Rachel Thompson, one of our client partners at Narrative, has picked out her top tips and tricks to help ensure you minimise future failures and maximise future successes.
At Narrative, one of our six values is excellence and when it comes to project management, we always ensure this particular value is executed from initial brief to client sign off.
Being able to manage a project effectively requires a specific set of skills, as there are many challenges which may arise along the way that could cause your project to derail and go over budget.
1. Scope, scope, scope
We’ve all heard the saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail” and I can’t stress enough how important the initial stage of a project is. Project scope is the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of goals, deliverables, tasks, costs and deadlines.
During this stage, it’s important to write down exactly what you wish to achieve from the project and define clear SMART goals which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Developing this clear focus will help you to stay on track, make informed decisions and know if your project has been a success.
Remember, if you work for an agency or are providing a service to a client, documenting what isn’t included in the project and quote is just as important as defining what is included. Make it clear exactly what is involved from the very start.
2. Pick a PM Tool
During my career to date, I have used several project management tools and communication applications including Basecamp, TeamWork, GANTT charts, SharePoint and Teamweek to name a few. At the moment, I’m loving Trello for many reasons.
Trello is particularly great for agile project management when task statuses change and you need to be flexible. It allows you to break projects down into small pieces using cards, assign them to individual team members and add checklists, due dates and attachments.
If you’re using a Scrum framework to build a website for example, you can add lists such as backlog, sprint, doing, blocked, done, etc. Trello is extremely flexible and scalable, so as you know more about your project and tasks, you can add more lists and cards. There’s also a great plugin Chrome extension called Scrum for Trello, which allows you to add estimates and record time spent on tasks. But I’ll not go into any more detail about Trello – I’ll save it for another blog! The fact of the matter is, you need an effective tool to manage your projects and when you find the right one, you will know!
3. Lay the foundations
As you might have noticed by now, I love a good quote. Next up is “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening the axe”. What this means is the more effort you put in from the outset, the less energy it will take in the long run. Similarly, when you’re building a house, the majority of time and effort goes into preparing the construction site and laying the foundations. After that, it’s as if the house flies up.
When beginning a new project, make sure you spend as much time as possible planning. List every major detail, define roles and responsibilities, quote time and budgets accurately and nail down your project schedule to a ‘T’.
It’s also important to iron out any issues and complete a risk assessment as soon as possible. Forecasting unforeseen circumstances and having a plan to tackle high-risk items may be time consuming, but I can assure you, it will be worth it down the line. You can thank me later!
4. Chat about conflicts
Once you have your plan in place, it’s important that you talk your client and key stakeholders through it in detail.
Explaining your plan to your client and stakeholders allows you to address expectations and provides the opportunity to develop solutions to any arising conflicts. The majority of us spend our lives avoiding conflict, but sometime it’s good to have open discussions and get strategies defined as soon as possible to avoid a catastrophe in the long run. If your plan or schedule doesn’t align with your stakeholders’ original expectations, communicate that now to avoid any nasty surprises or tense conversations further down the line.
5. Kick off
You have a clear strategy, you’ve shaken hands with the client and you know the tactics you’re going to implement, now it’s time to put the plan in place and kick off with your internal team.
Every project should start with an internal meeting. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, it could be a quick 30 minute informal conversation to reiterate roles, review the plan, establish communication methods and agree on the first steps.
Just like the benefits of setting goals and defining plans with your client, you need the agreement and buy in from your internal team too. Explaining the plan to those involved will ensure everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet and not going off on a tangent. From the very beginning, before delivering any task, make sure everyone is in agreement and ready to put the ball into play.
6. Keep the conversations flowing
We often feel the need to talk about things when they aren’t going to plan, but it’s equally as important to communicate when things are going well. Don’t leave the client wondering what’s going on, be proactive and keep them informed at every milestone. You don’t have to do this via a formal report, a quick 5-minute email round up at the end of each week could work. You will know your client better than anyone, so work with their preferred communication methods and update frequency.
There’s potential for an entire blog on ways to improve client communication, but in a nutshell, it’s best to be open and honest. If there’s an issue which is going to make you miss the deadline further down the line, it’s better to tell the client as soon as possible and manage their expectations, rather than wait until it’s too late.
7. Learn how to say no
People affiliate the word no with negative connotations, but sometimes it’s best for both parties to put your foot down and say the right thing. Quote incoming… “Sometimes you must be cruel to be kind”.
Although some changes are inevitable in any project situation, you will want to keep your project focused and avoid it creeping into chaos. More likely than not, you’ll get requests to add new elements to a project that were not included in the original scope, with little consideration as to how the request will affect the budget, deadlines, schedules or resources.
You’ll know yourself if the task in question is essential to the project’s success and you need to go through a rescoping process, or whether the task is a hindrance and can be added to the end of a project as a ‘phase two’. Ideally it will wait, but if not, be sure you have the proper documentation and sign off on these changes before proceeding.
8. Hold a retrospective meeting
At the end of every project, hold a retrospective meeting to discuss what worked well, what could be improved, and what changes will be implemented going forward. By having these open discussions with your team, you will improve the delivery process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next project.
This is the last quote, I promise: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”. If you want things to change, talk about the issues you uncovered and put a plan in place to rectify them before the next project kicks off.
As I wrote this blog, I felt the urgency in every step to start the sentence with “The most important tip of all…”, but they are all as important as each other. There’s obviously a lot more that goes into a project, but the above discussed top tips are a starting point to help you ace your future projects.
Project management can be pretty stressful and demanding, so don’t forget to inject creativity, fun and courage into your projects too!
If you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Narrative is a full-service marketing agency with specialist teams in every aspect of marketing. This means we have all the skills and experience to help you tell your story more effectively, and in doing so, help you to achieve your business objectives. Send us an email, email@example.com, to explore our collaborative approach to business growth.