In an effort to gain an inside look into the mind of one of Trellis’ most efficient project managers, I sat down with Kate Sears for an exclusive interview. We discussed her role in the company, life as a project manager, and changes that may have arisen due to the onset of COVID-19. Check out the write-up of our discussion below:
1- What is your background?
Before Trellis, I came from a programmatic advertising agency, working as an account manager. Coming to Trellis, I wanted to grow my knowledge in web development and digital marketing from a project management position.
2- What does it mean to be a Project Manager?
From being at Trellis for over a year and a half now, I have learned in order to be a successful project manager, you need to communicate in an honest and efficient way with your team and your clients. You need to be transparent with your clients, and proactive in your projects- if you see something that could potentially be an issue down the road, it needs to be called out sooner rather than later. Another thing that makes a project manager successful is being able to see the big picture- you need to zoom out of the day to day initiatives and understand what the main goal of the project is, and the milestones along the way that will get you to the end goal.
3- What does it take to manage a team?
To manage a team, I have learned it takes effective communication, accountability, and positivity. You need to give your team members clear direction so they understand what is needed out of them in order for them to be successful and accomplish the tasks at hand. You need to hold your team members accountable if they do not meet a deadline/ understand why something is going to take longer than expected so we can figure out the best solution to move forward. And lastly, positivity I feel is very important- no matter how difficult a project can be sometimes, we are all trying to achieve the same goal and need to learn from any mistakes we made and grow from it. If a project has been difficult, you want to make sure you end the project on a positive note somehow, because that is what everyone is going to remember at the end of it all.
4- How do you communicate with your team?
I communicate with my team mainly on Slack, JIRA, Email, and Zoom for conference calls. Slack is used the most because everything is moving very fast in the marketing department, and everyone is quick to answer it as well.
5- Do you change your communication style with Clients?
I approach communication on a client by client basis. Some clients have a technical or marketing background, so you can keep things high level with them and they understand what is going on. Other clients need more hand-holding and need to set up a call to walk through everything via screen share. Overall, my tone with clients is all the same, it’s more learning how to present information to certain clients is what sometimes varies.
6- How do you report feedback to the Executive team?
Typically I have calls with Justin (Director of Marketing) during the week, so I will communicate feedback with him over Zoom and just talk through some upcoming initiatives that are being worked on currently. We have account check-ins with the Owners once every couple of months that I prepare notes so we can talk about client status and any upsell opportunities,
7- How do you balance everything in a project and maintain organization? Are there any tools or services you use to help?
To maintain the organization of a project, I use JIRA, which is a project management software. It helps organize projects using a Kanban view for managing projects from an Agile methodology or Scrum view for managing projects using the Scrum methodology. For Marketing Project Management, I have found using the Agile methodology the most effective, therefore I use the Kanban view in JIRA for my projects. Other than JIRA for project management, I use Slack, email and Zoom to communicate with the team internally and with clients externally as well.
8- Why are these effective? Are they better than traditional methods?
I find these effective because we give our clients access to them all, giving them full disclosure on what is going on with their projects. They can jump right into JIRA and see progress on their projects, and follow up on tickets for status updates. Unlike a lot of other agencies, Trellis gives clients full transparency by allowing access to our communication tools in order to avoid surprises and keep the client updated throughout the duration of a project.
9- What are the main challenges with Project Management?
The biggest challenge I have found with Project Management is that you cannot predict every issue that may come up – there will be some sort of technical issue that may arise that will have to be addressed and resolved immediately. Sometimes it may affect the timeline of a project, and that will upset the client. As long as you keep communication with the client and always keep them updated, that is the best you can do- sometimes as a PM you need to be the “bad guy” and push back on client requests that may be out of scope and affect the timeline. As a PM you have to be the voice of reason and the effective communicator to run a project as thoroughly as you can. No project runs from start to finish perfectly; it’s how you handle the speed bumps along the way that make you learn as you go.
10- Are there any additional hurdles that come with managing a remote team? Do you notice technological barriers, lack of familiarity/chemistry amongst your team, or poor work ethic?
Like I said before, the biggest thing that I find the most important managing a remote team is holding everyone accountable for the deliverables you expect out of them. For marketing specifically, responsiveness is huge since things can change very quickly- therefore Slack is extremely important when managing a remote team. And lastly, for team chemistry, I think Zoom has been a huge asset to Trellis, that way you can have face time with people and get to know them personally on a call!
