Inside Project Management at BORN Group with Anita Sforza

Inside Project Management at BORN Group with Anita Sforza

Project management is a skill that can be found in almost every career. To deliberate with and lead a team to achieve a particular objective while navigating constraints is a talent found across verticals and throughout life. That broad, multifaceted skill can be a lot to unpack for someone outside the space, and even outside the particular industry they intend to project manage for. That’s why we’ve reached out to Senior Director of Project Management & Delivery at BORN Group, Anita Sforza, to gain insights into what project management looks like in the eCommerce space, and what skills and concepts are most essential to find success in that community.

Anita has a unique path that cultivated her passion in project management – at nineteen, she worked part-time at a multimedia agency that specializes in higher education in app development. After beginning to help pick up calls by various educational publishers to ease work among the smaller team, her work developing apps soon transitioned into the role of development and project management. From there, she began to build on her experience in project management in the tech sector.

“Project management is a multifaceted discipline that demands a combination of strategic and technical skills, working with the development team as well as clients,” began Anita, recognizing how many different talents that the solutions demanded of PMs in the space – namely technical experience, analytical skills, and passion for process improvement. The financial components and skill cannot be understated as well, as project managers are tasked with overseeing budgets as well as the project itself. Tying these talents together is a key foundation of risk mitigation and risk management – complications can emerge at any step of the journey, and it’s essential to be able to reorient.

On a broader level, project managers should try to see themselves as product owners to help cultivate the right end goal. Product owners think and breath the requirements of what they are building, whether on an app or website in the eCommerce space. Envisioning what the requirements are, how one executes on them, and how one delivers are shared between the product owner and the project manager – it is just on the project manager to execute. Balancing technical and creative skills comes a long way in envisioning how to execute in the shortest path possible. Partnering up with your team and leaning in on their expertise is also one of the biggest assets one might have as a PM practitioner. When some people think of PMs, they assume someone who exclusively builds timelines around client expectations, but building out a project execution while consulting and continuously validating with one’s own team can ensure a seamless experience.

Anita then followed up, noting how, “first and foremost, a successful project manager understands that knowledge of the area they are working in is key to their success.” Project management as a whole is platform-agnostic, there are project managers in construction as well as in healthcare, or any given space where work needs to be overseen. Given BORN specializes in eCommerce, anyone seeking success in BORN project management should have that background and interest in eCommerce, and understand that relevant platform knowledge goes a long way. 

In context to BORN and most digital agencies, project managers should be familiar with agile and sprint planning. It takes a lot of skill to look at an implementation project and create a development plan for your team based on targeted agile development KPIs. That development plan process can be broken down into a few major components, beginning with calculating the total team capacity via its raw allocated time. A couple of those KPIs consist of the overall team capacity and the velocity that is needed to achieve on-time delivery for our sprint goals. The velocity is one KPI that’s generally a moving target that is measured sprint-by-sprint. Not every team works at the same pace, and the variety of skill levels in a team should be accounted for. The simplest way to gauge team velocity is to set baselines and expectations early on. Measuring and adjusting sprint by sprint is the mark of a good project manager, who should pace tickets to accelerate or decelerate velocity to avoid blockers and missed deadlines. With all those points in mind, a project manager can effectively capture large implementations and integrations at a healthy speed, mindful of capturing weighted features first with the right talent to take them on.

Project management is a field that inspires leadership and teamwork to deliver a client’s task. When it comes to exploring Anita’s particular role at BORN as Senior Director of Project Management & Delivery, one sees all the above skills and techniques at full display. Anita manages a series of project deliveries for her portfolio with oversight from BORN, reviewing teams internally and externally, while scoping, budgeting, and resourcing to capture a holistic view of client objectives.

For those aspiring toward project management in eCommerce, she advises that project management is “a rigorous field that rewards collaboration, honesty, and creativity” and those interested are best to do research to gain a deeper understanding of the artifacts that go into the job. Building out one’s experience and having the best foot forward is key – don’t be afraid to apply for project management jobs where you might only have 20% of what is asked, so long as you are willing to demonstrate an effort to learn and adapt. Everyone has an inner project manager within themselves, and it is an intense yet rewarding field that can provide dividends in one’s personal growth and career, especially in the eCommerce sector.

