Understanding when to hire a project manager for your agency

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Knowing exactly when to hire project managers (whether your first one or another to join a growing team) is crucial but tricky.

Wait too long, and chaos intensifies — cutting into productivity and profits. Yet, hiring too early can be a resource drain that could threaten profitability differently, especially for startups and small businesses.

Businesses that have never had a formal project manager might have the toughest time with this decision. You’ve been okay this far, so how do you know when it’s time?

A solid project manager can significantly improve the efficiency and outcomes of your projects and unlock the performance potential of your team members. This quick post will help you determine whether it’s time to hire a new project manager — but first, let’s make sure you have a good sense of what a project manager does.

What a project manager does

A project manager’s primary job is planning and organizing a project, directing the various personnel assigned to it, and shepherding the project team toward timely, successful project completion. Planning, procurement, and problem-solving all fall under the project manager’s responsibilities, as well.

This function is crucial for many teams and businesses, but it isn’t necessary for every organization or project. Small teams and organizations with a clearly defined stream of straightforward work, for example, might not see the value of hiring a dedicated project manager.

It can be hard for teams and organizations with no project managers to justify spending the money to hire one.

But as your team’s responsibilities grow—in number, complexity, length, or all three—the details of who’s doing what can become a lot to keep track of. If you’ve reached this point, you’ve encountered one of the signs that it may be time to hire your first (or your next) project manager.

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It’s the project manager’s job to organize both the big picture and the fine details of a project so that the team members working on the project can focus on their jobs. If your team members are spending too much time figuring out what to do (or what to do next), it may be time to hire a dedicated project manager.

So, project managers plan and manage projects, and keep your team members on task. But still, what does this look like in action? How does a project manager go about doing all of this?

We’ve previously published a more in-depth explainer about what project managers do, but perhaps a quicker way to explain it here is to consider their daily responsibilities.

A project manager’s daily responsibilities

Project managers' daily responsibilities vary in most organizations. Every day requires a different mix of duties depending on how the project manager's projects are progressing.

  • Project planning: Determining project scope, defining success, determining deliverables and due dates, building out a schedule and a budget, obtaining stakeholder approval

  • Project resourcing: Assigning resources to the project, acquiring budget, and scheduling approval

  • Project managing: Keeping track of the schedule, reassessing workloads, checking in on stoppages and bottlenecks, keeping the peace, and otherwise staving off disaster

  • Project-team motivating: Keeping team members happy and focused; solving interpersonal conflicts

  • Project delivery and reporting: Handing off the project to the client or the next business unit, after-project reporting (the postmortem)

These are all crucial areas where countless teams could use help. Businesses often undervalue project management when it comes to details like resourcing and reporting — and those that do report a 50% project failure rate. Team management and motivation make real business impacts, too: Happy workers are 13% more productive than unhappy ones.

If your organization is struggling to keep track of project details, properly assign and manage resources, or keep project teams motivated and on task, it’s likely time to hire a project manager.

Common project management styles

There are practically as many project management styles as there are project managers! It’s common for PMs to adapt to the needs of a project or organization, but experienced project managers usually have their preferred work styles. However, the general framework of most project management styles will fall into one of these four common categories:

  • Agile methodology: This quick, collaborative, and often iterative project management approach handles change well. The agile methodology works best when you have short segments (or phases) of work and plan to test and adapt workflows multiple times within a project. 

  • Scrum methodology: All project work breaks down into two-week sprints, with planning at the start and review at the end. This methodology is best for shorter, more modular work.

  • Kanban methodology: An agile methodology subtype that started in manufacturing, Kanban sees tasks progress through columns on a Kanban board. It uses a continuous fill method (pull system) to populate new tasks from a predefined backlog. It’s good for simpler workflows using a pull framework, but not for more complex ones or those using a push system.

  • Scrumban methodology: A hybridization pulling elements of Scrum and Kanban, Scrumban retains the two-week sprints from Scrum and the continuous pull, work in progress limits, and board visuals from Kanban. This methodology works well if you like Scrum but want a pull workflow where you aren’t starting from scratch at the start of each sprint.

  • Critical path/critical chain methodology: Project schedules and planning hinge around a critical path of dependent tasks and bottlenecks. This methodology is most suitable for large-scale projects with many dependencies.

If you’d like to explore more project management styles like waterfall, project framework, and lean, we've compiled the 17 most common project methodologies among Teamwork.com customers.

