Successful project management is an artform — it’s also the bread and butter of any agency. If you don’t manage client work effectively, you don’t get the contract, the next job or the referral.
With that being said, “project management” of itself has turned into an industry. There are now many different methodologies and tools available, with strong arguments for or against from voices across various project management perspectives.
It can become a bit bamboozling trying to determine what will be a good fit and produce the best results for your agency; let’s take a look at some project management types, tools and tips…
Project Management Styles
There is not going to be one right answer for the most supreme way of managing a project. The question is really around what works best for your individual business and your favored style of work.
As the title indicates, “traditional” project management is the classic way of viewing a project, managing one thing after another linearly. It is also sometimes referred to as “waterfall” project management and works off the idea that you can’t move to the next stage until the previous one is complete (a bit like a computer game).
A major focus of traditional project management is delivering to a set time-frame within a stringent budget. This style tends to work best for projects where tasks need to be completed one after the other or where an emphasis on planning and design is important.
Typically, there are five stages for this style of project management and each is assessed as it moves along:
- Initiation — The project manager and team participate in a “brain dump” to determine the requirements to get the project to completion.
- Planning — The team comes up with a proposed design for the project and way of achieving it. For example, a software team might propose their design and coding language.
- Execution — The team follows a series of steps or milestones to complete the project.
- Monitoring — this can involve testing the product as well as monitoring outcomes for the customer.
- Completion — Exactly as it sounds; finito. This stage may also involve getting feedback on the experience from the customer.
Zapier gives a good analogy when describing Agile project management; what if your project was to prepare a four course meal? The traditional, one-step-at-a-time approach simply wouldn’t work as you’d be waiting for each step to be complete before starting on the next (it’s going to be a long wait in the restaurant!).
Agile, or iterative project management involves splitting the larger project up into smaller projects, with each representing steps toward the larger goal. The planning, designing and building of the project happens at each individual, smaller segment.
Building features for a SaaS would be a good example. Most SaaS launch with some core features ready, but add more later. If they waited to launch until each feature was built, they could be waiting a very long time. Agile allows them to tackle each feature as a small project within the wider goals and launch earlier as a result.
Agile Project Management. Source: Zapier
The Kanban system was conceived by Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno and implemented there in 1953. It has also been called the “supermarket method” as the ideas behind it were borrowed from supermarkets.
Kanban project management views your project almost like an assembly line on a factory floor. The beginning product can be left at any phase and moved across the line. This is where the “supermarket” idea comes in; for efficiency, supermarkets tend to carry just enough on their shelves to meet customer demand. With Kanban, tasks can be left at various stages until they’re really needed, so you don’t have a build-up of finished products.
To give a creative example, say you opt to use the Kanban system for your content production (Trello is a great tool for supporting this method). You could have blog post ideas parked in a queue, posts that are in draft in another and completed posts which are yet to be edited in still another.
Kanban is designed to be a flexible system, but there are some pillars to follow in order to get the best results from it:
- Visualization — Kanban (meaning cards) is a visual system so you can see the workflow at a glance. Each task is assigned it’s own Kanban (card) and shifted along a board to different stages.
- “Pull” system — This means that rather than scheduling work and having it pile up, work is signalled or “pulled” to begin. This puts a cap on work in progress so that a team doesn’t over-commit. Former Toyota manager Satoshi Kuroiwa likened it to a chain of paper clips; if you push them, they will pile together, but if you pull them, they will move smoothly.
- Cadence — Get a good rhythm going, working through the list in order of importance.
- Continuous improvement — (or Kaizen). This means constantly analyzing the workflow to determine efficiency and look for ways to improve.
Scrum is a kind of combination of agile and traditional project management. This methodology breaks down projects into smaller components like agile, but has time-based sprints to get each part complete, the emphasis on timing being a fixation of traditional project management.
Scrum provides some flexibility in that the project is reassessed at the end of each sprint, meaning there could be changes made at that point.
There are usually three main roles in a Scrum team:
Product Owner — This person has the sky-high view of the whole project and is responsible for ensuring that everything aligns with customer needs and business goals.
Scrum Master — The liaison between the team and the Product Owner. The Scrum Master is responsible for keeping the team on track across each sprint and taking on a kind of “cheerleader” role.
The Team — These are the people who get the job done, dividing tasks and working on each sprint.
Scrum structure revolves around 5 meetings:
- Backlog Grooming (or backlog refinement) — Held on the first day of each sprint. Tasks which a leftover in the project are looked over and it is decided what to focus on.
- Sprint planning meeting — To help the team understand what they’ll be covering and why.
- Daily scrum meeting — A brief daily meeting simply for an update on progress from team members. (Not to air any issues — these go to the Scrum Master).
- Sprint Review — The purpose of this meeting is to review the products delivered by each sprint and ensure they match up with business/user goals.
- Sprint Retrospective — Pretty much as it sounds; the team gets together after the Sprint Review and discusses what is and isn’t working and any takeaways to bring into the next sprint.
The four methodologies above are just a few of the main types we see in agencies or creative teams, though there are others you can look into as outlined by Azendoo here.The main thing that matters will be choosing a system under which you feel you can get the most out of your team.
Project Management Tips For Creatives
Whichever project management style you choose, here are a few tips creative agencies can follow to gain better results on projects:
#1. Begin strongly
You should always start with some kind of kick-off meeting to determine the scope of what needs doing and any timelines which must be met. Make sure people are clear on their responsibilities as well as any dependencies for their work.
For example, who should they be shoulder-tapping when they’ve finished their piece? If everyone understands the workflow, it helps to prevent hold-ups. Everyone should receive a creative brief outlining responsibilities and requirements.
#2. Have enough “producers”
As this Adweek article points out, sometimes agencies have a tendency to hire too many project managers while not actually having enough “producers” to ensure the work gets done. It’s not saying that you fire your project manager, but they may need to be more invested in the work being done than the traditional view of “on time and on budget” being their success measures.
#3. Be regularly reviewing
Deadlines can be the bane of creative agencies, especially if there is a component stuck somewhere and you had no idea until the last minute. Keep a regular eye over progress and identify any stuck spots early — it could save your team from missing deadlines or pulling overnighters to be done on time.
#4. Use the right tools
There are a number of excellent project management tools available which save the hassle and miscommunication involved with back-and-forth email. A collaborative project software will be the best friend of your team when it comes to maintaining organization and staying up to date with where everything is at.
What’s Your Style?
As you can see, there is no one “right” way to go about project management, there is only the way which proves to be the most effective for your team.
It comes down to effective planning, organization and monitoring along with using the right tools to make the job easier.
What are your thoughts? Which project management style and tools work well for your agency? Drop us a line in the comments.