For further insights on BORN Groups and Anita’s project management in action, check out our recent case study on Nestlé Purina here.

Bringing the Left Brain and Right Brain Together within Agencies

Bringing the Left Brain and Right Brain Together within Agencies

A typical digital agency contains highly diverse personnel, each with a refined set of talents, abilities, communication styles, and ways of thinking. Generally, these roles can be divided into two categories: administrative or executive roles and creative roles. The first category is often thought of as primarily organizational. They are in charge of assembling productive teams, defining the company vision, securing short and long-term funding, and planning and executing long-term goals. Such a set of tasks and responsibilities is generally considered to involve a high degree of logical and analytical thinking. Conversely, the second category of roles in an agency demands a host of creative skills such as aesthetic expression, emotional intelligence, and imagination. These attributes are often found concentrated in the roles of creative directors, copywriters, art directors, designers, web developers, production artists, and storyboard artists. 

How, then, can the differences between these two kinds of agency team members be categorized? One way of conceiving the differences between executives and creatives is through their left- brain versus right-brain dominance. This notion comes from the popular (yet largely debunked) notion that for each individual, one side of the brain is more active. Those with left-brain dominance (or simply “left-brained” individuals) often excel at logical, analytical, and objective problems. On the other hand, right-brained individuals, as the theory contends, succeed in creative tasks that demand spontaneity, visual-thinking, and invention. So-called left brain/right brain theory contends that everyone’s brain dominates in only one of these two regions. But in reality, this theory represents, at best, only half of the truth. Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Roger W. Sperry, extending from his research into epilepsy, suggested in 1981 that language is controlled primarily by the left side of the brain, while spatial information and visual thinking occur in the right hemisphere.1 Yet, while this separation can to an extent be verified, virtually all neurological activity happens across both sides of the brain. As science writer Carl Zimmer explains, “No matter how lateralized the brain can get, the two sides still work together.”

That being said, the separation of agencies into left-brained and right-brained remains a useful strategy to assemble more productive teams. Even though team members consistently use both sides of their brains, the kinds of personalities that gravitate toward such roles are almost guaranteed to contain the kinds of distinctions that pertain to the theory of left brain/right brain dominance. Here we can outline a series of best practices for digital agency team members that pertain to collaboration between business executives/managers and creatives. The first section begins from the perspective of the CFO and provides advice for working with creatives. 

Through a combination of disciplined management and open-ended flexibility, CFOs can get the most out of agency creatives by understanding their right-brain proclivities. The subsequent section (“Tips for Creatives”) proceeds from the vantage point of the agency creative and explains useful methodologies for working effectively with CFOs, management, and executives. By using clear communication, anticipating misunderstandings, and attending to details, creatives can continue to meet and exceed management’s expectations. All in all, each of these perspectives will take into account the practicalities of today’s agency landscape, which prioritizes on-your-feet decision making and flexible workflows. 

Cultivating the Creative

Creative types often thrive in open-ended environments in which structure and rules are undefined or perhaps do not even exist. Designers, for example, often need unstructured time to experiment with new ideas, and try out different approaches to an upcoming project deliverable. Of course, such open-ended activities must also occur within limits: a copywriter can’t spend two months brainstorming ideas for a campaign that is due to the client in two weeks. This is why many managers explicitly build in time for “discovery.” During this dedicated period, creatives can iterate over multiple versions and explore different directions before committing to specific determinations, which may be made later in consultation with the client. This way, creatives are given a kind of “sandbox” in which they can feel free to experiment and put forth their most adventurous and innovative ideas without feeling constrained, at least at this point, by impending deadlines and other restrictions In addition to cultivating flexibility within limits, effective facilitation of the work of right-brained should also include tried-and-trusted project management techniques. 

