Powered by Polymaths

How Ascender's project directors earned their title.

Powered by Polymaths
By Andy Milk, Co-Founder and Zack Goehner, Creative Director
June 17, 2020

Anyone who browses Ascender’s bios may notice we don’t have managers. That’s not to say we’re laptop-laden nomads aimlessly wandering through cyberspace, or that we don’t value the importance of good management. We think of our project managers as project directors. It’s more than just a matter of semantics, though. Project directors at Ascender are Renaissance people whose multifaceted leadership informs strategies at the highest levels of our business.

Wear all the hats.

There’s really no such thing as a “typical day” for our project directors. On any given workday, they’re not only writing schedules, updating status reports, and routing creative (a manager’s bread and butter), they can also be found authoring content in a CMS platform, running through ever-evolving quality assurance checklists, and making recommendations based on best practices and digital trends. They’re masters of the marked-up PDF. They know the ins-and-outs of obscure platforms (hasta la Veeva, baby!)  They’re fluent in healthcare legal review acronyms: PAC, PMRC and MLR (oh my!).  They know accessibility and compliance. They know who’s the fastest email coder when a deadline looms. They crack open the code and edit it themselves when necessary.

“Sometimes a large agency feels like a factory floor where you do one task and pass it on to the next person. I love that at a smaller agency, I wear more hats. I think we all do here.”

Henry Hillenmeyer, Project Director, Ascender  

With so many hats and so few heads, our project directors are inherent multidisciplinary mavens. Polymaths. How do they keep track of everything? Henry takes a lo-tech approach: “I’m a lists person. I’ve always got a sheet of checkboxes and tasks with me. When I couldn’t find a notepad that was just right, I created one and had them printed and padded. There is nothing quite like paper and a Tri-Conderoga pencil.”

What to do vs. how to do it.

We don’t spend a lot of time looking over each other’s shoulders at Ascender. Our developers, designers, and copywriters are leaders and managers of their own domains. The project directors have the freedom (and responsibility) to explore opportunities for new initiatives, fresh ways of presenting our clients’ brands, and communication holes that can be filled with thoughtful, concise emails, SMS messages, landing pages, and websites. With the what to do figured out, the rest of the team is trusted to figure out how to get it done.

The perks of being small.

Strength in people > strength in numbers. With the layers of management having been shed (or at least absorbed), we can move quickly. We can all contribute. We can all share in the rewards. Ascender Project Director Paul reflects on his favorite moments: “I enjoy stepping back at the end of a project to see the final product. Whether it’s words that come to life in a video from a script I’ve written, a design concept visualized, a website launched – seeing it all realized and ‘in the wild’ is always gratifying to me. Not only is it a symbol of accomplishment for our clients, but it’s pride in our team’s craftsmanship.”