How to be comfortable in a mess

A project manager's guide to working effectively

As a project manager, I’ve worked on a lot of different types of projects - working with artists of all sorts, organising tours and events, producing marketing campaigns. But the consultancy world is a bit different and brings its own challenges - obscure vocabulary and regular moments of ambiguity where it wasn’t clear where we’d end up. It hasn't always been comfortable. I was used to the mess of the production end of the creative industry, but not to the mess of giving shape to thoughts. But as time goes by, things have clicked into place. So, how did I find peace in the mess and what have I learnt this year?

Be patient!
The question: “so what are we going to do?” sometimes doesn’t have an immediate answer. We are usually dealing with complex projects, multiple stakeholders, figuring out new strategy plans, brand identity, messaging...and it takes time. Just keep an eye on milestones and get ready for the storm! You know that at some point the team will ask you to organise a creative sprint with some random people, so while waiting, get ready!

Keep asking questions.
What was daunting at the beginning was the idea that I was supposed to know everything and read the mind of my colleagues. This couldn’t be further from reality! Your colleagues are your best allies and figuring out the steps they take to complete a task will work wonders in helping you calculate more accurate estimates. At Something More Near we use a pattern methodology that provides a clear sequence of actions to follow, prioritises practice over theory and this modular approach is unique to every project.   

Find the tools that work for your team
There are lots of tools out there - Trello, Monday, Smartsheet. It’s important to remember you are not a bad manager if you don’t use every last bit of tech. At Something More Near we've found a balance of low-tech, high-tech and no-tech tools that work for us. This means using old fashioned spreadsheets alongside advanced collaboration platforms like Mural and Figma, and a commitment to face-to-face problem solving. Don’t worry - just use whatever gets you and your team working with the minimum amount of headaches.

Interact with people 
In business, emails, quick notes and texts have become ingrained in our practise and it is so easy to lose the essential human connection we all need, whether it is with a client or with our colleagues. A simple fix is to schedule weekly status calls with clients as a practical way to informally interact with them while also giving a cadence to the team. In regards to your colleagues, pay attention to your inner voice and be upfront with them as often your concerns or thoughts are theirs too. Once you’ve brought it up, you can then deal with it together. 

Not knowing is ok
Insecurity can actually help you get better at your job. When I heard the famous architect John Gehry speak about his own insecurities, it was a revelation. I started to appreciate insecurities as a driving force to improve. It is good to feel uncomfortable as it keeps you motivated, it keeps you looking for answers - insecurity and uncertainty is healthy as long as you don’t allow it to freeze you from taking action.

Use your downtime
Get the most out of your down time to update databases, read up on related content, organise your files and folders, etc. It will come in hand when you least expect it! One of the best books I recently read is “Project Management for Humans” by Brett Harned which helped me to understand the depth of the PM role and even highlighted a few eureka moments. 

So whether you are a project manager or not, we all have to manage tasks and work with others and if you've made it this far, I'm sure some of this piece has resonated with you. Every project, big or small, will have its own challenges. Don’t be put off of being in the mess, things will unfold if you apply a consistent process. Whilst we all love it when a plan comes together, I can really say that the journey of learning what works (and doesn't) will be as rewarding as putting a line through the tasks on your todo list.

Rosaria Vallesi is project manager at Something More Near. Projects for Nespresso, Allianz Real Estate, TED and Placido Domingo.