It may seem obvious to industry insiders, but it’s worth reviewing the power of good project management when it comes to working with graphic designers, copywriters, creative directors, and web developers. Most importantly, each of these team members should be aware of all of the important project dates and goals. So, how can project managers keep creatives up to date on important dates and timelines, especially when these data points often change in the middle of a project? One helpful practice is to keep a calendar, which is accessible to all team members, in a place that is centrally located. For such a location there is often a default reference page, or dashboard, on every major project management software package like WorkBook or Confluence. Another technique, which should accompany centralized date-keeping, and which is no less important, is the practice of reiterating important dates, especially those that have recently been modified, in all internal and external communication. Sending a brief check-in email to your designers? Why not include a table reminding the team of upcoming deliverables and their respective due dates? Thankfully, such information can be conveniently stored on your project management dashboard. So a quick copy and paste is all it takes. 

Executing the Design

Switching roles to the perspective of the creative, many of the same principles apply when considering the task of designers and artistic directors collaborating with CFOs and project managers. One way of describing this shift in perspective is to simply invert the advice we covered above. For instance, if managing dates in today’s agile advertising industry is a challenge for those in organizational roles, as a creative it should be considered a primary responsibility to help project managers keep track of timelines.

Imagine two designers. Both are great at their craft, but Designer A spends more time following up with the client following their design meeting. Designer A asks key questions to confirm the direction of the project, along with how the project works with the client’s overall vision. Rather than spending this time following up with the client to clarify the direction, however, Designer B immediately goes to work and spends twice as long as designer A on the initial wireframes. It should go without saying that designer A was, by far, more successful with the client. And, more importantly, designer A saved the agency a significant amount of profit by using fewer work hours while, ultimately, delivering the project ahead of schedule. The moral of the story for creatives? Communicate, communicate, communicate! Ask for clarity when anything seems less than completely transparent. Creatives should anticipate any potential misunderstandings among themselves, the rest of the team, and/or the client. Parts of the project that seem less certain in terms of the timeline should be highlighted. Where are the “known unknowns”? What are the “unknown unknowns”? No designer should be too proud to inquire and inform their team of vital information.

Synchronizing Together

The disparities between right-brained creatives and left-brained, executives, and project managers may at first seem insurmountable. These personality traits relate to cognitive abilities that become encouraged, perhaps at an early stage of life, and then become reinforced through professional specialization. Despite a lack of scientific support for the left brain/right brain theory, there is plenty of social evidence for its continued relevance—especially in today’s advertising industry. One excels in math early on and is then admitted into a fast-track MBA program, only later to become a highly successful CFO. Or, one shows a talent for drawing, is accepted into design school, and then becomes an all-star designer for a top agency. In neither of these cases is anything said about the ability of either personality type to deal effectively with the other. But when considered carefully—whether you are a creative looking to collaborate better with CFOs, or an executive looking to relate more directly to your creative team—there are specific strategies for crossing the seemingly unbridgeable divide between cognitive hemispheres.

Whether right-brained or left-brained, together we can make the digital agency world a better place to work. 

1 https://www.verywell.com/left-brain-vs-right-brain-2795005 

2 https://www.verywell.com/left-brain-vs-right-brain-2795005 

6 Tips for the WFH Warrior

6 Tips for the WFH Warrior

We’re nearing one year into the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while in some ways we can begin to look towards an incoming ‘next normal,’ or post-pandemic world, we still must take every precaution we can to stop the spread and reach that finish line. We here at BORN are still committed to protecting our employees by enabling them to work remotely and only return to the office once it’s safe to do so.  

With over a year of remote work, the fatigue of not seeing colleagues and co-workers does take its toll. We’ve connected with BORN Group’s Director of Human Resources, Jamie Weisberg, to review some of the most effective ways to promote mental health and wellbeing while working remotely. Together, we’ve put together six tips to cultivate a better work from home experience.

  1. Remember to recharge.

“One of the best things you can do is step away from the computer and take time for yourself.” 

Working remotely often means working from home, which can create a blurred line between work and home. When coupled with the many lockdown rules and COVID-19 precautions that can create difficulties in finding daily recreation, it’s essential to remember to take time for yourself and recharge when possible. It’s perfectly healthy and expected to schedule breaks throughout the day to eat and check in on yourself. Even if travel is not available to the extent it was prior to the pandemic, it’s still important as well to take advantage of vacation time to reflect, disengage, and come back more revitalized.

  1. Connect face-to-face whenever possible.

“Not being able to see the facial expressions of co-workers can have an effect of isolation. Whenever possible, in team or client meetings, take advantage of the camera to read another’s body language while you communicate.”