11- What do you look for when building your team?
When building a team, I look for people who are effective communicators, hold themselves accountable, and are also proactive workers. For example, they will tell me if something may be an issue down the line or come up with possible campaign ideas for a client that may help boost their ROAS.
12- How do you optimize the process and become more efficient?
Using JIRA has been super helpful in keeping things organized and holding each team member accountable for what needs to be completed. We have a specific workflow in place that keeps tasks moving forward and completed on time.
13- How would you describe your leadership style? How do PMs get better at delegating tasks?
I would say my leadership style is keeping things light and positive, but also making sure tasks are getting completed and everyone’s hitting their deadlines. If you are doing what you need to do, there will be no problem, but if there are initiatives that aren’t being completed, I like to sit down with the person and understand what issues are going on. I like to take the time to understand the full context of the situation before deciding on the next steps. I want to be able to help out a team member because at the end of the day I need to communicate with the client, and I want to be able to back up my team and shape them in the best way possible. I also like to give my team positive feedback and encouragement to keep them motivated as well.
14- Has your routine changed at all since working remotely fully now?
Yes and no- our company is 70% remote, so work has remained the same. I usually go into the office 3-4 times a week, so it has been an adjustment for me! As long as you keep your routine going like you are in the office, it is an easy adjustment!
15- Would you recommend more businesses convert some of their operations to remote-based?
After a pandemic like this, yes! It should be an option for employees to work from home. Especially in our industry, it is easy to work remotely, as long as you have a good set up at home and stay productive.
16 – What are the benefits of working in a remote team?
I would say a huge benefit is a work-life balance. You are able to do your work, but also step away from your computer and do some household chores, exercise, run errands, etc. when you have free time. With working remotely though, you need to take time to shut off and walk away from your computer when your day is over. You have to be able to “shut off” when your workday is over to keep that work-life balance in check.
17 – You mentioned increased flexibility for the team, how do you hold each member accountable with no office presence?
I typically check in with them throughout the day, just to make sure our tasks are being worked on and we are hitting our deadlines- I constantly follow up to make sure we avoid any surprises that may impact deadlines we promised to the client. I either check in with them via Slack or set up a Zoom call with them. I also follow up in JIRA to make sure the ticket has been worked on that day
18- How would you describe Trellis’ company culture? Does it change over time or stay consistent?
I would say Trellis’s company culture is always evolving. When I first started, we were a small office in Medford with around 15-20 people in the company, and now have grown into a bigger office in Malden, and have a company of roughly 60 people. We are a heavily remote company, but have expanded into having more events where our remote workers come to the office for different events throughout the year!
19- How does your team create chemistry and rapport without micro-interactions in the office?
With my team, we have a lot of Zoom meetings regularly throughout the week, so that has helped build our team chemistry. I think Zoom has become a software that we rely on the most to get that “face to face” interaction with coworkers, especially with the circumstances now. Everyone on my team is very supportive of each other and good at talking through everything to create great deliverables for our clients and internal marketing initiatives.
20- Do you think emphasizing remote-based operations opens up new opportunities for Trellis?
I think it gives us a leg up against other agencies- with everyone working remotely now, it hasn’t affected the quality of work from our team since we have always been a heavily remote company since the beginning.
21- How has Trellis modified its operations due to COVID-19? Was Trellis prepared?
Operationally, nothing major has changed except the fact that we cannot have in-person client meetings or travel currently. Trellis was prepared since we are a heavily remote company, it has made clients feel confident in our work since the quality was not going to change with everyone being home
22- You mentioned that you work both remotely and in-office, which setting do you prefer? Why?
Personally, I like going into the office, because I like interacting with my coworkers and also having an established routine daily. Sometimes it is hard to “shut off” when you work remotely, but as long as you have an established routine, it is a perk!
23- What recommendations or tips would you give a business that wants to transition to a remote-environment?
I would say establishing a routine is huge when working remotely- treat it as though you are getting ready to go into the office for the day. Also, encourage Zoom calls with video-enabled, it makes a huge difference in seeing people face to face! Regular check-ins with your team members help hold them accountable, and also build a positive work relationship with them going forward!
24- Any closing thoughts?
I think overall many people think that “working from home” means not working at all- but here at Trellis, and being a heavily remote company, people do work hard and complete tasks that need to be completed. Everyone does a great job here and I can’t wait to see us keep growing!