By Patty Yanes and Andrea Ruttenberg, Ph.D.
Let’s start at the beginning. What makes project management so different from other roles on a project team?
Patty: The role of a project manager is not clearly defined. The project manager can wear many different hats depending on the project, the product or service being discussed, and the project team itself. A project manager is really a juggler – trying to keep all the balls in air from budget to schedule to achieving project goals successfully. It can be difficult to keep the team moving forward efficiently without letting other responsibilities slack.
Andrea: As project managers, we've got to consider both the fifty-thousand-foot view and work on the nitty-gritty details. Our most important task is ensuring the engagement helps our clients make the right innovation decisions. But, to get there, we must closely monitor the day-to-day implementation of the project. We often move between high level meetings with our principals, where we’re discussing our clients’ goals and objectives, to more tactical-level conversations with our analysts, where we’re designing recruiting materials, discussion guides and surveys, and analyzing data.
You have both worked as VOC project managers for a number of years. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
Andrea: Recruiting participants is one of the hardest parts of our job. We can design the most thoughtful, elegant research study, but if we can’t collect data from the right types of participants, our study design isn’t worth anything. Our field department, led by Angela Holloway, plays a big role in all our projects to ensure we’re able to interview or survey even the hardest-to-find respondents.
Patty: I definitely agree with Andrea that recruiting is the biggest challenge. Beyond that, a major difficulty has been in scope and sampling changes throughout a project. Often, if the sample plan is not set in stone at the beginning of a project, it can change and evolve as interviews are completed which complicates the recruiting process and timeline and budget concerns. It is very important to make sure communication between team members and project stakeholders is clear and well facilitated to avoid midway changes or adjustments to project goals.
Can you each give a tip or trick you have for avoiding pitfalls in VOC project management?
Patty: Create an analysis plan as soon as you can possibly wrap your mind around it. Once data starts flowing in, it can be easy to get sidetracked by other objectives, so it’s important for all team members to have a path forward and to know what analysis is expected and how to perform each. Run the analysis plan by all key stakeholders in the project and all project team members to make sure everyone is on the same page and the final deliverables will be what is expected by all.
Andrea: Right after the kick off call, create a project timeline. If you don’t commit to meeting certain milestones, it's easy for a project to drag on. Also, like Patty's comment about having an analysis plan, I try to put together a report shell or a ghost deck as early as possible. It helps to visualize the final product and make sure our interview or survey materials will provide us with the information our clients need.
Learn more about perfecting the art of project management in our webinar on demand, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail: A VOC Project Management Guide”, hosted by AMS Senior Project Managers Andrea Ruttenberg and Patty Yanes.