How I became a Project Manager

It’s great being a project manager.

Project management is how I imagined it’d be like to tame a beast. And boy, does it feel good when you do. I have been asking for it.  I have been in many types of work over the last ten years and I have longed for one that I would truly enjoy, would feel challenged by and would keep me…cognitively occupied.

At one point, I thought it was academic research but it didn’t cut it for me.  It was a little too cognitive.  The hours were long, the pay low and the work felt somewhat isolating.  Then there was the time I was freelancing in basically everything (hustler). I was a writer, videographer, organizer, disc jockey, all around production hand – to name some.  I loved those days even though I felt that I was running around like a headless chicken.  Unfortunately, I did this throughout college and my studies suffered. I eventually bolted.

Now, I’d like to think this is the prime time for me to seize professional development like I was courting the love of my life.

A year ago from now, I decided to make a jump into tech. I had been dabbling with WordPress since I started blogging on this platform in 2005. I thought perhaps I could pursue a career in it.  I thought about monetizing off the blog, which I used to do way back. It had been a while since I had done that and frankly, I hated advertisers.  I felt disconnected from some of the advertisers I had and they were pulling down my SEO rank for a reason I can’t put a finger on. Long story short: blogging was a no go.  The return was not feasible.

I looked for jobs anyway.  Then I found a position at an agency in Huntington Beach.  They were looking for a production assistant who knew WordPress and Adobe Creative. Bingo.  I applied and researched the crap out of the company and its proponents. (This really helps and yes, there is such a thing as LinkedIn stalking).  A week later, I got the job.

 

Zeek was a team of eight when I first started.  I was overwhelmed by the fact that a team of this size was handling the workload it had.  It was interesting to see how casual the company culture was internally vis-a-vis its large clients.  I loved that contrast.

Starting out as an assistant was a perfect fit for me.  Starting at the bottom helps you get a perspective about the small details that matter. I was lucky to have assisted (and have been mentored by) our brilliant production manager at that time – Kelley Koehler. She had an engineering background; Her strengths where in the provence of systems and logic. (She balanced this out with empathy.)

One day, I was assigned to shadow her literally.  I took up a portion of her office space.  I was right behind her.  I watched her day to day: her documentation was extensive (hardly any stone left unturned), her calls and emails with clients were explicit and uncompromisingly honest and her demeanor (mostly) collected. Needless to say, I’d be a dolt to take these lessons for granted so I assumed the human form of a sponge.

Kelley eventually assigned me bigger tasks.  I was gradually being assigned my own projects, handling communication with clients and managing off shore teams.  Mind you, I had no formal training in project management or any technology work.  My background is from all over the place but that somehow helped.  I had the perspective of someone who lacked the experience. This forced me to learn by doing and take on some homework to catch up.  For example, Kelley at some point introduced me to usability testing, web analytics and agile methods.  We had some down time earlier this year that all we did in the afternoon at the office was study.  There was no way I could adapt to my job if I didn’t learn the theory behind things.

One of my take aways from this is that I greatly benefited from having a fantastic mentor.

Of course, one must first recognize when the opportunity presents itself and step up.

One day, the team learned of Kelley’s resignation.  It was a huge blow because like I said, she was nothing short of excellent in what she did.  As for keeping daily operations intact and staff informed about project systems in place, the next person who the team could rely on to do that was me.

What do you do when you’ve only been in a job for barely a year and have no clue what’s going to happen next? Go figure. No, seriously – you go figure it out.  Coming from a place of limited knowledge and experience is actually more liberating than people think.  I was nervous for the days to come.  Do what scares you, I told myself.

Being project manager is more than just a title change. By doing, you become.

My career trajectory was not a straight shot.  I meandered.  I’m optimistic that I finally got to a place in my career where the potential for growth is promising.  I look forward to it.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

UX Mindset

Lately, I have been trying to embrace a UX mindset.

I feel that the concept of User Experience is cutting edge for many and that a few organizations, though recognizing what it is, have yet to fully understand how to integrate it as part of their process.  In my team for instance, we don’t have an in house UX designer although we may be familiar of what UX is all about.  A lot of the things we do in-house are part and parcel of what a UX designer does, except, we don’t call it that. After all, it’s all about the outcome – whether it was good or bad user experience.

We use wireframes, do stand-up meetings to wrestle with design questions, review design comps and iterate the work which goes through A/B testing.  The product owner participates by receiving a piece of that iteration which is followed by their feedback.  The process is straightforward and releases are constant – as is in Agile processes.

The only thing missing is…the input of the actual user.

One of my foremost challenges as I learn more about UX is how to apply it to an organization. It’s one thing to think about UX and then another to apply it.

Design by nature is intentional and therefore, carefully planned. UX design is not the same as graphic design which some agencies think of interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Transitioning into making UX design as part of the process seems daunting for many. The main contention being: it’s better to spend less time on processes.

I get it. But I also think design, especially UX design, is just as important as the actual development of goods and services. That the bottom line: a great experience is worth every bit of time and resource spent designing it.  In fact, Jared Spool has a very interesting talk about how this ultimately leads to more profit.

One of my biggest takeaway from that talk is that a UX Mindset is not just a creative mindset but a business one. Avinash Kaushik advocates the same idea: put your clients first and the rest will follow.

Questions to ask before developing a mobile app

Startup culture is catching on back home in the Philippines.  At least this is what I picked up after a few conversations with friends.

Today, someone asked me about some ideas of what it would take to startup an app development business.  I haven’t given much thought to the business part (maybe, I will write about it later) but I do work for one and I put down some thoughts on what it even takes to create an app.

