Part Two: 8 Keys to Delivering Your Marketing Projects On Time, Every Time
In my last article I covered Part One: 8 Keys to Delivering Your Marketing Projects On Time, Every Time. Those four keys focused on the planning portion of a project to help you set yourself and your team up for success.
As a reminder, below is a list of the first four keys to delivering a project on time. Read the full details of each key here.
- Define your project
- Identify stakeholders
- Create a timeline
- Launch with a meeting
Now that you have defined your project, identified your stakeholders, created a timeline and launched your project with a team meeting, you are ready to put your project in motion. Sounds easy enough, right? Follow the plan and everything will go as planned…or not.
Rarely does a project line up exactly how we hope it will. In our experience managing hundreds of projects a year for our clients, we have seen a lot of projects start to go sideways. Examples, like a client change to the scope of the project, a more important project taking priority, a stakeholder throwing a wrench into the team’s “brilliant” idea, and more recently a worldwide pandemic causing clients to completely pivot their strategies, have caused us to adopt strategies to nimbly move with the needs of the client.
In the next four keys, I will share with you some of the strategies you can implement to keep your project moving. Notice I did not say perfectly or even smoothly. Challenges will happen. The most important element is to persevere and keep it moving. Do not let the challenges halt progress. The only time we abandon a project is when a shift in strategy has made that project irrelevant or ineffective.
The Second Four Keys
Key 5: Be Resourceful
Being resourceful is the first key to delivering your marketing projects on time. Resourcefulness is defined as “capable of devising ways and means.” As the project manager it is your role to work through the challenges that arise. Does that mean you are solely responsible? Hopefully not. Hopefully you have that team of stakeholders who can apply their knowledge and experiences to challenges blocking your project’s success. As the project manager, here are some ways you can capitalize on the resourcefulness of your team:
Know your stakeholders:
In the part one we talked about listing the members of your team and their role in the project. As the leader of the project it is also important for you to get to know each team member as well as possible. What strengths do they bring to the team? What is their primary and secondary areas of expertise? If you know your team members well, you will know who get involved in brainstorming challenges without creating unnecessary full-team meetings. Knowing your team well will also help you see any gaps in knowledge or talent that may be needed to break through roadblocks.
Consider additional resources:
This point follows knowing your stakeholders and recognizing when there are holes in your team related to a specific challenge. To keep your project moving you may be able to utilize your existing stakeholders. If the challenge is beyond your team’s expertise, it is time to start looking for a resource to help you solve the problem. Ideally, that resource would be within your company, so it does not incur additional budget, however if the project is a high enough priority and those resources do not exist, then get ready to adjust your budget to bring in the resources you need.
Stay nimble with your project. It can be frustrating for a planner to see the plan unfold differently than expected but, truth be told, it is very rare for the implementation of a project to go exactly according to plan. Does that mean planning is not important? Absolutely not. Planning prepares you for the unexpected. It helps you think through the roadblocks that might arise. It gives you a specific path to follow, but there will be times when you need to take a detour in order to reach your destination. Don’t adjust the vision. Adjust the strategy for reaching your vision. Below are some aspects of the project that may need to be adjusted as you head towards the finish line:
- Budget: Do you need additional resources, or will your deliverables cost more than expected?
Team members: Do you need to add outside resources to your team or make a change to who is on the team to reach your desired result?
Timeline: Do your deadlines need to be adjusted or pushed back based on new information? This article is about delivering your project on time, but it is also true that a project can get downgraded in priority level.
Take advantage of project management tools:
To be successful, you will need a way to track the progress of your project. If you are running multiple projects, like I know you are, this is especially important. Many times, one project will impact the timeline of another. Or perhaps you are in a working environment where priorities can shift quickly. You need an easy way to track deadlines, adjust project timelines, reprioritize projects or monitor your team’s capacity to make sure the team is not overwhelmed, or projects are not falling behind.
Our team currently uses a tool called TaskRay to manage projects, timelines and collaborate on those projects as a team. There are many options out there that you could research, from very simplified platforms to more complex options that allow you to estimate time and track time. Here are some points to consider when looking for a project management tool:
How many projects are you managing at any given time?
