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The life of a research project manager

We’re getting to know Kerry (Kez) Poulson, who’s just joined Further’s team in London as Senior Project and Operations Manager. Kez has worked with brand and agency clients across the the FMCG, B2B, healthcare and leisure sectors. Working closely with our research team, Kez ensures that all our projects are managed efficiently and that our processes are reviewed and updated so we're able to continually fine tune what we do.

What do you think the most important attributes are for a research project manager?

To me, the most important attribute for a research PM to have, aside from the more obvious organisational skills, would be the ability to execute any project with an unwavering view of the key objectives and also how to get there. Ultimately, a PM ensures that everyone (and everything) stays on track with clear communication of who is responsible for what and when, ensuring that everyone remains accountable for their agreed responsibilities. It’s about retaining integrity whilst ensuring all decisions are informed and in the best interests of the project’s delivery. I believe it’s important for every member of the project team, whether they are client, colleague or partner to have one key person to turn to from initial brief right through to delivery, and for me, that’s the PM.

How do you ensure that projects run smoothly and on time?

The key influence here is ensuring that timings are realistic and achievable before any promises are made. It’s important for everyone to start on the same page; with partners able to input on timings and scope before anything is agreed with clients. Likewise, that client’s goals, objectives and timings are taken seriously and sincerely (and not just as a benchmark) from the start. Following this, it’s up to me as the project manager to ensure that everything goes to plan! The main factor here is holding everyone accountable for their pre-agreed responsibilities, ensuring that the timeline put in place is adhered to. Of course, there are times when unforeseen events may happen and, when they do, it’s about acting quickly and delivering solutions (before bringing problems) to those who need them. Having structures and contingencies in place, which are often small things such as alternative partners to turn to and ensuring that all team members are all kept up-to-date with all aspects of the project, definitely helps to minimises any bumps in the road.

What are the hardest projects to run? Can you illustrate with some examples?

For me, the hardest projects I’ve ever had to run are either those with an insufficient briefing or those which constantly change throughout the process. It’s important that a kick-off meeting, whether this is between client and agency or with agency and partner, is seen as a key asset to the project and something which will guide the whole research from brief to delivery and everything in between. Of course, changes can happen, but with a well-considered brief, aims and objectives should come a degree of vigour and robustness that ensures the project shouldn’t waiver too much. The kick-off meeting is a chance for everyone to voice their thoughts on how best this research should be conducted. It gives everyone clear and well considered intentions and should ensure that few changes will be required. All of this makes for a much smoother, less challenging project!

How has digital technology impacted project management and research?

The most exciting impact that technology has had on project management and research, is the ability to reach all audiences, everywhere – almost nothing is out of scope. In the same day you can be conducting research in all continents, from all backgrounds and in all sectors, all from one place. To me, this creates an incredibly inspiring amount of possibilities for clients and partners alike – the ability to bring people of all walks of life together seamlessly and efficiently. For project management, this means having full control and view of everyone in one place and is absolutely invaluable to the smooth delivery of a project. It allows me to be involved in each and every part of the research process, ensuring quality assurance throughout, something which face-to-face minimises – purely through logistics!

What do you think will be the top research developments to look out for in 2019?

I think you have to look at consumer demand and how this will impact brand behaviours, then work back from there. By this, I mean things like brand storytelling, context and embracing collaboration and consumer-led content (consumers influencing other consumers) and also the behaviours this induces. Brands need to listen to and understand their consumers more than ever before. They need to be authentic and this needs to translate through to their messaging and marketing, otherwise they'll get called out. I think certain types of media are in the ascendancy too, namely video outside of traditional channels. It will be interesting to see how the research industry keeps pace with the demand from brands and agencies next year, without sacrificing the quality of research. 

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