So below are some very basic questions to ask at its inception.

What is the app?

Needless to say, an idea of what you’re making is always a good place to start.  While you’re at it, identify what kind of app were you thinking of.  Is it a game?  A social media channel?  An app for a business? Apps may not inherently be useful  or “purpose-driven” but it doesn’t hurt to know how users are going to end up using it.

Who is the app for?

Also basic.  Now that you know what the app is all about, time to ask who it is for.  Is there one type of user or multiple ones?  A lot of apps are designed to have multiple types of users in mind, with different permissions and capabilities.

What goes on?

Now that you have defined what the app is and who it is for, you now have to start thinking of the type of functions that go into it and determine what drives these functions.  There are functions that are natively developed in the app but there are also those that may require third-party services.  The following are some examples I can think of:

The services you use like the one you use for login (if the app needs any).  Database storage is always a good question if you are dealing with logins because…where the heck do you store all of that user data? A client-side database, perhaps?  What if you want to introduce the ability to login with your social media profile?  That may require building in an API to make the third-party service communicate with your app.  Introducing ads to your app may also be developed both natively or through a third-party service.

Content management.  Is your content static or dynamic?  Will the app require internet connection to populate content or is it a pretty slideshow/info-sheet on your phone that you can show off without connectivity?  If you are developing for a business, who is going to manage the content?  If the business owner wants to be more hands-on with content, perhaps it is necessary to empower them with the system and tools for it.  Examples of content management systems include WordPress, Nuxeo, Salesforce, Contentful – to name a few.

Analytics.  This one is tricky because it will depend on the analytics tool that you plan on using for the app.  Most likely, the tools used to implement analytics on an app are NOT similar to the ones used on a website.  An app behaves differently from a website (unless that is the kind of app you are developing, which begs the question – is it worth it?).

Side-note: It may seem irresistible to some to create apps for the purpose of displaying the same website content.  How does that make people’s lives easier?  Why do you want to spend time and money creating an app that reiterates an existing website?  That’s what responsive designs are for.  Consider an app as an entirely separate entity.

What is it going to look like?

In other words, design.  Is there a brand you’re trying to build into the app?  Maybe there are assets that need to be incorporated to create consistency with that brand.  Of course, design also depends on your audience.  Is it a corporate audience or an artistic/indie crowd? We’re all about flat design nowadays.

The end.

Focusing with the end in mind might sound Machiavellian to you but it really is for the good of your development team to know the scope of work involved for the creation of the app.  There are various methodologies out there for the development process. In our office, we have adopted the Agile approach.  From the onset, break down the development to scalable tasks and know where it ends.  KNOW WHERE IT ENDS.  Or more importantly, define it.  The desire to introduce new functions in the process of development may seem irresistible at times but it is important to maintain a scope and defer these new awesome ideas to a later iteration of the app.  That is what updates are for.  For now, stick to the basics.

I could be more comprehensive but I’ll start writing my notes here for days to come.

Productivity tools

I wrote on my very first post that writing is a constant struggle for me.  Knowing sometimes that I am unproductive causes me a great deal of anxiety.  Here is a list of some of my staple productivity tools.

This post will be brief since I am writing this before bedtime.

Notes, notes, notes. My notes are so decentralized it is hard to tell which one is the “Mother ship”.  I think the closest thing I have to that is Evernote.  It used to be OneNote, but it is too entrenched in to my Windows OS that I find it too out of the way (fact: Yes, I am a PC user though I work with Macs on a daily basis).  I also like how my iphone is synchronized with the notes I have at work via icloud and this is a great way for me to write notes on the fly.  I also have countless notebooks, post its, index cards and receipts (the back re-purposed as a note space).  These help me make lists about my plans for the following day, things to buy, things to do and of course, ideas.

Sketchbook. I just like having one around as it gives me a great deal of comfort.  As a kid, I spent hours sketching away at the back of my mom’s office spreadsheets.  Sometimes I draw when inspiration strikes.  But I admit these days, I am more literary/auditory than I am visual.

Ipad. I fell in love with the ipad ever since the first one came out and have utilized this for some of my writing. In my line of work, I like to download new apps and study how they work and what the user experience is like.  An ipad is likewise handy for quick inquiries.  No need to load up my computer to look up something that’s bugging me.  It helps me work remote a lot. It’s a powerful tool.

Nothing is more awesome than sleepyti.me. This website is possibly the most useful of all.  This works based on the principle that the best time to wake up is between sleeping cycles.  Just put in a time you wish to wake up and this will tell you the optimal time to fall asleep.  I think of this as an important productivity tool as nothing beats a fresh mind from taking on the day.

Earphones – Like I said, I am think of myself more a literary/auditory kind of learner.  This is also the most optimal way for me to learn.  I take my earphones to go everywhere so I could simply plug it in to any device to listen to educational podcasts on the go.  I also use this to listen to brown noise when I need a buzz of concentration.  I use something really basic since I lose and break earphones a lot. The quality isn’t that bad and is very comfortable to wear. I think this is the one I have which I bought at Office Depot for $12.

Okay, that’s it for now.  Until next time.

A Weekend in Mexico

If life was just a weekend in Mexico.

It would consist of…a night of cheap booze, subculture sightings and drunk friends at downtown Tijuana.

A road trip down the peninsula heading to Ensanada, through its perilous roads but with unforgettable views of the Baja coast, inland valleys and Mexico’s well-kept secret – its wine trail.

The view from our inexpensive hotel room.

The best m@t#@!&ing fish tacos you’ll ever have is down the street tended by Grandmothers.  And of course…

SUSHI.