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How a project manager benefits your business

There are countless scenarios that project managers can assist with. If you’re still unsure whether it’s time to hire one, here are just a few other ways that project managers can benefit your business:

  • Focus on budgets and project schedules in a way no one else does

  • Take day-to-day logistical concerns off founders’ and executives’ plates

  • Remove repetitive and data-intensive tasks from your creatives and high performers

  • Interface with customers and clients, keeping them apprised of progress (or delays)

  • Communicate vertically better than individual contributors or senior stakeholders

And that’s just a start. Project managers also help maximize efficiency and reduce project costs by streamlining work, eliminating needless repetition, and killing bottlenecks.

Steps for hiring a project manager

So you now understand what a project manager does, and you’re pretty sure you need one. Great! But what’s next? How do you prepare for this change and then find the right candidate?

The sourcing and hiring process is going to look different depending on your industry or department, but this step-by-step list can be a great place to start.

1. Evaluate your needs: A project manager’s responsibilities can vary widely, and so can prospects’ skill sets and prior knowledge. Determine exactly what you want your new project manager to accomplish, and be sure to document it.

2. Write a job listing: Translate the needs you determined in the previous step into a clear, compelling job description. Get as specific as you can: A contract-based construction project manager or oil and gas expert doesn’t want to work for your creative studio (and you probably don’t want them to, either). The opposite is true, too: A great project manager in an agency setting might not be right for software development or heavy industry. Since a project manager’s job title is so broad, you need to narrow it down as much as possible to get quality candidates.

3. Post your job listing: Use LinkedIn, your public hiring page, ZipRecruiter, or other locations you use for job postings.

4. Screen applicants: As new resumes roll in from your hiring platform, jobs site, or other sources, screen them for a topical fit like we’ve been discussing, as well as years of experience, PMP certification, and other work experience.

5. Initial contact: Conduct an initial round of phone- or video-based interviews, looking for the communication skills, leadership skills, and social/emotional skills necessary for the role. Find out what project management methodologies the candidates have experience with and which they prefer.

6. Final interviews: Invite your top candidates for in-person interviews (where possible). Drill deeper into personality, work and leadership style, and experience using carefully planned interview questions. Ask candidates to show how they’d tackle a real project, or ask them to explain their approach to a past project.

Setting up your project manager for success

Whether you’re bringing on a full-time expert with years of experience or someone with little to no project management experience, one thing’s for sure: You want your new hire to succeed.

Even if you’re just creating this project manager role internally, not even as a full-time role, moving to a project-managed mindset is a big change, especially for a startup.

Use these quick strategies and best practices to help your new project manager thrive in the role:

  • Address the culture change: Going from no project management to professional-grade project management is a big change for company culture — one that often meets some resistance. Get out in front of the change and help your team see the value that it will bring.

  • Get familiar with PM language: If your team isn’t accustomed to talking about milestones, timelines, or project progress in concrete, clear terms, this will be new. Consider a webinar or other method for training all employees on basic project management terminology.

  • Use quality project management software: As you turn the corner from casual or no project management to hiring your first part-time or full-time project manager, it’s time to level up your digital efforts, too. Using a project management tool like Teamwork.com gives your teams and your new project manager a massive boost in capability, organization, and productivity.

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What a good PM needs

Even the best project manager needs support in order to deliver strong results. As you bring a new project manager on board, make sure you’re giving that person what they need to succeed.

  • Clear communication: Team members aren’t accustomed to giving this sort of information or giving it in these new formats. But if a PM can’t get clear information, they can’t do their job.

  • Process documentation: New project managers won’t know your processes like you do. But if those processes are written down, PMs can learn them — and enforce them.

  • Good data: So much of project management boils down to making decisions based on data, so collecting quality project data is key. Project management platforms like Teamwork.com can simplify this process, making it easier to compile and share accurate, valuable data.

Looking for more on what makes a project manager successful? Check out these six habits of successful project managers!

Give your project manager all the tools they need to keep your projects on-time and on-budget

Your new project manager has the potential to streamline your teams’ efforts so you can produce more with less stress—but for that to happen, you need the right tools.

Teamwork.com is a full-featured project management solution that’s perfect for startups, creative agencies, and small businesses. It’s easy to learn and use, and it has the features you need to start and scale quickly, like:

  • Resource management tools

  • Easy time tracking

  • Profitability tracking

  • A wide range of templates

  • Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and more

Ready to take your project management efforts to the next level? Get started today with Teamwork.com’s project management template.

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