As a marketer, my life revolves around projects. Working on websites, content offers, and campaigns can span over the course of months. And when working on these large-scale projects, I typically run into countless roadblocks, miss-communications and shifting goals as the market evolves. The purpose of project management is to predict these setbacks and have a system to deal with them. With a project manager in place, organizing a major project is easy peasy, but what happens when you don’t have one?
Well, there’s good news. As our team learned in a recent project, basic project management skills can be pretty simple to learn. Mastering them can take a bit longer, but adopting project management skills has helped our team to keep our deadlines, remove roadblocks and increase the quality of our work.
What's the Process?
First things first. You need to have a process in place that your team can lean on. There are two major methodologies when it comes to project management: Waterfall and Agile.
Waterfall Project Management
The waterfall method is linear and plan-based. The project requirements are outlined at the beginning of the project, with check-ins happening at major milestones. The product is then released all at once at the end of the project. The waterfall methodology is more traditional and works best for projects whose requirements will likely remain the same over the course of being completed.
Agile Project Management
The Agile method, on the other hand, is well, agile. This process is founded on the idea of incremental releases over a period of time. That essentially means that the project will be worked on in smaller chunks of times or "sprints". Each sprint lasts around a month and delivers a functional piece of the final product that is testable and can be reviewed by your team. In the end, all of these releasable pieces come together to complete the final product.
Our team decided to use Agile project management because we knew the needs of our project would likely change. In the digital landscape things are constantly changing. Building something like a website, software or even a large-scale content offer, will likely involve shifting goals and requirements.
Doing this within an agile framework has allowed us to build out a piece of the project and regroup at the end of each sprint. Instead of waiting until the end of the project, we have been able to check our progress, clarify our capacity and re-establish the project needs every few weeks.
To make Agile project management work, we adopted some of the basic principles of Scrum.
We modified the process work with our specific needs but stuck to these essential guidelines:
- Each sprint began with a strategy meeting. We included all team members so that everyone was on the same page about the expectations of each sprint and everyone's role.
- Brief meetings every day were essential to maintain transparency throughout the sprint. This ensured that everyone was aware of the progress being made and the team's priorities.
- We met after the completion of each sprint to discuss the quality of the work produced and our collective teamwork. This allowed us to understand what our biggest roadblocks were and informed how we strategized the next sprint.
- Then, we started over! The process began again with a new sprint.
Your needs will likely differ. But the beauty of Agile project management is that you can constantly review the process and make improvements that will best suite your team. As long as you can keep the basics of consistent communication and incremental releases, you are on the right track.
Let's be Team Players
So, we have chosen to work within an agile methodology. Now what? Let’s make sure we have got the right team in place. First, keep it short and sweet. Scrum recommends no less than three and no more than 9 team members.
One of these team member's role will be to maintain the integrity of the tasks. This person will be the liaison between the team and the stakeholders. They will ensure that all of the tasks being managed are still in line with the vision of the project.
You also need someone whose role is to manage the relationships on the team. This person is responsible for eliminating roadblocks and acting as a spokesperson for the process.
As far as the rest of the team goes, Agile project management is unique. Each team member has equal responsibility and equal authority. The tasks are not managed by any one person. The work load is managed by the entire team. For this to work, the team needs to be on the same page at all times. Transparency and trust are a must.
The major benefit of spreading out these responsibility lies in the teams ability to chose how they work best. Instead of one project manager determining the goal for each sprint, the team decides together on what to accomplish and how to accomplish it.
Now It's Time to Organize All of This Information
You are going to have countless meetings, feature ideas, questions, notes and… well you get the idea. A lot of information is involved when managing a large-scale project. It’s going to take a little more than a well-kept email chain to keep track the projects goals and progress.
To organize the project in the simplest way, all you need is a platform that can organize information in columns. Bet you didn’t think it was that simple! An excel sheet, a google drive doc, or even a well-kept post it board could work. The document just needs to be sharable, and accessible by all members of the team. Our team uses Trello, a free software that allows cards to be created and organized in you guessed it: columns.
The first column should represent the project requirements. This should be a general overview of the needs of the project, think of it as the blueprint for what you are creating.
The next should be the "Backlog of Tasks". This is a running list of all of the tasks needed to complete the entire project. These can range from very specific to somewhat vague. The very specific tasks are usually the tasks with the highest priority because the risk is lowest– you know more detail about the expectations and can generally begin the work sooner. The initially vague tasks become more defined as you dive deeper into the project and have a better understanding of the scope.
The next column should be the "Sprint Tasks", or all of the tasks that will be completed within the current month(ish) long sprint. These tasks can be moved over from the backlog at any point within the sprint, but are typically planned out during strategy sessions towards the beginning. Each of these tasks should be labeled with clearly defined expectations. If there are tasks dependent on each other, it's probably a good idea to note that as well.
The following column should simply be a "Complete" column for the current sprint, where you will move each task once it is completed. Depending on your platform and the needs of your specific project, each complete column should typically remain visible and accessible even when the sprint is complete.
Our team also included a column for our "Daily Check-Ins". Each check in meeting had it’s own card labeled with the date. Keeping notes for every meeting allowed us to better track our progress and frequent issues. And added an extra layer of transparency for management to check-in with.
Again, this process is agile! Your information will be specific to your project. As long as you keep transparency and defined expectations in mind, you can adjust this system accordingly.
Is Agile Project Management Right for You?
If your team is dealing with a lack of organization for large scale projects, it may be a good idea to give it a try. Sometimes it is out of the question to purchase expensive software or hire a project manager. And a general understanding of these principles can work wonders for your teams focus and productivity.