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Typical Career Path of Project Director

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Q - What is a typical career path?

A - I started as a project director, but individuals without either a master's degree or specific marketing research experience would probably start in some other position, perhaps as an assistant project director if they happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right resume. However, the more likely route is that they would get involved with the coding process, data processing, or interviewing. You could conceivably start in any area and develop your knowledge about other areas of the company in order to eventually move into those areas.

As an assistant project director, you would have some responsibility for the day-to-day execution of research projects, and would provide backup to an account manager or a project director. Some of your functions might include study tracking, making sure that the proper amount of sample was being put out, keeping an eye on the production schedules, and handling interviewing questions.

As an assistant project director you would work with the job supervisors, monitoring the actual interviewing on the phones and generally keeping tabs on what was happening with a job as it progressed. You would gradually be phased into some questionnaire formatting and then eventually into actual questionnaire design. You would start to become involved in the tabulation function, learn how to read a table, how to put together tables, and how to get some meaningful information out of data. When you are able to do those things you would move into a project direction position, where you would assume full responsibility for certain types of projects, for example, tracking studies that are very much the same from year to year. There may be some minor changes, but the design is already there. You would get involved in some basic questionnaire design, but under the supervision of an account manager. Eventually your involvement would extend to client contact, so that if a client had some questions or a particular concern about a project you were handling, you would handle the matter directly. The client would know who you are and that you are conducting the project, but that you are not the primary account representative.

Q - What are some of your responsibilities?

A - My responsibilities run from the initial proposal through project implementation, in short, everything and anything that needs to be done. There is some involvement in every aspect of the job. I make sure that the implementation goes according to plan, that the final project is produced in appropriate form, and that it contains all the elements the client has requested.

One of my responsibilities is to contact potential new clients. That is an ongoing process and something that I do on a "time-available" basis. It involves sending letters or brochures, or making cold calls. Cold calls are not a major part of my function, but they're there. I spend more time developing existing client relationships, so that after one, two, or three projects, they are not only happy with the performance of the company, but are comfortable working with me and feel they can rely on my research expertise. This means that the next time they have a project, I'll have an opportunity to advise them; to render a (hopefully) competitive bid; and, if that's on target, to conduct the study.

I spend a lot of time estimating and writing proposals, which is one of the primary distinctions in our organization between account management and project direction. Account managers frequently act in a project direction capacity. If I am handling a project myself, then I am the project director as well as the primary account contact. But in general, project directors do not have final responsibility for writing budgets or doing estimates. They may get involved in it as a training exercise, but will normally check out a budget with an account manager before submitting it, I put together an estimate with two objectives in mind-(1) to sell the job and (2) to make money from it. I'll base an estimate on my knowledge of the various functions within the company, what the costs are, and how closely I can trim them, which may be a function of the size and complexity of a given project. I'm responsible for the resulting profit, whether it's good or bad. It's one of the ways the company evaluates my performance. It takes time to learn the internal functions, to get a feel for internal costs by tracking study expenditures, and especially to get a feel for the marketplace.

There is no direct authority over project directors. Indirectly they work for us in the sense that we are the closest to the client, and if somebody has to determine what needs to be done, it normally falls on our shoulders. But we technically cannot give orders to a project services person, and we are not involved in their salary reviews. We give them our recommendations.

Q - What are the steps of an average project?

A - When a proposal is approved by a client, I may do anything from simply redesigning an existing questionnaire to designing the entire survey methodology. This includes the sampling frame, plan, and analysis, as well as the questionnaire. Once we have a questionnaire together, it is submitted for client approval, and we go into a pretest situation. Either a project director or I will handle the pretest to make sure that the questionnaire is generating the necessary information and that it is within the specifications we outlined. From there, project direction is an organizational and coordinating function. I've got to be aware at any given time, for each of a number of accounts, what stage each project is in, and how the sampling, interviewing, coding, and data processing are going, in short, everything. I've got to keep departments on schedule, so that I meet my client's deadline.
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