I’m a huge fan of word searches. There’s just something about finding words hidden within all the letters that makes me feel accomplished. After scanning the page of letters intently, it’s as though the words literally jump off the page. I quickly highlight them and move to the next word hoping to complete the entire puzzle in under 90 seconds.
Project management is basically a giant word search.
There is a method to the madness; it’s all about identifying the key parts of the process to bring order to the chaos. Since I love doing that, I’m here to give you all the hints to the puzzle! After 4+ years of experience in project and resource management, these are nine steps I follow when helping my organization choose and complete projects. Whether you’re a PM by trade, a small business owner managing all your own projects, a volunteer project lead for a nonprofit or just researching the industry, these tips are for you.
Tip 1: Determine the project
Do your research. Help your business make wise decisions by knowing what’s important to their growth right then. You wouldn’t tell a start-up to invest in advertising if they haven’t built a product or service. You wouldn’t tell a scale-up to build a campaign to hire 10 people without the revenue to support their paycheck. Use your position to objectively present the projects available to your organization based on finances, time, and resources. You benefit your team most when you can speak into the bigger picture of how all projects align within the company, not just task management within each individual project.
Expert Tip: Project Management has a tendency to link itself to negativity and criticism. Most PMs are saying what they can’t do or can’t allow and laying down the hammer on deadline completion. Do your best to present problems with solutions while staying neutral in your personal opinions.
Tip 2: Determine the goals
Once the project has been decided, identify the goals you want the project to achieve. Make sure these goals align with the organization’s wants, whether it be revenue-focused, leads-focused, awareness-focused, etc. You wouldn’t want to run a race without knowing where the finish line is located. These goals help keep your team, your freelancers, and your client accountable to agreed-upon decisions. Nothing is worse than unspoken expectations.
Expert Tip: Keep the goals simple, achievable and measurable. It’s hard to show value to your client with just follows and likes. We’ve been there and it’s not an easy sell on your value.
Tip 3: Determine your budget
For me and my organization this step is fairly easy. Let’s say the project is their blog: Content writing for 8 blogs a month with social media promotion. We present the project to the client and suggest an amount. After a little negotiation, our client provides a set budget each month. We do our best to be frugal yet effective and roll over any remaining budget to the next month. If this were an internal project, we would choose a sustainable percentage to represent our budget after comparing it with the revenue and expenses of each month, quarter and year.
Expert Tip: Having a budget before you hire help is important because it gives you a bargaining chip with freelancers. Most freelancers have a price per word/hour/graphic/etc.; but if you already have a set amount for the project they need to work within, 9 times out of 10 they will accept the price or at the very least negotiate down from their original price. Being honest about budget constrictions has worked for me every time.
Tip 4: Determine your resources
After choosing a project and budget, it’s time to decide the who. Start a running list of roles you will need to complete the project. Then break the list into ‘Need’ vs ‘Want’. In the example I gave above, you would want: long-form content writer, editor, social media content writer, social media ad buyer, content strategist, and a graphic designer. If you have all these people in-house, fantastic! If you’re like us, you utilize a freelance network outside your organization.
After comparing the cost with your budget you may need to pare down the want list. Some of those skills may overlap with just one person, so you get 2 roles for 1. You may need to use stock photography instead of a graphic designer, just make sure whatever you decide fits into the budget.
Expert Tip: Our team hires cross-trained marketing generalists and contracts specialists. Most of our team is capable of playing multiple roles which makes our budget go further. Keep that in mind if you want to stay a small organization.
Tip 5: Determine your timeline
Time is important. Your project will shift. I promise. I’ve been managing projects for 4+ years and I still haven’t seen one that has followed the same plan and timeline predicted at day 1 to completion. But, that’s okay, because you are one smart PM and factored in wiggle room. You WILL need wiggle room. If you are negotiating time with a client, always push past their expectations on time. They won’t understand your organization’s internal ebb and flow. Fight for what you know to be true. You want to under promise and over deliver, not the other way around.
If you work with clients, don’t forget to factor in time for review and approval. Depending on their personality, that could really disrupt your timeline.
Expert Tip: To really nail down an accurate timeline, ask each team member and freelancer how long it takes them to turn around certain assignments. Gather as much information about each role and their process as you can. This information is what will set your knowledge apart from the client and further develop your career as a PM.
Tip 6: Determine your plan
The easiest way to maximize your efforts is prioritize the tasks within the project and identify any necessary prerequisites. List all tasks in your project management system and assign your resources. We use Basecamp and love it! Make sure to keep communication open and public with each role involved. Everyone needs to see progress and change in real time. Don’t become a bottleneck of information. While some may disagree with me, I’m a huge advocate for working on large projects in a linear fashion. Take it a step at a time. Rushing through this process will hurt the quality of your product or service, damage your reputation with your customers and freelancers, and hinder your ability to be flexible as the project shifts.
Expert Tip: I realize not all businesses have the luxury of moving at a slower pace; if you are overlapping multiple projects at a time, make sure you have enough resources to prevent outrageous turnaround times. You don’t want to burn through the relational equity built with your team members and freelancers.
Tip 7: Get started
Kick off the project and create a shared understanding with every role involved. Make sure to gather all the necessary recourse links, assets, and instructions for each role and keep them in a central place. Then let everyone loose. Do not micromanage. Nobody likes that person. Check in on each person close to their due date as a courtesy reminder. If you established a strong communication system between the roles, this part of your job is easy. We use Slack and it’s seriously a Godsend.
Expert Tip: I use this time to shift through communication and make sure all prerequisite tasks completed are moving on to the next task. I find success in each completed assignment and take equal responsibility in dropped balls. The best PMs follow progress with a fine-tooth comb.
Tip 8: Get finished
This sounds simple, but some of the smallest obstacles can throw completion out the window. Compare where you are in relation to the goals you identified in the beginning. If they aren’t aligning, gather the team and discuss shifting the current plan. Try your best to be flexible with interruptions of the project. In my experience, interruptions are normally to improve the original plan. This is also why it’s important to stay neutral as a PM. You don’t want to turn change into a personal slight against your system. Gather the completed assignments and present them to the client. Because you’re really awesome and already read tip 5 you knew to factor in time for the approval process. After approval, communicate with each role that the project has been completed.
Expert Tip: Make sure to document this project’s goals, process, assignments, and communication. Once you have a tried and true template for a project, you can put it into a rotation that just needs to be maintained. Each role will become familiar with their part and the project’s timeline will significantly shorten because of repetition.
Tip 9: Get feedback
Connect with each part of the project from start to finish and get feedback. Obviously the client experience will be the most important, but each role’s experience needs to be taken into account. Evaluating feedback will give you an estimate of how all sides are perceiving your organization. These considerations will keep your organization in business longer. Keep the documented feedback archived with the project template for future reference.
Expert Tip: Make sure to tell each freelancer thank you. Ask them to turn in their invoice. Follow the progress of their invoice with your accounting team and keep them informed. Always show the freelancer you are their advocate, especially when it comes to their money. Creating trust with your freelancers goes a long way.
Were these tips helpful? Do you think I missed anything? I’d love the hear your thoughts. A good PM is always learning from their peers. Leave us a comment below, tweet us @JCT32Team or DM us on Instagram @jct32team.