If you are managing a small number of projects, then you will not need a project management tool with all of the bells and whistles. In fact, you could track your projects in Excel until you find the right tool for you. It will be a manual process where you need to adjust each date of each task on each project, but if your number is small than it should not be overwhelming.
If you are managing a larger number of projects at any given time, or your projects are more complex with dependencies and a specific order of execution, you will want to consider utilizing a project management tool that allows you to build out project tasks and task groups, create dependencies, adjust timelines and reprioritize projects as needed. Here are some features I learned to look for as we were researching tools and why these features work for us.
- Build a project (not just tasks): This one is important to us because we do not just need a task manager, but something that allows us to manage projects as a whole. We will be managing tasks while using it, but the project manager needs to be able to see how a delayed task affects the whole project, so having individual tasks that are not organized in the context of a project does not work well and is actually overwhelming!
- Project start and end dates: When you build a project, you will have many tasks that are a part of that project (see the Part One article for an example). Ideally, your tool would have a high-level project details area that tells you when you started the project and the expected end date of the last task. This will allow you to compare the expected end date with your final deadline.
- Dependencies: Dependencies are the best, especially if your timeline keeps getting adjusted. What is the dependency feature? It is the ability to connect one task to another and dictate that the connected task cannot be started until the previous task is finished. When a tool has dependency functionality, it makes adjusting your timeline a heck of a lot easier because when you adjust the deadline of one task, it will automatically move the start dates of any task in the chain following. [insert a screencast showing moving a timeline?]
- Task groups: Task groups are exactly what they sound like, a group of tasks. This allows you to organize your project into sections. How you organize is up to you. With our projects we typically use task groups based on the version number we are on. That helps us monitor whether we are in or out of scope with a project. You could also organize in phases, for example with a website we will group tasks into Preparation, Build, Test, Go live. Each of those groups includes tasks that need to be completed in order to finish that stage of the project.
- Team comments: As noted in Part One, collaboration within your team is vital to keeping your project on task. Look for a tool that allows your team to discuss the project. There will be settings so team members can see all comments or just comments they are tagged in. This also keeps all project communication within the project, so you do not have to go digging through email to find previous discussions.
- Templates: If you are managing projects on an on-going basis, having a tool that allows you to build templates will save you a lot of time. Even if you have a template that is not exactly what you need, loading that template and making adjustments is still faster than building a project from scratch. Some tools even include sample templates for your use. We love templates because we can load projects quickly and make necessary adjustments according to the client. It also allows us to have standard checklists for certain tasks, so we do not forget important details.
- Time tracking: This will not be necessary for everyone. It is useful for us because it allows us to see how much time is invested in each type of project. It also allows us to have benchmarks when discussing new projects with clients. If you are managing an internal team, it could be useful if you are managing the capacity of your team while prioritizing marketing projects.
- Estimated time: I love the estimated time feature we have in our tool. It allows us to estimate the time for each task. All of those estimated task times add up to a total estimated time in our project details pane. Why do I love it? Through reporting, it allows me to see the expected workload for my team at any given time. It also allows us to be nimble, a promise we have made to our clients, and make adjustments to their projects while keeping an eye on how that affects their individual project and also the overall impact on our workload. When you combine estimated time with time tracking, you will get a more complete picture of your team’s priorities and be able to shift as needed. You can also share that report with management so they have a high-level view of projects and can inform priorities.
- Add custom fields: This is a nice to have, especially if there are special considerations for your projects. For example, one of our clients requires an approval code for every marketing piece they create. We created a custom field in the project so we can track that code within a project.
- Attachments: This is a nice to have if you do not already have an easy-to-use file sharing system. It will allow you to attach files to a project to share with the team. If you do have a file sharing system, you can still share those within your project management tool by including links in the comments.
Key 6: Be Critical
This key is important to your project because it is what will ensure you not only deliver your project on time, but also at the highest quality possible. On one hand, a marketing project does you no good if it sits without action or continuously gets delayed and unused. On the other hand, it is important to continuously look at your project with a critical eye to make sure it is meeting the purpose and desired results your team set at the beginning.
