On the surface, project management sounds simple, right? You brief the team on what the client is looking for and by when, tell them what the budget is, and everyone goes off and does their thing. When the agreed-upon deadline rolls around, everyone has executed perfectly, the client is thrilled, has no changes, and we all celebrate. But that’s not reality, is it? Especially when it comes to complex projects like multi-channel lead generation campaigns, having a dedicated project manager on board can make a world of difference in the project’s success, in the same way that strong strategic leaders and best-in-class production teams do. So how do we do it?
Scoping and Resourcing
Before a project even kicks off, project managers set the stage for success by accurately scoping the work and establishing a realistic timeline that gives teams the room to do their best while also aligning with the client’s goals. Under-scoping a project means the agency spends more in time than the client is paying for and may lead to unexpected change orders or additional costs that can create conflict with the client. Scopes of Work that are too loosely defined leave the door open for misaligned expectations and never-ending rounds of revisions – both of which take a toll on profitability and the client relationship. Overly ambitious project schedules leave teams feeling shortchanged, unable to deliver work that drives results, and can lead to client conflict as deadlines are missed and missed again.
Effective project managers are highly adept at seeing the potential for all these pitfalls and work to close every loophole when planning a project from accurately planning both the hours and timeline needed, to identifying areas where vendors may be required, to ensuring that plans call out exactly what is and what isn’t included. The more clearly defined a project plan is at the onset, the easier it is to keep the project on track and mitigate scope creep. If you haven’t identified in enough detail what your team will and won’t be doing, it is very hard to explain the need for additional fees when a request veers out of scope. PMs are also experts at collaboration, ownership, and accountability – they ensure that all those who will be involved in the project are fully aware of the plan and have agreed to the approach and timeline.
Driving On-Point Execution
Just as it’s important to clearly define a project’s scope from the beginning, project managers can be your ally when it comes to staying on course. Obviously, PMs are responsible for ensuring deadlines are met, holding stakeholders accountable for their commitments, but PMs can do more than keep track of logistics. Project managers see the big picture and all the small details, and recognize how all those pieces align with the overall project objective. If someone or something starts to veer away from that focus, the PM can quickly and decisively realign the team, making sure that every action and task is fully aligned with getting the scoped project done.
PMs not only manage timelines, but we are also gatekeepers and facilitators. We facilitate the development of clear project input and help clear roadblocks that hinder teams from executing on-quality and on-time work. Moreover, the project manager’s ability to see and understand all the elements of a project enables us to prevent those roadblocks in the first place. We not only identify risk as it happens, we identify the potential for risk, enabling teams to make smart decisions before a project or phase is in crisis. Doing so lets everyone think with a clear head about the best solution, rather than scrambling for any solution in panic mode.
When you have a dedicated project manager overseeing your project, the rest of the team is free to do what they do best. Account managers can develop and drive thoughtful, strategic initiatives and focus on continually enhancing their relationship with the client. Execution teams have clear direction and deadlines, so they can put their energies into building campaigns that drive results. Clients are able to feel confident that their project is in good hands and that their marketing agency has a concrete plan to reach their objective. With a solid plan (that everyone has agreed to) and a PM continually monitoring, communicating, and ensuring the team is sticking to that plan, everyone – agency and client alike – knows what to expect and what’s expected of them. That monitoring and communication are key, whether that means weekly team meetings, regular status reports, or consistent client communications, especially in a remote work environment, where we can’t just swing by someone’s desk to check in. PMs bring the team together to keep conversations flowing, and we also help filter out noise that creates distraction and confusion.
Project managers are champions of process (and a little obsessed with it). Clear, consistent, repeatable processes drive workflows that are invaluable for both time and cost efficiency. But process for the sake of process can drag the system down, so project managers are always looking for ways to improve the system. In some cases, that may mean small tweaks that PMs align on and adjust for future projects, and in others it may mean pulling everyone together for a more formal retrospective or post-mortem to analyze what went well and what didn’t. Regardless of the method, project managers don’t just let a good or bad project fade into history without taking some lesson learned from it.
In addition to looking back for ways to improve, project managers are also looking for improvements real-time. Having a deep understanding of process and workflows as well as the dynamics of the team and the project at hand, we make on-the-fly decisions to adjust and adapt as needed to get everyone to the end goal. While we do love process, we are also extremely creative and flexible. Agency life naturally comes with curveballs and diverse personalities, so we are always working to define and improve processes that are structured enough to provide clear guidance but also flexible enough to account for the unexpected.
At the heart of it, project managers are the hub of any marketing or advertising agency. We strive for happy teams, happy clients, and happy bottom lines. We make sure everyone is able to bring their own strengths to the table, that everyone has what they need to produce high-quality work that drives results, that the agency is compensated fairly for that work, and that there is a clear path toward improvement and refinement of the workflows needed to make projects big and small successful for all.