Friday, October 25, 2013

Managing Marketing Projects to Achieve Big Outcomes

This is not an article about project management. To successfully deliver a big project competence in these skills is essential.

My experience has been in managing marketing and brand projects, including brand identity launches, national fundraising initiatives, global research and branding activations. Therefore the insights I share come from this perspective.

This is an article about what lays behind the process charts. What to expect when managing competing agendas, ambiguity and multiple considerations.

1) Know what the project is: Sounds obvious however most marketing projects start as a concept. Often the project is not defined or even clearly understood. Take the initiative to articulate the scope, set objectives and identify outcomes. It creates alignment upfront and provides an opportunity to communicate in a meaningful way with decision makers.

Remember scope and objectives can be amended along the way. Don't be afraid to take the initiative and suggest what they should be.

2) Control what you can: A day, a week, a month in a project can change everything. Control what you can and do this well. Flexibility is key when managing projects. There are a lot of variables, stakeholders and tasks. Not everything will go to plan and schedule.

When you control what you can, you create momentum. Identify what you can control and keep this moving.

3) Allow time, momentum or a 'drop dead' decision date to overcome the ambiguity: This relates to the points outlined above. There is always more than one direction or action that can be taken when it comes to marketing tactics. It can lead to work teams and stakeholders wanting to brainstorm more rather than agreeing on actions and next steps.

Keep the project moving by being vigilant to flag decision points and putting forward recommendations. Inevitably a stand will be taken or a direction agreed.

Be bold about recommending next steps and brave in pursuing a cause of action.

4) Put a stake in the ground and call timings and budgets: Work ahead. Good project management requires forward thinking. The ideal is to have information ready for feedback.

Timings are a good example of this philosophy. Don't wait for every piece of information available to map out timings. Start with the projected project implementation date and work back. Not only does it clarify a schedule of milestones, it provides insight on resource
requirements. Besides this analysis is totally objective providing instant reassurance that you know where you're going.

5) Be honest about the issues: While you don't want to be viewed as the road blocker I have seen many people position themselves poorly by being associated with a project that had no chance of coming to fruition.

Be honest about the issues. Offer solutions or modify the scope when possible. It can difficult to 'call a project' however as is the case in most business relationships 'early warnings' are better then late notice.

If you are expected to keep going on a project that has high risks and internal cynics, go back to the principal of 'control what you can and do this well'. Just remember the higher the risk, the greater the reward when things go better than expected.

6) Accept that others may not see the project as a priority or even care: Stakeholder analysis is the project management process for this. The reality is that a big project sits outside of usual business and this means that resources being pulled in at various stages will see this as extra work. If there is no recognition for small contributions individuals can derail or block progress.

Making the contribution of others as easy as possible by being clear about requirements and not taking too much of their time is critical. Over managing tasks, creating long meetings and over engaging these individuals is a sure way of getting them offside.

Think about what you are requesting and your interaction style with these individuals. Be specific and don't enter into an over laboured process for a small request. Respect others expertise by not directing and controlling their contribution.

7) Be positive, don't allow a minor set back to railroad the bigger picture: Some people over react to the smallest set back. Some individuals love drama, loudly and boldly sharing any minor issue. Be positive, remain strong and be the voice of reason, keep focussed on the end goal.

Remember there is usually a solution for every problem if you search hard enough. You may need to remind others of this.

8) Call it! Often a project is to identify what's possible. If the resourcing, systems and support aren't forthcoming it may be best to call it off until these areas are addressed. Some talented people have stalled their careers by being associated with projects that had no chance of being delivered and not being brave enough to call it as it is.

9) Get ready to be judged - a project by it's very nature is exclusive. A project is set up to ensure there is a concentrated focus by a select group of people. Therefore it is an exclusive - not inclusive process. This means that the majority of people will not be across the details, challenges and wins. They will judge the project on the outcome only.

All projects offer look back opportunities. There will always be things that can be done better. Be willing to share the positives and negatives. Know that some people will feel alienated from the process and this is OK. After all a good project is designed to exclude others and bring them in when required.

10) Don't get derailed by individuals wanting to contribute ideas: One of the biggest challenges in delivering marketing projects is moving stakeholders from contributing ideas to decision making, and having work teams complete tasks to plan rather then expand the scope.

Be clear about being in execution phase and insist that individuals with expertise in this are available. There comes a time when it just needs to happen. People wanting to contribute ideas rather than a means to implement are a distraction. Beware of this as a project progresses. Ideas without substance do not add value when implementation plans are in progress.

Managing big projects for big outcomes goes beyond process excellence. It requires flexibility, tenacity and positivity to keep moving forward. An ability to shake off small set backs to achieve a bigger goal.

Good luck with implementing your big marketing projects.

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