The pandemic has had a sweeping effect on society by disconnecting us from one another physically. Those of us who live alone and don’t get the opportunity to see people at the same intervals as prior may especially feel a sense of isolation from work. It’s a great change from the past to be coordinating on projects and working to the degree that we do without the level of communication that body language provides. Thus, it can go a long way to utilize video conferencing wherever possible. Whether it’s a team meeting, client meeting, whenever possible, take advantage of the camera to better communicate, understand another’s tone and intent, and generally ease your conversation.

a collage of photos of a group of people posing for a photo
A snapshot from one of BORN’s virtual Town Halls. Video conferencing can go a long way toward building community!
  1. Dress for success.

“Brightening your appearance even while at home can set you in the mindset of mindful work.”

Another healthy practice that can fall into neglect via remote work is to tend to one’s appearance daily. The rituals of trimming, make-up and skincare, and the regular haircut as well as dressing presentably and geared to work all have noted effects in getting us into a mindset of work and stability. Ruts in life can be magnified by neglecting one’s appearance and it can help make you more inclined to break out of them with the sort of self-care that lets you feel eager to tackle the day and presentable to anyone you might come across. Carve out the time – work will always be there, and taking care of oneself is a key priority.

  1. Exercise throughout the day.

“A lot of real world issues have magnified the effect of the pandemic over the past year, and taking the time to remember to breath and walk can serve as an excellent stress reliever throughout the day.”

With the torrent of difficult news this past year, the effects of isolation are often magnified with malaise and frustration at the world’s problems. It’s important to take the time to avoid burnout by putting aside some time throughout the day to breath mindfully, walk mindfully, and let your mind refresh, to help mollify stress and keep health a priority. Burnout as a whole is huge, especially in the tech industry, and it’s essential for senior leaders to give their team the space to get projects done while in the best state of mind.

  1. Take advantage of office resources for wellbeing.

“Employees at BORN had already set the precedent of working remotely prior to the pandemic, but one of the challenges of building a work from home culture was reminding our team to take advantage of whatever resources they needed for wellbeing and health.”

Coming up with strategies for teams to check-in and avoid burnout has played a key role in the path of building a work from home culture here at BORN. Without the ease of interaction from physical connections, there’s an increased need for all teams to be visible with the array of resources we offer to help support our employees throughout this intensive time of their career. Being accessible and accommodating to our team is what gets us moving forward each time, and on the employee side, it can go a long way to take advantage of the office resources in context to mental health and wellbeing. Here at BORN, one program that we instituted to help decompress was a biweekly virtual yoga session. 

  1. Continue to build team culture.

“Encouraging teams to connect in a remote time can build the camaraderie that makes work so fulfilling. It’s vital to take the time to build and be creative as a unit.”

Much of our fulfillment from work comes from the work we can do together as a team. While conventional events like company-wide happy hours have proven difficult to execute on virtually, we’ve seen team leads come up with innovative and disrupting ways to keep the team culture moving forward. Scheduling one on one meetings wherever possible, going for “walk and talks” as an alternative to the happy hour, or relegating a time for social connection within the team all will yield their own returns in fostering a mindful and productive culture.

Tapping Into the Developer Ecosystem: The BORN Associate Training Program

Tapping Into the Developer Ecosystem: The BORN Associate Training Program

Across the tech industry, employee turnover year over year stands at a stiff 13.2%, a high among verticals that reveals how volatile finding and keeping the right talent can be1. It only gets more difficult when capturing developers in specialized fields like eCommerce given that the space requires individuals well-versed and certified in the wider platform ecosystem. As an agency, we soon realized the challenge in matching our rapid growth with an equally rapid hiring process – there were only so many developers that were certified for the use-cases we needed. 

That’s why we here at BORN Group have developed the Associate Training Program to cultivate talent internally and broaden our hiring capabilities. The program found its beginnings with BORN Group’s Head of Recruitment, Tiffany Ingersoll, who felt the acute pain of trying to cultivate a consistent stream of eCommerce-versed developers. Prior to BORN, she and Chris Connell, BORN’s SFCC Technical Lead, and Davis Devries, BORN Back End Developer, had experience in building Associate programs to hire and train more general developers to fill needed roles.

