Project Manager Career Ladder

Project managers are a vital part of how Cantilever serves clients. Our obsession with good hospitality means also providing a great experience for clients while we work on their site. We are super proud of comments like this from our clients:

Their team is very organized. It's been great to work with them. Internally, we have limited time and resources, but Cantilever has taken the time to get to know us and our brand. They help keep us on track and push our projects forward. We had a high level of confidence in working with them because of their organization and understanding of our brand. – Ryan Gibbons, Rustic Pathways (Now of Cantilever!!)

We want our clients to feel like they can let go of the project without things falling off the rails. Our project managers are the ones who give them that confidence. We offer a single point of contact, which means that point of contact has to be stellar.

Because we have such high standards for our project management, we have had trouble finding people who can do it well. The main question is... how much tech does a Cantilever PM need to know?

Non-technical PMs face a large challenge, especially with the single-point method. How do you answer client questions quickly and accurately without being a designer/developer yourself? Qualified, competent PMs can still fail with us, because to work on our stuff you also need to learn the tech, to a degree.

However, we are confident that almost anyone can do that. They just need to be eager, open to asking questions, and insistent on figuring things out.

Our PM career ladder is therefore a combination of tactical PM skills and product knowledge. Professional PMs will be much higher on the tactical side. PMs transitioning from being developers will be higher on the product side. Anyone with such an imbalance should look at the ladder as a guideline for where they can focus their energy.

Project Manager Career Ladder

Client Management
Can schedule a client meeting and follow along, taking notes, and distributing the notes after.
Can schedule, lead, and follow up from a client meeting successfully. Provides confidence for client that project is proceeding in the right direction. Regularly updates the client on status. Is available for questions and answers requests promptly. Can brainstorm and evaluate new ideas with the client, creating new opportunities to collaborate.
Becomes important to the client’s decision-making process around their site. Networks with clients outside of work. Can envision and suggest ideas for the site that spark the client to act.
Is considered vital to the client’s digital strategy. Networks with new potential clients, speaks at events, or writes about project management for the blog.
Understands the basic stages of how web projects are composed. Can read and understand a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) provided by a technical lead/creative director.
Can write simple WBS for small-medium projects independently, working with others to check estimates. Can translate the project schedule into other formats based on this knowledge. Understands how different types of project require different WBS patterns. Has knowledge of our project history and can pull from past projects to do comparative estimating.
Can write accurate WBS for any project, working with others to confirm estimates. Understands common overage % for our projects and adjusts future estimates accordingly.
Writes especially detailed and prescient WBSes. Can help others refine their estimates based on past experience with various tasks, and changes in technology. Can independently adjust a WBS based on an unexpected change or event.
Communicates respectfully and clearly to all stakeholders. Might not understand every detail of a discussion, but gathers questions and asks for clarification during and after the discussion.
Can follow project meetings, take accurate and contextually-aware notes, and report back accurately on what was agreed. Can phrase project todos accurately and clearly for staff to execute.
Can follow and contribute to a high-level conversation about project approach and strategy. Can take those findings and reiterate them to staff and clients at the level of their expertise.
Can write accurate and thoughtful project documentation. Can engage with a strategist on the substance of project decisions and help them come to better conclusions.
Budget & Timeline Management
Knows how to track project budgets. Alerts client or senior PM when a budget is in danger.
Takes charge of the budget and schedule. Keeps a close eye on hours throughout the project. Regularly reports on budget and timeline to the client. Pauses the project and asks for confirmation before exceeding estimates.
Based on observations about the project, suggests technical and design changes that can help our budget/timeline position. Proactively recommends changes to the client. Can adjust staffing plan/WBS based on budget or timeline problems.
Develops and tests new theories about optimizing projects. Works with designers and developers to determine how to optimize their work. Can create advanced schedule structures to optimize delivery dates based on parallel-path execution. Bonus points: Publishing these findings to the Cantilever blog, or speaking about them at conferences.
People Management
Can select a staff to fulfill a specific project, using the available Cantilever talent. Can rally the team together to take shared responsibility for completing the project on time, on spec and on budget. Adapts nimbly to project or personal problems experienced by members of the team. Is respectful and kind to staff.
Can seek and identify new talent to work on projects, according to the specific requirements. Works with Cantilever managers to deliver feedback on project-specific events.
Staff ask to be placed on projects led by this person. Can work with a junior PM on a project to show them the ropes. Bonus Points: Networks to find new people who may be good collaborators, and figures out how to bring them into the fold. Speaks or writes about managing people.
Technical Knowledge
Understands the basic elements of how sites work. Understands how a CMS interacts with frontend code to allow a site to be editable. Understands the basics of performance, SEO and accessibility.
Understands why different frontend methodologies work better for different needs. Can explain how the CMSes we use differ, and why we would use one over another. Has a sense for when there is a speed or technical issue on a site and can provide clear, helpful feedback.
Could explain to a new person how HTML, CSS, and Javascript combine to create web pages. Can perform basic code exercises on codeacademy/treehouse/et al. Can diagnose problems on a basic technical level by analyzing browser behavior or console warnings. Can analyze customer needs and make confident recommendations on specific technical approaches based on prior experience.
Understands the principles behind our development practices. Can debug a code issue directly and provide useful insight.
Design Expertise
Understands the basic rules of visual design: hierarchy, balance, order, etc. Understands the core elements of User Experience (UX) and can pick between very good and very bad user experiences on other sites.
Understands basic typographic principles and what makes for "good" typography. Can identify usability flaws in sites and work to address them. Understands Cantilever design standards and practices. Can help clients and designers work together by translating between their different languages.
Can judge and provide feedback on design work from the client’s perspective. Can speak confidently about how design work meets or fails to meet customer needs. Understands industry trends. Understands current technology and how it influences possibilities for designers.
Understands web/branding history and can use historical examples to support a point. Can confidently present design work alone and alongside a creative director. Knows how to use Figma to manipulate and adjust designs if needed.