We’ve recently been doing quite a few introductions to our team to show how we work and what they love about working at Degree 53. Some of the key people that make our projects run and ensure their timely delivery are our project managers. We’d like to introduce you to Kate who has been working with us for the past three years.
What’s your role like day-to-day?
Being a project manager (PM), you can count on there being some consistent elements every day - morning stand ups, team meetings, client calls and project planning/reporting. However, my role really is so varied around all these consistencies.
Every day, really, is totally different to the next, bringing new challenges to face along with mini wins, big wins and lots of satisfying moments. Some days, I barely sit down as I’m in and out of team catch ups and meetings with clients. Whereas, other days, I put my headphones on and get stuck into some replanning or project reporting. Being a self confessed PM geek, I really love that sort of thing!
Sometimes, things aren’t very straightforward and my brain feels fried by the end of the day, but I wouldn’t change things. I like being kept on my toes, and if I’ve managed to resolve a particularly difficult situation or mitigate a risk on one of my projects, it’s a very satisfying feeling. I can go home knowing that I’ve done a good job that day!
How did you start out in Project Management?
Having done a Spanish and French language degree at uni, I fell into teaching not really knowing what else to do. Trying to encourage a group of stroppy teenagers to get as passionate as I am about speaking Spanish just wasn’t doing it for me at all though and I wanted to explore other options out there.
I stumbled across a project coordinator position for a super yacht outfitters. Being really organised and a bit of a control freak, I loved the idea of project management, and I was definitely attracted to the luxurious world of the super yachts. I loved my position and definitely developed some key coordination skills during my time there, but after a while, I realised that digital was where I wanted to be. I ended up working at a couple of digital agencies in the city centre, honing my project management skills before eventually securing my position at Degree 53. I can safely say that I’ve never been happier in a place of work as I am here!
What qualifications and skills does a project manager need?
As you can see from the whistle stop tour of my career path so far, I literally started from the bottom and worked my way up the project management ladder. I didn’t have any PM qualifications, I just knew I had the fundamental organisational and communication skills that would allow me to excel in project coordination first and foremost. After working in this role for a couple of years, I had gained enough experience to achieve a role in project management. Since working at Degree 53, I have gained my Prince2 Foundation qualification, but I can honestly say that experience and hard graft for me have been key in forming the foundations of my project management skills.
What do you enjoy about running projects the most?
I really enjoy working in my project teams. I tend to work on around two big projects and several little projects at any one time. The project team dynamic is always different depending on who you have in your team and the type of project you are working on. I like to try and maintain a happy and positive atmosphere in my project teams - I find that this really helps productivity and makes for an enjoyable working day, which is so important when deadlines are looming, or the team are working on a particularly tricky part of the project.
How has working at Degree 53 helped you learn new skills?
From the start of my journey here at Degree 53, I have had the perfect balance of support when it’s been needed, trust in my ability to project manage and opportunities to learn from other colleagues. Prior to working at Degree 53, I had never been around other digital project managers. I’d built my own ways of doing things through reading books, attending meetups and watching online seminars. It was brilliant to finally be somewhere where I could learn from other project managers and steal tips and techniques!
You need to manage both clients and internal teams - how do you do that?
This sort of thing does come naturally to me, luckily. Within Degree 53, we work with a range of different clients, from big corporate organisations to small start ups, and I find it easy to adapt to different client needs and expectations. As for managing the internal team alongside this, I’d say that this just comes with experience, and the more you’re exposed to this working environment, the more you’ll find switching between the two is just part of every day PM life!
What methodologies does Degree 53 use and how do teams work?
Most of our agency projects are run to a fixed price and contract as this suits our customers’ needs. This means that although we do pinch a good few Agile practices, we do tend to work in a Waterfall way overall. We like to catch up every morning in our project teams to hold daily standups - we find that this is very effective in bringing the team together to discuss their work in flight and to highlight any issues or blockers which need to be addressed.
We like to break up larger software projects into Sprints as this tends to keep the development team on track and makes a backlog of tasks look a lot more manageable. Some of our lighter weight projects, such as short term design or branding pieces work best when they are managed using a KanBan method.
So, really, we don’t have any strict ways of working. We adapt our method to suit the project and the client.
What are you favourite projects?
I don’t really have a preference on the industry or client - I just like variety. At one stage, I was working on a dating app, a banking app and a new Umbraco CMS and frontend for a global printing company. I mean, if a project cropped up that was based in the health and fitness industry where I could also utilise my Spanish at the same time, then this would probably be up there with the best projects of all time!
What advice would you give to junior project managers/coordinators?
Work hard and soak everything up. If you want to get into project management, then it’s just so important to expose yourself to everything that’s going on around you. As I said, experience is key, and the more you can keep your eyes and ears open, the more you’ll learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. Even if you think they’ll sound stupid. It shows that you’re passionate about wanting to excel at work and this can only ever be a good thing!
You’re also a superstar outside of work, tell us about about all your hobbies and activities.
I exercise a lot. Long distance weekend trail runs, weight lifting at the gym, HIIT, yoga, hikes in the countryside… I just get a real buzz out of it all!
I love travelling. I try and maximise my annual leave every year by using every scrap of it on holidays both in and out of the UK. My bucket list for places I want to go never seems to get any smaller - as soon as I visit a place I’ve been wanting to see for ages, another place gets added to the list immediately.
I enjoy baking - I’m not brilliant at it, and my presentation definitely needs a lot of improvement (so don’t expect to see me on Bake Off any time soon) - but I do think that my vegan peanut butter blondies are some of the best around. Just saying.
I love all things Spanish and Latin American. I refuse to read a book unless it’s in Spanish, I really enjoy watching Spanish speaking films (preferably of the independent, depressing variety) and I love my weekly catch ups with my Argentinian buddy where I get to chew her ear off for an hour whilst she tells me off for using the subjunctive in the wrong context. If you know, you know.
I like to rummage around charity shops and car boot sales. Definitely one of the hobbies my husband wishes I would grow out of, but sadly for him, I think it’s here to stay. I get a kick out of snapping up a bargain. I also like clutter - kitsch clutter - it’s the best kind.
Kate has given brilliant advice to anyone looking to build a career in project management. It’s a very rewarding role and offers plenty of learning opportunities. If you’d like to join our team, keep an eye on our vacancies in our Careers section.