With the support of BORN Group’s Managing Director, North America, Minna Rhee, we were able to launch the program at the end of Q4 basing the initial launch out of BORN’s headquarters in New York, with a goal of welcoming new hires biannually. Prior to joining the program, our new team members were well versed across JavaScript, React, and other baseline skills, and then engaged in workshops to further their knowledge across the platforms we focus on.

With over sixty applicants, we ultimately hired 8 to participate in the program. Our new team members are a collection of curious and talented individuals, driven for the chance to polish their skill set and learn from BORN. The new program has proven to be an invaluable success that we look forward to replicating across other sectors of our business.

One participant of the Associate Training Program, Adam Weissman, spoke highly on the new opportunity citing, ‘I could not have imagined a more awesome kick-off to 2021 than this; since the moment I first learned about BORN and Tech Mahindra, what they’ve done, what they do, and the trailblazing work they’ll do in the future… I viewed them not only as a company but as something of a destination.’ BORN was a place that Adam felt he could be a brand evangelist from the get-go, and it is thanks to the Associate Training program that we have him with us today. 

With the Associate Training Program accepting its first round of applicants, we’re excited to see how we can better foster talent throughout the greater developer network. Adam’s words as well as the work of the team at large have proven to be a great milestone into fully fleshing out a process for internal hiring and education. We’re looking forward to the next round of our Associate Training program, slated in Q2, to cultivate new Business Analyst talent for the year.

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Footnotes:

1 Employee Attrition Rate, March 25th, 2020  https://devskiller.com/attrition-rate-in-tech/

BORN Group’s Year in Review

BORN Group’s Year in Review

On our one year anniversary of being acquired by Tech Mahindra, BORN Group reports a transformative year looking back at our expansion of services and accolades as an agency. In face of the pandemic, BORN has kept buoyant, thrived, and secured landmark wins and awards to continue its status as the most decorated agency of its class.

BORN commanded over thirty-seven award wins throughout 2020. Client work with brands like Starbucks, Cadbury, Digi, Frette, Cartier, Tata Cliq, Tata Cliq Luxury, Tata Tetley, Love Bonito, Changi Airport Group, and Sour Patch Kids enjoyed high honors across the globe, receiving distinctions from the Communicator Awards, the Lovies, the FoxGlove Awards, Campaign India Digital Crest, the dotComm Awards, the Mob-Ex Awards, and the Digies. These wins centered around delivering excellent UI/UX, cultivating best practices, and ensuring best consumer engagement for these marquee brands.

As an agency, BORN Group received various commendations, winning Gold for Best Digital Consulting Agency of the Global Brand Magazine Awards, Company of the Year in Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations by the International Business Awards, an Agency of the Year Finalist by the Drum Awards, and named advertising + Marketing Research Agency and Brand and Design Agency of the Year. BORN Group’s CEO, Dilip Keshu, was also distinguished as an Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Business Awards, otherwise known as the Stevies, while the agency also enjoyed numerous accolades via partner awards, namely in receiving the SAP APJ Excellence Award 2020 for SAP Customer Experience, Most Innovative Partner of the Year Award by the 2020 Bloomreach Awards, and Best User Experience and Design by the BigCommerce 2020 Partner Awards.

As part of its acquisition by Tech Mahindra, BORN Group undertook a complete digital overhaul to capture their full suite of offerings, verticals, and 80+ comprehensive case studies. The new site was recently awarded multiple CSS Design Awards for Best UX Design, Best UI Design, and Best Innovation, along with an honorable mention from the awwwards. 

Behind all these accolades were our fearless BORNies. With over eighty new hires this year, including key hires in management positions with the additions of, Minna Rhee, Managing Director, North America, Reji James, Head of Managed Services, North America and Dustin Holmstrom, Head of Digital Architecture, we’re proud to note our team grew despite the many challenges of 2020. Finally, BORN came together to build and deploy state of the art strategic frameworks in Stella and SMOC, and pledged support toward change through contributions to the BORN Equality Fund.

With 2021 on the horizon, we look to move towards a post-pandemic world more resilient and able than ever.

As we say here at BORN, onwards and upwards!