Fred Schaaf is our team Project Manager. Since his arrival at BatesMeron he has brought a great sense of leadership and communication to our team. His unique style of management and outgoing personality have not gone unnoticed and have proven to be a positive influence on everyone. I interviewed Fred as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. As proud as we are of our clients, we’re also proud of the people that make up BatesMeron. Each team member holds a specific role in making our wheels turn smoothly—and we appreciate each and every one of them. We love learning about the ins and outs of peoples’ work methodologies and hope you will, too. Fred and I talked about his previous roles across the country, his best piece of management advice and his go-to solution for tough situations. Read on to learn more from our own BatesMeron Project Manager.
1. Fred, before joining the BatesMeron team you worked across the nation with roles in promotions, packaging and marketing. Now working as our Project Manager, what has your past experience brought to the table?
I have been very fortunate to have been a part of some amazing companies that clearly shaped my professional experience by challenging me on many different levels. Although the project successes and client outings while working in the music industry are much more fun to talk about—it’s the projects that went sour that I have learned the most from. Each project is a learning experience, even the projects with no hiccups—but learning how to fix something that went wrong is a lesson that only helps to improve, if you let it. I have learned it is best to keep the project management out of the hands of those that are not PMs. I am not a designer, so please do not have me create your logo. If you are a creative, you should not be spending your time trafficking or worrying about resource allocations. The biggest hurdle is that many people don’t truly understand or value what a project manager brings to the table, and often it’s because they have not worked with a true project manager. I am not a babysitter—I am a planner and strategist. And the team at BMSD is great at letting me know how I can help benefit them, which in return helps me be a better project manager. Internally I have probably told way too many stories about my music industry past and about friends named Fred (I surprisingly know a lot)—but I have also introduced BMSD to Dinkel’s Bakery and brightened up the office with skateboards and vinyl records.
2. With over 12 years of experience in project management, what advice would you provide to others in creating and maintaining a strong, effective work environment?
I always say that if there are late nights at the office, then I am not doing my job. Now I know there are always exceptions, but as a blanket statement, I stick by it. So many agencies run with the mentality of, “If people are at the office late, then things are going well.” There is a lack of emphasis on efficient work; the emphasis seems to be on socializing and even fear. Being effective and efficient means milestones are everyone’s friend. Being able to show someone what their next week is looking like, even next month—and for our calendar we can show some large projects a year from now. If people understand what their tasks and deadlines are and have a healthy environment which allows for teamwork, then a strong and effective work environment will flourish. When working at a boutique design firm, I feel it is imperative to think and work as a team member—not an individual. No one person does it alone.
3. What factors play the biggest role in keeping your team on task and in line?
Listening is the biggest factor in keeping a project on task (with the help of milestones). The client may only have one project in progress, but the creatives at BMSD constantly juggle several. Daily meetings with the BMSD team let me know what each person is working on, what their priorities for that day are—and what is holding. The biggest reoccurring issues with keeping projects on schedule are scope creep and waiting to hear back from clients. I have been extremely impressed with the BMSD creative staff to see what they can accomplish when they only need to focus on their part of the project. I have also gently learned from the BMSD copywriters how to make sure not to forget to build in time for them. The “in line” part of the question seems to make it sound like I carry a bullwhip around. Not true…on most days.
4. You spend a lot of time working and communicating with our clients. What experience can clients expect to see when working with you?
When it comes to projects, I take a lot of time to listen and absorb what I can instead of talking. After a few meetings, or phone conversations, clients and vendors will see my personality—I’m very flexible in my communication style, which allows me to adapt to the individual client. My job is to get the project completed on time and with the highest of quality—so I need to make sure my communication skills are close to each client’s comfort in communicating. I communicate with some clients in quick emails and phone calls that are direct and to the point, and others want to know about the latest dinner I made or when I am going to come to my senses and cut my hair. Both styles of communication can be effective—as long as the communication goes both ways. Clients will learn that if they have a deadline that needs to be made, I will do everything in my power to make it—but that does include me being on top of them to do their part. Timelines involve every member of the project, and that does include the stakeholder. The more time I have been at BMSD the easier it gets.
5. You’ve been with us nearly a year now. What drew you to BatesMeron?
BatesMeron grabbed my attention with their portfolio and impressed me in the interview process. It was made clear that BatesMeron was looking for someone to come in and take the wheel as a liaison between vendors, clients and our internal staff. From Becka Bates’ straightforward personality to the BatesMeron manifesto, it was clear to me that what you see is what you get. I am drawn to smaller companies because they tend to waste less time with unnecessary meetings and paperwork—two things that frustrate me. Being in a day of meetings and not having any time for actual work is too commonplace in many agencies, especially when meetings are full of people who are not sure why they were even asked to attend. I was also drawn to the team environment here. We have a small BMSD team, but it has allowed me to get to know each individual on a more personal level. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses and creative development style helps me delegate work in a more efficient way. It also creates a more fun and understanding workspace, which makes coming to work enjoyable for everyone.
6. What’s your emergency strategy for managing tough situations, where things just aren’t working out as planned?
Simple: stop, drop and role. Some projects may seem like they are on fire—but the key is to take a step back and assess what is going wrong. I came up with stop, drop and role a long time ago—and it seems to be a great reminder in tough situations.
Stop: Just as it says, stop the project. Let those who are currently working (creative, vendors, clients) on the project put everything briefly on hold.
Drop: Drop everything else you are doing as a PM and focus on this issue. If you don’t, you could end up damaging other projects as well. This is not dropping everything else for days or weeks—we are talking about a few hours here.
Role: Look over the roles of each team member (including vendors and stakeholders) and see where the breakdown is. Most tough situations can be pinpointed quickly, so the solution needs to be solidified and the roles/team members that need to be informed should be spoken with. Tough situations are rarely an email solution.
In case of a real fire: Stop, Drop and Roll.
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