September 15, 2023

Digital Project Manager: Is it a Good Career?

People often ask me what a digital project manager is.

And they ask because this role assumes fully online and remote work. On normal days without pandemics, everyone wishes to work remotely and have freedom.

Let’s review what is a Digital Project Manager.

What is a Digital Project Manager?

First of all, let’s separate typical project managers working in the IT industry from Digital PM. Both roles may do similar software development projects.

However, software development PM usually focuses on creating custom software. While a digital PM works on setting up and using existing software or putting a system out of separate solutions.

But more often, a Digital PM manages a very specific project:

Types of Projects for a Digital PM

One of such typical projects is to set up an Online Marketing Campaign.

It’s a project where you need to organize people to put all marketing pieces together.

For example, you need to create websites for promotion, set up email service providers, Facebook advertisements, and many other things.

You need to work with freelancers and other team members to create designs, write marketing copy, resolve technical issues, and so on.

So, whenever you click on an advertisement on Facebook, you get into a marketing campaign. If it’s medium business, then, most likely, there is a digital project manager behind this campaign.

But that’s not all.

Other Typical Projects

  • There are projects on social media outreach for bigger companies.
  • Project on the organization of events. Both online and offline.
  • Projects to create a steady stream of online content like blogs and YouTube videos.

(Some famous YouTubers or podcasters that you follow most probably have a digital project manager who manages the content creation and all the related logistics.)

  • Also, a digital PM may run projects on small software or website development.

MYTH: A Digital Project Manager Works Fully Remotely

OK, one warning.

While you manage these types of projects fully online, your clients still prefer to meet with you in person from time to time.

So, you need to be in a short travel vicinity for the majority of such roles.

Now, let’s talk about the skill set of a digital project manager.

Top Skills for a Digital Project Manager

Now, in economic terms, you work for micro or small businesses.

Therefore, these projects are relatively small.

They require less skills and experience than a typical PM would need.

1. Skills in Online Marketing

As a digital PM you do need to have specific domain knowledge.

You need to know up-to-date specifics of online marketing. Or you need to know social media search engine optimization.

So, usually, you need a proven background in one of these areas.

(It’s not something you can easily learn at school or college.)

2. Product Management

Because of the nature of the projects, you also need to be a bit of a Product Manager.

As your employers are usually small business owners, Digital PMs lead projects for specific niches.

You need to have a basic understanding of the audience you are serving and their needs and how to develop the products they need.

3. Remote and Distributed Team

You need to have leadership and organizational skills.

But again, you need to take into account the specifics of the projects you lead.

You’ll have scarce resources, small teams, short deadlines, and an ever-changing environment.

On the other hand, you need to achieve project goals on time and in a cost-efficient way.

And, yes, it all happens online with distributed teams.

Without practice, I don’t think you can become proficient in leading virtual teams.

Your offline experience may not suit here really well. You’ll face all the challenges of a virtual, distributed, and freelance team at once.

So, you need a process of controlling and motivating the team with online tools you have.

So, a perfect candidate for a digital PM role requires three equally developed areas of expertise:

  • Online Project Management.
  • Product Management.
  • Practical experience in the selected domain.

For business owners, there’s little value in hiring a dedicated project manager.

So, they need an experienced jack of all trades from the trenches. And the emphasis is NOT on hard project management skills.

Does a Digital Project Manager Need a Certificate?

I believe that small businesses don’t care about your certificates.

They want to see your achievements, and they’ll want to get recommendations from your previous employers. I would take care of that in advance.

Salary of a Digital PM

Now, let’s talk about the typical salary for a digital project manager.

I think there’s quite a lot of confusion.

If you search on the internet, you’ll find a wide range of salaries from 55K to 130K per year.

Here’s what you need to understand:

On the higher end of this range, we have a typical enterprise project manager.

They lead large enterprise projects, and they have nothing to do with the Digital Project Manager role we discuss here.

The descriptions of these roles usually require Executive level skills and experience. So, treat them as conventional PM roles or Program Manager roles.

And the digital Project Manager we talk about is really on the lower end of the scale. Small companies do small projects and require relatively experienced project managers.

By the way, quite a lot of start-ups in the initial phase may require digital project managers. So, in some cases, it’s a great starting point.

Yes, there are exceptions when you work for an online celebrity. But I don’t think you should focus your whole career on such an opportunity. There are not that many job openings in this niche.

Popular Tools of Digital Project Manager

So, how do Digital PMs Manage Projects?

Most of the time, the main tools of the Digital PM are a task tracker and virtual meetings.

Currently, Asana, Trello, or Monday are the most popular tools that both digital PM and business owners prefer.

But if you ask me If I start a new digital project, I would recommend ClickUp.

It has all the required functionality. But in addition to that, you can enhance the tool with extra features when you need to scale you your team and project.

On a high-level digital PMs can also use the Gantt Chart to simplify communication with clients and other team members if the tool permits.

Scope and requirements come from one person.

So, capturing Requirements in a task tracker will suffice.

You don’t usually do much of the business analysis. As the teams are small, you plan tasks one after another.

There are no complex schedules with dependencies and prerequisites.

Budgeting may be quite complex.

You may need to estimate the costs based on the average market rates of freelancers.

Required efforts are usually guesswork.

Most of the projects will require lots of work with freelancers.

So, finding good specialists and controlling their work will be a big part of your efforts. And keeping a list of trusted vendors is a good idea in general.

Quality and Risk Management are rare.

Unless you have a really big project, you won’t have any quality and risk management.

In most cases, It boils down to a simple schedule with deadlines and a lot of communication.

The Career of a Traditional Project Manager

My Conclusion About the Career of a Digital PM

So, should you become a Digital Project Manager, or should you become a Typical Project Manager in your industry?

A Digital PM is a separate branch of project management. In rare cases, it might be a great starting point. But most of the time, your experience will not help you become a professional project manager.

However, if you are in the marketing, content, or social media industry, that might be a great career path for you. But like any other role it has, it’s opportunities and limitations.

So, I hope you can make a better decision now.