I had no idea what I was doing the first time I was asked to take the lead on a marketing project. Formally, it wasn’t part of my job description, and it’s not something I had any previous experience with. But we were planning to take on some new content marketing initiatives, our lead was overloaded, and I needed to learn how to plan and manage projects quickly.
As a fast-growing startup, the company didn’t have clear processes in place that I could follow. That meant I had to develop my own (with some assistance), figuring out what does and doesn’t work along the way.
Fortunately, I learned a lot from that experience. And I hope that insight will help you avoid the same headaches I ran into along the way. While this is by no means an expert introduction to the field of project management, it does provide a useful getting-started framework for marketers moving up into a management role.
Step 1: Understand What Needs to Be Done
To make things easy on myself, I started in the most obvious place: figuring out what needed to be done and how much time we had to finish. Begin by determining:
- What is the project? At a high level, figure out what the team is working on.
- What is the goal? In other words, what needs to get done to call the project complete?
- When is the deadline? You’ll need to arrange everyone’s work to make reaching your deadline possible.
You can document each of these things with a creative brief (which is immensely helpful for sharing information about the project with everyone on your team):
Being a writer by trade, getting things documented this way first helped clarify not only my own thoughts for myself, but also for the rest of the team. A brief can be as simple as a Google doc including the following:
- A summary of the project. A few sentences should suffice.
- A list of who needs to be involved. Which team members will work on this project?
- The goal the team needs to achieve. What’s the point of working on this project?
- Technical requirements for deliverables. Think about branding, tone, and voice requirements.
- The project’s deadline. When does this project need to be done?
Step 2: Determine Available Resources
Next, I needed to figure out whose help I’d need to make the project happen. It’s likely your project won’t be the only thing each team member is working on. With this in mind, it’s important to understand:
- Who needs to work on this project? Maybe a graphic designer or writer.
- How much time do they have available for your project? A simple conversation with each individual is all it takes to get a good enough idea. You’ll get more details in the next step.
- What exactly will each of those team members need to contribute? Again, you’re just looking for a high-level idea of what their steps will look like.
These questions give you a clear picture of what you need to figure out. And seriously, it starts with a simple conversation.
This step is necessary because while I have a small number of reports, I need to talk to other team leads to get their direct reports’ time for projects. If you happen to be the head of the entire department, then you obviously have much more control over how your team’s time gets allocated.
Meet With the Team to Plan the Project
After you write the creative brief and know who you can bring onboard for the project, schedule a meeting to talk through project details. This is a great opportunity to dig deeper into what everyone will need to be successful in completing their portions of the project.
The informal conversations you had before will help you prepare to lead this meeting. By the time you leave the room, everyone should understand three things:
- What everyone needs to finish the project. Basically, figure out what needs to be done before each team member can add their contributions (e.g., a graphic designer will need a writer to hand them the copy.)
- How much time they’ll have to complete their parts. Take their estimated time and add 25% buffer to account for unexpected things that will inevitably come up.
- The order of the tasks needing to be assigned. Putting everything in order will you complete the next step in this process.
Step 3: Map Out a Project Timeline and Create Task Checklists
After gathering everyone’s needs and time estimates, visualize and manage the project with project management or work management software (I’m biased in my software preferences here, but you can find lots of options with a quick Google search).
Whichever tool you choose should allow you to offer the team visibility into who is doing what and when. This visibility helps calm the chaos of managing marketing projects and makes it much easier for people to know exactly what they’ll be working on each day.
Put All Your Tasks In Order
Each piece of the project should be broken down into a series of tasks. These tasks should be put into checklists, and those checklists should be managed with whatever software you’re using to manage projects.
Each checklist should include:
- An assignee. Who’s responsible for this task?
- A description. What needs to get done?
- A deadline. When is the task due?
Be disciplined in enforcing the use of checklists to make sure no steps get missed and you can see when work is getting done. Here’s a hypothetical example of what a checklist might look like (this was created using Google Sheets):
Step 4: Meet Daily to Track Project Progress
Agile marketing teams will be familiar with daily standup meetings. These are essentially 15-minute meetings to discuss how the project is progressing and talk through issues that might be blocking team members from getting their work done.
Set a recurring calendar reminder to meet in the same space each day to discuss the following:
- What each team member worked on yesterday.
- What they will work on today.
- What might be stopping them from making progress.
The key to making these meetings work is ensuring they stay on track. Off-topic conversation should be kept to a minimum, so you can quickly get to the point. If someone has a concern that needs to be discussed, it should be talked about in detail after (not during) the meeting.
Holding the Team Accountable
Of course, you need to make sure the team is actually doing what it says it’s doing. Any decent project management or work management software should let you track when tasks are getting completed.
So, what do you do if someone is falling behind? The first step is figuring out why before offering solutions. Try this:
- Pull the team member aside to discuss performance. There might be a good reason why they’re falling behind.
- If something is preventing them from being successful, then adjust accordingly. Offer solutions to help the team stay on track.
- Monitor work moving forward. Once changes are put in place, continue tracking their on-time completion rate to make sure those changes have made a difference.
Adjusting the Project Timeline
If someone misses a deadline for a task anywhere along the process, then you’ll need to move everything back for everyone else on the team. Depending on what else they’re working on, this scenario might mean resolving workload conflicts with other projects, too.
If you’re using a software solution to manage the project, move back each task deadline by the same number of days that the late task is overdue. Adjusting the time will help keep your promise to the other members of the team that they’ll have as much time as you told them they would.
Step 5: Assess Your Success
After shipping the project, it’s time to review how things went in terms of results and how well the team worked together to get it done.
This evaluation involves running one last meeting, and it’s another step that agile teams will be familiar with. It’s called a retrospective meeting, and it offers the opportunity to evaluate three things:
- What went well? Celebrate your wins.
- What didn’t go well? Be honest (without throwing anyone under the bus).
- What could the team do to improve next time? There’s always room for improvement.
Keep the meeting under 30 minutes and document responses to each of these questions. You’ll need those notes to reflect on the next time you run a similar project. Over time, you’ll get better at managing projects when you have more experience and input into what does (and doesn’t) work.
Over to You
While project management is an in-depth discipline, this process is simple yet effective, and it’s enough to get you started. Continue to grow your marketing career with project management skills.
About the Author
Ben Sailer is the former Inbound Marketing Lead at CoSchedule, a family of agile marketing products that help you stay focused, deliver projects on time, and make your team happy.