Ben Leftwich | July 5, 2016

Managing complex digital marketing projects

Tell us if this sounds familiar? You have a great idea for a new digital product or service that you want to deliver through your website, but it seems to be dragging on and on.

You keep going over the same pages, or features, or content again and again. Your development team is getting tired of redoing work, and your managers are getting frustrated that the new digital product hasn’t launched yet.

Even worse, this isn’t the first project that this has happened on, and you can’t figure out why it keeps happening.

Having launched our fair share of digital projects over the years we have a few suggestions on how to manage these projects both internally and with external vendors.

We’ll be honest: managing digital projects is hard work, and you need to be on top of it on at least a daily, if not hourly basis. That being said, it can be done, and you don’t have to have the fanciest tools in the world to make sure it happens. Here’s a common-sense approach:

Step 1: Clearly define the problem with a problem statement

A problem statement is a clear concise description of the issue that needs to be addressed by the team. It is used to center and focus the team at the beginning, keep the team on track during the effort, and is used to validate that the effort delivered an outcome that meets the original objectives.

Step 2: Agree on the key project team members

Keep this group of project team members smaller than you think you might need. Having 20 people copied in on an email isn’t helpful. If you can, try to keep the active project group under 10. Though if the project really demands a bigger team, split it into smaller teams.

Step 3: Design and iterate quickly

In all honesty, this topic requires a blog post of its own, but briefly, now the team is set up, it must focus its attention on illustrating what the solution looks like. The secret to this is thinking about the end-user and what’s useful for them. Start by writing a long list of possible features. Then, with a methodical ruthlessness, reduce this list to the absolute minimum number of features your digital product could feasibly launch with. This is also known as the Minimum Viable Product.

Now comes the fun part: design, validate, and iterate. This process doesn’t have to be complicated – grab a pencil and piece of paper and sketch out what the product looks like and how it might work. Once the team has something that makes sense, show it to some users, get their feedback, and start again. Keep doing this until you have a set of designs that can be turned into a product and articulated via a granular list of to-dos.

Step 4: Develop your task list

If you know SCRUM, this stage is where it really starts to come into its own. If you don’t, though, that’s fine, but you need a central list of everything that needs to get done for a project. Be more granular than you think you need to here; the more detail the better. You probably won’t be able to detail every task right away, but get as many down as you can think of.

Step 5: Clearly establish expectations

Take whatever timeline you had in mind for your digital project and double it. If you want to be safe, triple it. It may sound ridiculous, but doing the job properly is going to take more time than you think. Promise.

Step 6: Agree on what done looks like

How do you know if you’ve completed a task if you don’t agree as a group what ‘done’ is? This isn’t the time for one person to dictate ‘done’ to the group, but instead for everyone to agree what that task will look like when it’s complete.

Step 7: Assign tasks and get to work

Make sure everyone knows what they need to be doing before you leave the room. Not everyone might have something to do right away, and that’s okay. Try to balance work across team members assuming what needs to be done and their skills sets allow you to do so.

Step 8: Have daily check-ins

Even two or three days between check-ins on digital projects can mean significant lost time and two or three days can quickly stack on top of one another and lead to weeks or months of delays. Check in with your team every day for 15 minutes, figure out what was done, what they are working on today, and if there are any blockers for them. As a project manager, your role is to eliminate these blockers to keep everyone else moving.

Step 9: Have regular demonstrations to the product owners

Again, instead of waiting months to show progress to your boss or external parties, have presentations to them every few weeks of what has been accomplished. They can quickly provide feedback, and it keeps the project from veering too far off track in case there was some misunderstanding of direction from the last get together.

Step 10: All agree on the next phase of work

Spend some time after reviewing the project progress to plan the next few weeks of work. Again, ideally this discussion isn’t dictatorial coming from one individual, but instead a discussion between the project team actively working on the product and the owners on what’s possible in the next few weeks. Agree on that plan and make sure everyone is happy before leaving the room.

Step 11: Rinse and repeat

Take steps 1-10 and continue on until the project is launched, and then into the maintenance of the digital product if required.

None of the above is rocket science but does take discipline and organisation to make sure it all happens. Many of the techniques described above are approaches from SCRUM, which we use for all of our projects, and would highly recommend to any aspiring digital project manager.

Ben Leftwich

Account Director