We sat down with our newest member of leadership, Cathleen Ayala. She’s a powerful project management director and has a few ideas about the future of product design.
Today, she’s talking process, growth, and why it’s okay to break the rules sometimes.
1. So Cathleen, you’re new to PRPL, and we’re ecstatic to have you leading our force of project managers. Be honest, what was your first impression of us?
My first impression was, “what a really smart group of people.” There was genuine excitement around how the team talked about projects and their contribution to them. The solutions and approaches discussed were timely, relevant and progressive. I was immediately impressed by the diversity of experiences and everyone’s enthusiasm to contribute to the agency’s work and play. Within a couple of days of starting, team lunches had been planned and invites via Slack to a myriad of social outings were in full force.
2. With the growth of product design, how do you think the role of the project manager is changing?
In agencies of our kind and size, the project manager role has always been bigger than scope, time, and budget. It includes managing a backlog, planning (sprints or otherwise), and team collaboration. Project managers intuitively and skillfully manage all of these communications while negotiating work with the team so that all objectives are met. These sames skills are required for a product design mindset. A key requirement is having the right systems and tools in place in order to support the continued evolution of the role into product managers and owners.
3. How are you crafting the Project Management team to respond to change in our highly reactive industry? How do you encourage learning within your team?
We are hyper-focused on having a strong understanding of process while appreciating the trade-offs when the rules have to be reevaluated. We are constantly striving to understand what makes the team, the project, and the product successful so we can plan accordingly.
One way we encourage learning is through project retrospectives. This is our chance to go into detail about what worked, what didn’t work, and what opportunities for improvement we have. We can also discuss and review the financial goals vs. actuals, whether those goals have been met, and how the client feels about their final product. It’s a comprehensive approach to reviewing project outcomes in order to rapidly assess and improve the way we work.
We are always working towards the goal of refining our processes and growing into product owner roles. A few weeks ago, our PMs sat through a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification course that prepped our team to take on a more agile approach with product builds.
4. Are there any side projects you’re working on, or ideas and methodologies you’re interested in at the moment?
It’s always been a dream of mine to write a book, and this summer, I started putting the pieces into place. I’ve always joked about writing a book based on my agency experiences but, surprisingly, this project will have nothing to do with agency shenanigans. It’s more of a reflection on a specific time in life that can be viewed as either wrought with anxiety or just the overly dramatic, Oscar-worthy musings of a young woman—all of which is accompanied by modern-day supporting commentary.