their title and role elicits some behaviour which really can dehumanise the people who are meant to be their colleagues. This is especially the case when the PM is getting pressure from further up stream.

By changing the job title of Project Manager to Digital Producer, it can drastically affect the mindset of those in this position. People will start to be focused on "producing" value, rather than "managing" tasks & people. It is one potential first step in becoming more agile, and on the right path to facilitating production and fixing your work culture.

I hope this article gave you some food for thought.

Agile Mindset 

A mindset shift starts from the right knowledge and training. If you are a leader who wishes to promote a real organisational change, then I highly recommend the Professional Agile Leadership certification.

Check out my Scrum certification reviews below:

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