Subject Matter Experts Talking Other Subject Matter
One of the titles I've given myself over the years is "Geek Translator." I'm pretty good at talking about the technology we develop at Conquent in business and marketing terms. Perhaps being the metaphor king helps. Even so, once you remove all the tech jargon, and maybe substitute a little business jargon, it's still tough to be able to get non-technical people to understand issues with technical delivery.
I do a lot of other kinds of translation, too. The print world talks entirely differently than the web world, the web world talks differently than the video world, the video world talks differently from the motion-animation world. All are visual media, but they all have their own jargon and ways of doing things.
A great project is one where everyone understands and respects each other's skills and challenges. If you have a web developer who speaks a smattering of print design, but he knows he's NOT a designer, your designer and web developer will get along great.
Traditionally the project manager has to be the translator. Then the project manager translates to the account manager, who in turn translates to the client. Things get lost in translation and work has to be redone, but if the creative person can't translate clearly directly to the client, there isn't much you can do about it.
I envision a world where we cross pollinate language and skills more. The graphic designer needs a programmer "trail buddy" to bounce things off of, just as the programmer needs a designer to talk about stuff with. Think of a revolutionary cell network, where a programmer knows a web developer and a designer, and they're all constantly learning each other's language.
I've had this basic model at Conquent since the beginning. It makes everyone better at dealing with the different aspects of the project, and it makes everyone better at dealing directly with the client.
Ultimately I still believe that you need a person to be simultaneous project and account manager. Project management is it's own service, and coupled directly with the client, it can become much more of a communications focal point, and less of a top-down management model.