Adopting a Swiss Army PM-entality

By David Forbert

Ah, the wild, wild world of Project Management. It’s no secret that well-utilized PM’s serve as (quasi-) account managers, accountants, proofreaders, resource managers and, of course (legitimately), Project Managers on a daily basis. Being plugged-in and having operational knowledge in all of these departments allow us to help our account and operations professionals maintain efficiency in their workflows (and in many cases, make their professional lives a lot more enjoyable). Seems logical, right?

But wait, what about the other side of the business? The departments that we closely interact with on a daily basis that might not be labeled “corporate”—the creative departments, of course.

As project managers interact closely with creative teams, of course we need our fundamental subject expertise, but what technical knowledge—outside of our given role—can we leverage to help make the creative team’s workflows more efficient? There’s only one surefire way to truly understand tools and technologies used within these departments… hands-on experience.

I know, I know, this all sounds super swell, but investing personal time to make your coworkers’ workflows more efficient feels like a one-sided relationship, right? Well what if I told you that gaining this knowledge could actually make PM’s better at their jobs? Listening now? Great, let’s go.

Two years back, purely out of fascination and interest, I set out on this personal quest to, for lack of a better term, screw around with some of the programs, tools, and technologies that my creative counterparts encountered on a day-to-day basis. I began dabbling with a few of the standard Adobe® design programs and got hooked pretty hard on the technical details associated with each. What I got hooked on even harder were the applications for this newfound knowledge that I began finding in my day-to-day interactions across numerous departments within the workplace. I found that “getting smart” in these areas empowered me to contribute more of myself to my team and have a stronger role in influencing the work. Interested? Here’s the pitch:

What You Stand to Gain: By gaining hands-on experience into the day-to-day workflows of your team members, you’ll be positioned to not only better understand and navigate the obstacles that they face throughout projects, but to also gain a stronger comprehension of the amount of effort that goes into a “simple ask” which can be leveraged when developing timelines/budgets and setting client expectations.    

In Action: Let’s take this analogy out of the industry to show how versatile this methodology can be, shall we? Excellent — A waiter at a restaurant asks to shadow a line cook for a week to better grasp what goes into bringing the menu to life on a nightly basis. Throughout the training he gets to cook his first meal; an ahi tuna steak. He cooks the steak at the proper temperature for 20 minutes and finds that it still needs 10 additional minutes to hit the recommended medium rare. Weeks later, back out on the floor waiting tables, a guest (*cough* *cough* client) comes in and informs him that he needs to leave for the opera in 15 minutes and would like to have the ahi tuna steak at medium-rare temperature. “I’ll check with the kitchen to confirm, but we should talk alternate options of approach here, sir.” The kitchen doesn’t have to stop what they are doing to explain the complexities for why the request can’t happen and the client is happy for the swift feedback (he went with the 10-minute chicken). After all, he’s got a show to catch.

How to Get Started: The general public’s accessibility to professional programs and tutorials have never been more accessible than now (see links below). This, of course, presents the age-old conundrum of “Where do I start?”. I would advise keeping a few programs of interest in mind and performing a bit of preliminary research on the capabilities of each. Once you have that, I would urge you to hold out on beginning your experiment until you find the right inspiration for your test. After all, this should be something that is both original and personal to you, but also extremely fun to bring to life. Chances are, that, in order to achieve the fidelity that you most likely desire, you are going to end up wanting to invest more time than you originally imagined, so make sure that the reward is strong enough to fuel the effort.

In Action: You’ve dabbled in Photoshop® and are interested in checking out what Adobe® Illustrator® and Adobe® InDesign® are all about. You find some instructional resources on creating vector artwork and building print files for production. Weeks later, your sister informs you that she’s been engaged (congrats, by the way) and that she is beginning to think about her save-the-dates. “Mind if I take a stab at a layout, sis?”

Leveraging Your Knowledge in the Workplace: So you’ve got a new set of skills and some knowledge to go along with them. That’s awesome, but to quote the guy that hangs out by the Addison Red Line stop, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Ah, yes. Very wise, sir…and original. Helping your sister out with her save-the-dates is awesome. Based on her budget and expectations, you may actually be the most suitable person for the job. Client work…is different. Remember to let the professionals do their jobs. Having a fundamental knowledge-base of these programs is awesome, but it is not comparable to years of formal education and experience. Instead of forcefully inserting your opinions into their work, use your newfound knowledge to internally think ahead and identify any technical obstacles that may be looming around the corner. Then, do your best to bring these up for discussion with the team (as appropriate) so that they can avoid potential roadblocks and continue doing their best work (without any added noise or distractions).

So that’s it. Let me guess — You’re thinking that this all feels like common sense, right? Hey, I feel that way too, but, surprisingly, sometimes it takes a long-winded, oversaturated Medium article to truly reinforce and strengthen the idea that learning things “outside of your job” can actually make you better at your job.

Sure, you’re going to need to invest some of your own personal time and there probably won’t be any tangible return on your investment, but who knows, you just might stumble into your next hobby. Dare I say, career? Regardless, your team will most likely appreciate you taking the time to better understand their point of view.

Still interested? Here are some resources that can help you get started:

      Adobe Software – Free Trials

Tutorial Sites – General Design Courses – General Dev Courses – Video Editing and Compositing Courses

      Music Video Breakdown – Video Editing and Compositing Tutorials

      Greyscalegorilla – Cinema 4D Tutorials


As a project manager at VSA, David Forbert is responsible for ensuring simultaneous project successes across multiple accounts, including CME Group, Nike and WeWork. In his four-year tenure at VSA, David has also taken on the management of all internal VSA web properties, as well as the VSA corporate website. David graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a BA in Business Administration. He can be contacted at