In addition, you will want to build in your own filters for feedback. It is great when you have team members with fantastic ideas. As you are managing the project you will want to filter those ideas, suggestions and changes through the lens of the project purpose and desired results. Having a collaborative team is ideal unless that team loses focus and wonders down a path that is not aligned with your goals.
One way to help your team is to develop checklists when planning the project and then follow those checklists when executing. As the project manager, you should be reviewing that there is follow through for the items important enough to include on a checklist. Consider a checklist like a reminder system for each task of the project. Each project may have special considerations or pieces you need to put in place that are vital to it meeting your objectives.
For example, when launching a design piece, you could include checklist items to collect all assets needed and compile them in a shared folder. When passing the project on to your designer, your checklist items would include all of the information you need to pass on in order for the transition to go smoothly, including those assets. You can re-use checklists for similar projects in the future.
Another method to help with the critique of your project would be to ensure your team includes stakeholders who are not afraid to create a little resistance. Yes, you want cooperative team members who are personable, but you also want team members willing to speak up when they believe the project is not going in a direction congruent with the objectives.
Key 7: Celebrate
Take some time to stop and smell the roses. Your team is working hard to make something happen that will positively impact your business. Be sure to take the time to recognize their work and celebrate as a team. Depending on the project’s level of importance, you can set up “rewards” at different milestones to keep your team motivated. Often times, a thank you and well done are enough to keep your team engaged and moving forward. Here are some ways you can celebrate with your team, especially if you are working on a larger project with a long timeline:
- Give kudos in your ongoing project updates, recognizing someone on your team for a specific contribution that allowed the project to continue towards success
- For a long project, schedule a celebratory team event or small gift at an important mid-project milestone
- Schedule a launch event for your team where they get to see and celebrate the finished product – include management so they can also recognize the work of the team
- Brag about your team members to their managers
- Say thank you…often!
Key 8: Review
The final key is one you will want to complete post-project - perform a review. This is especially important for project types you are performing frequently as it helps you refine the process you are utilizing and revise it for the next project that is similar.
If this was a one-time project, a review is still important. Why? Because the kind of collaboration it takes to complete a multi-person team project can expose weaknesses in your organizational communications, processes and efficiencies. The challenges that arise in your project may be happening in other areas of the business and therefore need to be addressed. If your team does not review the project, you will never know.
We like to utilize an after-action review (AAR), a process developed by the military to learn from one event or project and apply that learning to future events or projects. In our version, we start by comparing the final outcome to our original project definition. Initially, we are just going to look at what we set out to do and answer “yes” or “no” to whether or not we did. We ask ourselves:
- What was its purpose? Did the project fulfill that purpose?
- What were the desired results? Did the project deliver the desired results?
- What was the deadline? Did we meet our deadline?
- What were the deliverables? Did we deliver what we expected?
We then drill down a level into the details of how the project went. In this section of the review we are going to ask ourselves what worked, what didn’t work and why. This gives all team members a chance to point out challenges and discuss whether or not they were avoidable. In addition, it gives the team a chance to discuss how we can handle similar situations differently in the future.
Finally, the team will outline their discoveries from the review session to assign action items and share with management. We break up our discoveries into four categories:
- Remain: What will remain the same? What worked well that we want to maintain in future projects?
- Adjust: What worked but needs some adjusting or improvement? How can it be improved and are there any action items to implement the improvement?
- Add: Are there any processes, communication tools or other elements you need to add to make your projects run more smoothly? Who will own the implementation of action?
- Remove: What did not work and will not be necessary for future projects? Does someone need to own removing that element from processes, so it does not happen in future projects?
Utilizing these last four keys when delivering your marketing projects will help you keep your projects moving so you can deliver them on time while also reaching your desired result. So, as you start that next project, be resourceful, be critical, remember to celebrate and review your project once it is completed.
If you missed the first four keys, visit this article where I discuss defining your project, enlisting the right talent to enhance your team, planning your action steps and launching the project with a meeting.
If you need help planning your next project, download our free 1-Page project planner or schedule a roadmap call to discuss how we can help you make progress.