One of the things Nikola and I go back and forth on is when and if we should hire a project manager for our team. A dedicated project manager can save our staff time and make sure no tasks slip through the cracks. They can ultimately allow our programmers and designer the freedom to create a high-quality product. However, they are also an additional expense and we would sacrifice the charm and intimacy of having each of our employees handle their client contact directly.

Recently, we have been leaning towards bringing on a project manager but neither of us are completely sold on the idea. However, last weekend we took our car to Istanbul and suddenly, the benefits of dedicated project management became clear to me.

For those of you who have never driven to Istanbul, let me set the scene. About 60 kilometers from the heart of the city, traffic begins to flow around you at a high speed in all directions. Houses spring up and you can see neighborhoods in the distance, but you are still safe on an obvious highway.

About 40 kilometers out, the traffic slows. On some days it is a crawl. Brake, go, brake, go. Other days it involves cars darting in and out of the lanes around you with little regard to the safety of others as you flow like a sticky syrup along the highway.

About 10 kilometers out, the traffic again intensifies. Painted lines disappear as vehicles nudge each other over, trying desperately to reach their exit.

Once you do exit, you are faced with narrow, winding one-way streets that are filled with pedestrians, mopeds, and young men hauling towering carts of goods. Street parking is rare and parking garages are often filled to capacity.

This is the situation that Nikola drove into with no data on his cell phone and me busy entertaining our son in the back seat. I still wonder how we made it to our apartment in one piece. Once we did, I began to see how similar our situation was to our project management dilemma.

Self-Navigation

Self-navigation is a great option for people on open roads or those navigating small towns. In these circumstances, there is nothing worse than a backseat driver, telling you where to turn and hissing to make you slow down when you are approaching stoplights.

Similarly, this is ideal for freelancers who have a couple of clients and do not have the tendency to overbook themselves. In these situations, your ability to navigate your work environment means that you will also be the best person to design and control your projects.

When you self-navigate you get the added benefit of direct contact with your clients that helps build a relationship in which you can anticipate their desires and needs. Just like with driving old, winding mountain roads, when you self-navigate your work enough times, it becomes a habit that you can do in your sleep.

Automated Navigation Systems

Self-navigation becomes more difficult when you enter cities and stray off the main roads or when you begin driving in a new area. At these times, most people rely on stopping a lot and looking at maps (which wastes time) or use automated navigation systems.

Project management software is definitely progressing. There are several options available for various company sizes and needs. These programs can help keep you organized and focused and prevent team members from taking a wrong turn down a dark alley, from which you probably won’t see them until a project is overdue.

However, even the most sophisticated programs are no better than an electronic navigation system in your car. They can warn you of one-way streets and tell you where to turn. Some will even update you on potential driving hazards such as weather and traffic. However, you still need to be acutely aware of your entire situation to prevent mistakes and keep your car on course.

A Dedicated Navigator

The next step above an automated navigation system is to have a co-passenger be your navigator. In business, this is your project manager. They interpret the information coming from the map and surrounding area and relay the important parts to you, allowing you to focus on your task of driving safely.

A dedicated navigator can perform better than an automated navigation system because they can look around vehicles to warn you about the road ahead and can look up additional information online to give you landmarks to look for while you drive. (Although, some automated systems are looking to do that in the future).

In business, a dedicated project manager does similar tasks. They sort through incoming messages, dealing with communication and devising a plan that leaves you and your team free to do actual project work.

In a city like Istanbul, a dedicated navigator can make driving safer, easier, and more fun. With multiple large-projects going on at the same time and various accounts that need managing, growing web development agencies will find that they, too, need a dedicated navigator.

Split Responsibilities: Navigating While Entertaining a Two-Year Old

While we were in Istanbul, I was the navigator for Nikola. This is usually fine, when our son is asleep or otherwise amused in our car. However, after over an hour of traffic, my attention was fully on my son, leaving Nikola to navigate on his own.

This is what happens when you have a project manager that does double duty in the office. Usually it is fine to have HR or content writers or even developers double as project managers. However, you will inevitably find yourself in the middle of a large project when their attention is taken elsewhere, putting your project at risk.

We arrived at our destination without a problem. We were about an hour and a half late and everyone in the car was highly irritable, but we were all safe and we met up with our friends as planned. However, it made me question the efficiency of our current project management. We are somewhere in the murky land of being self-navigators and beginning bigger projects for bigger clients that require a dedicated project manager. At the same time, we are still small enough that a backseat driver can get distracting on small projects.

What are your thoughts on project management in growing businesses? When is it time to invest in your personal navigator?

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