Risks worth taking



Ian McDowall, MRM London, London, England

Working on cutting-edge interactive marketing projects, MRM London finds itself in the great unknown quite a bit.

“The fast-moving pace of our industry energizes our teams, but with that comes risks,” says Ian McDowall, the agency's head of technology. “We often work with novel, unproven or beta technologies. Combine this with marketing clients sometimes constrained by annually planned campaign budgets or deadlines, yet looking for fixed-cost solutions at the start of a project, and you have a real financial and relationship risk.”

Innovation is nice, but the projects still have to deliver. And to ensure that delicate balance, MRM relies on strong project management processes.

What is your company's approach to project management?

MRM London has a project management office (PMO) of around 25 people, ranging from junior project managers through project director and program manager.

Our strategy for managing projects includes traditional techniques for risk, issue, and change management and planning. With large clients such as Microsoft or General Motors, which have existing processes, we either tailor our approach to integrate with theirs at key contact points or adopt their methodology fully for dedicated engagement teams. We have also used formal agile approaches such as scrum when project attributes and client organizations have been able to support it.


My project management experience gives me a unique overview of all the departments in the organization and, crucially, how they fit together.


How do you ensure everyone understands the goals and methods of these approaches?

Any MRM staff member may work across a wide range of project types on any given day, so it's critical our overall delivery methodology is understood and bought into by all in the company. We use language based around a generalized delivery framework called EESEE, which stands for engage, explore, specify, execute and evaluate. This gives the project manger a common language, combined with the freedom to use appropriate documentation, templates and checklists from our PMO knowledge center, depending on the complexity and needs of their project.

What's the key element of your company's methodologies?

Where MRM's project management team really shines is adaptability. To deliver in our market requires a disciplined approach combined with the ability to pragmatically roll your sleeves up and get on with the task.

The sheer rate of change, combined with the wide range of agency disciplines and technologies that a project manager needs to understand and coordinate, means continual learning and a thirst for personal development.

You were head of project management for five years before taking on this role. How has that helped you?

My project management experience gives me a unique overview of all the departments in the organization and, crucially, how they fit together. It provides invaluable insight into how to get the best results from the organization, as well as how to avoid many potential conflicts and issues.

Project management experience equips executives with a wide understanding of the disparate specialties in our industry, allowing them to communicate with authority across a wide range of areas. The project management skill set also equips executives with strong client understanding and communication and negotiation skills, all of which are critical to a senior management role. PM

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