In my work as a community strategy consultant, the connective tissue between executive and tactical worlds is effective project management. In a nutshell: make a plan and deliver it.
One particular methodology, agile, which was born as a way of coordinating software projects, has also inspired ways of managing other projects, many of which are focused on marketing and community.
Agile promotes the idea of breaking big projects down into smaller pieces and delivering results to customers in small chunks (e.g. every week) as opposed to big bulky chunks of work. The notion is that we synthesize the broader set of goals into thinly sliced projects which are viewed by different departments and delivered regularly.
While Agile has many benefits, it is no silver bullet. Today I am going to share five important things to focus on:
Tools/workflows don’t deliver products, people do
There is a misconception that the latest project management tool or workflow will unilaterally solve our challenges, bring efficiencies, and deliver better results.
The trick in making these tools and workflows work requires three key pieces:
- Start small:Don’t try to change everything overnight. Start with a small chunk of the workflow or a light use of the tools. Get people comfortable to them and then broaden and built up.
- Make It hackable:People want to control their environment. As such, include and involve users of your workflow/tools in regular assessments of how it is working, how it can be improved, and refined.
- Build a habit: To make anything new stick you have to build a habit, which typically takes around 66 days. Focus on daily use of the workflow/tools and keeping people engaged.
Stakeholders Need Management
One of the misnomers of some project management methodologies is that key stakeholders (who define the requirements for the project) should have the same level of involvement and granularity of information as everyone else. This generally doesn’t work.
From my experience, most senior stakeholders in a project have a large vision that doesn’t fit neatly into a project management tool, beyond a “requirements gathering” phase. A lot of these stakeholders have huge ideas, many of which are constantly changing and evolving.
To expect these stakeholders to follow the rules of a specific workflow is somewhat naive. This can be daunting for new project managers as it seems like the goalposts are constantly changing.
Instead, this is what I find works well:
- Have a requirements-gathering session where your stakeholders share what they want to see in a meeting and interactive session.
- Ask them what success looks like and suggest metrics you can use to measure that success.
- Summarize these requirements, the success criteria, and target deadlines into a single-page document and get written agreement (e.g. confirmation over email).
- Build out your project plan and provide stakeholders with a weekly report that fits on one page, mainly comprised of bullets that show progress and any blockers.
Following this approach will make your key stakeholders feel their needs are being served and well-managed, and this will keep them away from micromanaging you.
People are generally poor at estimated resource costs
With most project management methods, there needs to be (a) the definition of work that needs to be done (and what value it delivers), and (b) an estimation of what resources are required to deliver that work. This resourcing comprises of both staff time and other costs (e.g. collateral, infrastructure, travel etc).
As methods such as Agile promote smaller chunks of work, it means that we have to make more granular estimates for the resourcing required. This is tricky to do, as often a small piece of work will have a larger dependency (e.g. to make a flyer for an event we might also need a logo, which is another chunk of work). As we get more granular with estimates it often introduces complexity and things get missed (and it is a headache to track).
The solution to this is to group these individual units of work (e.g. a quarter or month) and make a broader, yet conservative, estimate. Factor in things such as sick days, people leaving the team, budget cuts, and other snafus. I recommend doing this at a quarterly level and then put in place a regular review (e.g. once a quarter) to do a resourcing reforecast.
People need focus and “detail boundaries”
One of the tricky things with project management designed to deliver smaller chunks of work is that people can get overwhelmed.
This also gets back to the resourcing piece. While the project plan may take into account resourcing for that project, people still have other things to do such as email, meetings/calls, maintenance work, admin work, and other overheads. Too much detail also adds additional stress and can lead to burnout.
As a general rule, I am a big fan of designing big projects for a targeted chunk of time (such as a year), and then breaking these into smaller roadmaps (such as a quarter) with smaller iterations and clear deliverables for each. Then at the end of each quarter you review the overall strategy to make sure things are on track.
The benefit of this is that the folks delivering the work should only need to care about that quarter and specific deliverables in it. They can effectively not worry about the later quarters; things that do impact laters quarters can be reviewed together at each quarterly review.
Weekly guidance and accountability is critical
One thing that has stunned me from working with so many clients is that management is usually there to decide what needs to be done and when, but not at the weekly level to provide support and accountability in execution.
I like to have a 30-minute call once a week in which I help the person break down some of the goals down into manageable pieces and we agree on next steps. I then email those next steps out so we have some accountability. We then review those next steps in the next weekly sync.
These calls not only help to keep things on track, but they build a positive relationship between the manager and the employee. They provide a regular forum in which that employee can spot blockers or problems.
I hope these are some useful recommendations. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate in reaching out to me.