A DAY IN THE LIFE: We talk to a Pentagram project manager about her nine to five
Name: Kirstin Sands
Job Title: Project Manager at Pentagram
Length of Employment in current role: ten months
I’ve had a non-linear path to becoming a project manager in an architectural team. After graduating in Interior Environmental Design 13 years ago I started my career as an interior designer in an architectural practice. I then spent a couple of years in East Asia working for various companies, getting as varied a life experience as possible. On return to the UK I decided to come at the design industry from a different angle and get my project manager qualification. Six years ago I completed the PRINCE2 Practitioner Project Manager Certification. Since then I have been a project manager in London for small interior companies, an international development architectural charity, and for the last ten months a project manager here at Pentagram on William Russell’s team.
I go into work every day to get the best performance from the project team and deliver successful projects. To do this, my day to day role ends up being a cocktail of negotiation, motivation and organisation with a lot of financial and deadline checking. No day is ever the same or uneventful, so I aim to prepare and plan as much as possible and respond rationally when a surprise is thrown my way.
I like to be in before the rest of the team, grab a coffee and read through any new emails. I try to send a response, even if only to acknowledge the emails that have come in overnight, just so people know that I’ve seen the message and that we are taking action. As the team comes in, I quickly catch up with each of them to see how they are progressing with work packages. If they need to talk to me further I will schedule time for a meeting as soon as possible. This includes catching up with William as he will usually have updates to discuss or meetings to set up. For myself, I generally have an action plan from the day before with a list of prioritised points for that day and the rest of the week, but this has to be balanced with anything urgent that has to be immediately dealt with. Usually I am managing several projects at one time and so first thing in the morning is generally spent asking/answering questions and setting up meetings.
Hopefully at this point most of the team is heads-down, working hard (including me). If I’m not in a meeting, I’m trying to update schedules, complete billing and forecasting, and speaking to suppliers, contractors or clients. I have regular conference calls during the week and also a weekly team meeting, so depending on the day the mornings can been hectic and there are always actions to take away. One of the great aspects of the projects I’m currently working on is that a few of them involve other Pentagram teams, either here in London or one of our other offices overseas. Not only does it provide a new perspective on the project as the other teams are specialists in different design disciplines, but also I get to work with the other project managers. Every project manager I have ever met works differently, and I always learn something new from them. Managing expectations by building strong relationships is a big part of the job: with team members, clients, suppliers and contractors. This takes a lot of time and thought to get right, but it’s always worth the effort to make the project go well.
We are very lucky to have lunch made for us, so at 1 o'clock the whole office downs tools and heads to the canteen. It really makes a difference when I’ve had a busy morning to get a warm meal. Quite often, I’ll catch up with team members who I’m not working directly with, or end up sitting next to someone who I haven’t worked with before, and I quiz them about what they’re up to. If a client is in for a long meeting, I will eat with them. Food always brings people together! We all do our own thing after eating - my bad habit is going straight back to my desk, but I like the brief moment of quiet time to gather my thoughts or do a quick bit of life admin. If I’m lucky, the team dog Rolo will deign to allow me a pat on his head which always makes my day.
The afternoon is similar to the morning (i.e. completely varied) but usually includes a few more meetings. The team is generally working to a deadline at the end of the day so I often help to check that all deliverables are accounted for. While many people think my job is about figures and spreadsheets (and there is a lot of that), what I love about my job is having the overview to see all the working parts of the projects and then focus in to pick up on the key details. My team is extraordinarily talented. As a project manager, I see my main role as bringing just enough structure to the wonderful chaos of the creative process to make the whole thing work.
The end of the day is also when most quotes come in and decisions are made, so I usually have a busy last hour. Finding solutions and routes forward is another huge part of my job, and there's nothing better than getting to the end of the day and realising that a challenge has been resolved. It’s at this point in the day that you see just how much can be achieved, and sometimes just how different a day can end up from how you planned it over the first coffee of the day. I make sure that by the time I leave I’ve answered all emails and a have a new to-do list for the next day; I also go round the team to make sure they know what they are doing tomorrow.
I generally get everything tidied up about 6.30 depending on what stage the project is at, some are more time critical than others. Pentagram has a great series of after-work events which I try to go to including talks, book launches, and film previews. If it's a Friday, there is also a great pub next door!