Robin Kwong, new formats editor, Wall Street Journal

A new guide on project management helps journalists and editors make the unfamiliar step into leading editorial projects.

The Project Management in Newsrooms guide is published by the Association for Project Management, and written by Robin Kwong, new formats editor at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

It provides best practices for three stages of a project's lifecycle: planning, execution and project wrap-up. It is a helpful starting point for journalists and editors who are not project managers, but either want to make this transition or have been handed these responsibilities.

Kwong is a trailblazer in project management within journalism. He was successful in pitching for various management and bridge roles during a 13-year period at The Financial Times, notably creating wearable technology projects and the award-winning news game The Uber Game.

Read more: Inside The Financial Times' special projects strategy

Now with WSJ, Kwong leads the newsletter, rankings and audience voices team. He pioneers interactive news formats, like the Email Challenges newsletter. This is a limited-run series of short courses focused on personal improvement which has set the mold for other newsletter series.

All of this might seem beyond the call of duty for a reporter, typically with very clear deliverables and well-defined responsibilities. That is all changing in a digital newsroom where there are endless possibilities around how journalism is created, packaged, delivered and consumed.

Project management is fundamentally about turning ideas into reality. Newsrooms need project managers to identify new opportunities, put a plan together, galvanise a team effort and then reflect on the results.

Typically, this has been left to makeshift leaders working with ad hoc workflows and limited access to resources. This can yield some successes but runs the risk of miscommunication, projects going over the budget or beyond the deadline, workplace conflict, and putting colleagues off further experimentation. Editorial projects have better odds with more formal processes and trained leaders.

"There’s no really specialised, technical skill required. In a sense, anyone can be a project manager. Ultimately, you just need to be aware of pitfalls and best practices," says Kwong.

"The immediate benefits of project management is to execute well, but the longer-term benefit is the culture within the newsroom becoming more adaptable, flexible, and more able to learn, grow and develop new capacities."

Listen: Robin Kwong of WSJ on evolving bridge roles

Kwong's top five tips for new project managers:

  • Document your ideas well. Write down all sudden epiphanies. This will crystalise your vision and makes it easier to articulate to others.
  • Learn patience and empathy. Before delegating tasks, gauge colleagues' active deadlines and timelines.
  • Strike a balance during meetings. You want to keep discussions both inclusive and tight. Tricky, see the guide's super tip on the "parking lot" system.
  • Lean into deadlines. Do not let anything run indefinitely: "Hard constraints are a gift because they help you make decisions."
  • Create institutional knowledge. Share your post-project learnings in one location. Efficient documentation will save painful back-logging.

"Project management is not that scary," says Kwong.

"I feel a lot of journalists have this notion of it being very rigid and someone coming in with a clipboard. I hope what the guide shows is it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s really about being clear about what you’re doing and then working well with others."

Check out the Project Management in Newsrooms guide

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