A New Class on Digital Fluency for Project Managers


If you’re managing digital projects, I have a few ideas you might find interesting. I’ve worked with a lot of project managers in the enterprise software space on some large and expensive projects, and I noticed a few things.  

First, it’s a really hard job. For reasons I won’t get into here, most enterprise software projects start out with a charter that’s problematic, and many of them fail—in some categories more than 50%.

From the beginning, the project manager is scrambling to make the best of things, usually despite a wildly improbable timeline, an overambitious set of features, and a charter that is challenging to deliver on, to put it mildly.

Let’s say we have Company X, which has come under pressure from more digitally-capable competitors and startups entering its space. Pat the Project Manager is charged with a big “digital transformation” project to bring all of the company’s products into a consistent online ordering system.

She’s working with the cast of characters you see here:

understanding digital enterprise for project management


The issue for Pat isn’t that anyone wants the project to be “bad”;  it’s just that there are a lot of obstacles to overcome to make it good, and the deadlines are extremely aggressive.

How does she get Adam the Area Manager to really think about how to redesign the delivery of his products for the new system, rather than dash off some vague requirements to Pat so he can go back to his “real” job?

How does Pat get Dale the Developer to make sure that what he’s building is making sense as they go along? That’s tough with all the work Dale has to do, and even tougher if Dale is a consultant from the vendor under pressure to make sure his employer (Company Y) can recognize revenue on the project this quarter.

I’m not pretending to have all the answers, but I do think that digital fluency (knowing how to code to some degree) helps the project manager.

How? I think the creative confidence you get from going from idea to code helps with just about everything, but here are my top three for project managers:

1. Driving to Specifics Early and Often

I know this sounds weird, but maybe you’ve been there, too. The documentation / “requirements” for projects are often very bi-modal where you have a) material that’s very high-level and vague (a compromise – usually to end a meeting) and b) material that’s extremely detailed (field mappings, for example).

Both of those make it easy to miss the point. Digital fluency gives the project manager a key tool to help with this: the ability to quickly create (or manage) a prototype that is at once both easily understandable and adequately detailed to drive the next steps.

2. Formulating Testable Ideas

Making sure the stakeholders are okay with what you’re doing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for project success. You also have to make sure it helps end users do their work better.

For this, I love nothing more than prototyping a new interface, getting a hold of some real sample data and testing the interface by asking real users to show me how they’d input the sample data into said interface. Reality ensues and you just got yourself, your team and all the users much closer to a great outcome at probably 1/10th the cost of a full delivery.

3. Creating Better Inputs for Developers

I spend a lot of time instructing on writing good user stories and generally getting development teams the right kind of inputs. While there are approaches and guidelines that help, I’ve never seen anything help like having someone who’s new to coding (or design) go all the way from idea to code.

A lot of it is about detail orientation—and then some if it, like user stories, is much more nuanced with regard to where you want specifics and where you don’t.

There you have it! Digital fluency is what my colleague Laura Klein are after with our new live online class Coding for Designers, Managers, and Entrepreneurs.

I hope you’ll consider joining us and regardless we’d love to know what you think about digital fluency for project managers.

Projects are increasingly digital. The more knowledgeable and comfortable a project manager is with digital technology, the better they’re going to run the project. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software designed for the digital age, with online Gantt charts, Kanban boards, a real-time dashboard and a collaborative platform that makes working with remote teams easy and productive. See how it can help you manage the projects of the future today by taking this free 30-day trial

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