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How to Rock Project Management

Every website project budget includes a line for project management, just as every website design and website development agency employs project managers. Exactly what this role entails, however, is all over the map.
Project Manager working

Solid Digital’s approach to project management is a major differentiator in who we are and how we work. It’s a big factor that explains why and how we adeptly construct website project budgets that we manage to complete, time after time, within the guidelines of our original cost expectations. It’s also a key to exceeding expectations and building solid relationships among clients who are delighted with the outcomes.

We get that within the digital marketing world of web design and development projects, constructing a competitive bid that actually stays on track is nothing short of the holy grail. Agencies that have been building websites for years continue to struggle with this elusive goal and a significant source of frustration.

Too often, there’s more familiarity with what project management isn’t than what it is. When an agency doesn’t have an established project management workflow the impact can be work not completed on time, corners getting cut, budgets being exceeded, or important deliverables such as full e-commerce capabilities being given up on.

So what’s the answer?

Lead the Way and Clear the Way

Nothing describes how we view our project management role better than the above statement. Project managers take the lead in setting the project and everyone on it up for success. This calls for a big-picture view of what’s involved, the anticipation of potential roadblocks, constant clarification concerning where the project stands relative to various dependencies, and an assurance that everyone on the project understands what’s expected of them.

We never close a meeting or walk away from a conversation without clarifying who’s doing what by when. We operate from the understanding that when humans are involved, messages can get mixed or muddled. What one person says is not always what another person hears, so we are careful to review and to hear back from everyone in their own words what it is that they’ve agreed to.

Often, of course, these kinds of critical conversations involve clients, who need to be delicately and consistently reminded of their role in keeping the project on track.

While great communication is the key to great project management, as is the case with all complicated challenges, there is no one answer. Great communication is difficult to define and quantify. So let’s unpack it a bit. Here’s how Solid Digital approaches project management.

Fueled by Values

Of course, project management entails the application of a depth and breadth of hard business skills, know-how, tools, and techniques, and we will delve into that side of project management in this post. But first, it’s important to point out that our approach to project management is very much a reflection of the values that guide how we function as a company. Our values serve as the engine that powers a project through to completion and beyond.

  • Honest Guidance: I offer up my very best ideas with no agenda. I take the success of our clients and each other seriously and freely offer honest advice.
  • Dependable Service: I am client-focused. I clearly set expectations and keep my promises. I go above and beyond.
  • Thoughtful Collaboration: I work the same way with our customers as I do with my team. I actively listen and participate in every discussion. I am engaged and open-minded. I know that the best solutions are discovered only after I have considered all possibilities and worked as a team to get it right.
  • Creative Craftsmanship: I am proud of the work that I create. I always work to improve my skills so that I can provide the best solutions.

We are diligent about ensuring that our culture and values are embedded in the workflow, with project managers taking the lead in redirecting the focus on whenever necessary. Despite all-too-human tendencies, such as tossing the ball into someone else’s court or becoming defensive about deliverables that have missed the mark, habits can be broken when new better ways of being and working become the norm.

These are not soft skills. They serve as essential drivers of accelerated productivity, accountability, trust, and amazing outcomes.

Get it Right, Right from the Start

A strong start that’s built upon a depth of upfront discovery requirements and risk assessment serves as a solid and absolute project management foundation. Despite the temptation, on everyone’s part — including ours — to want to dive right in and start accomplishing big goals, we hold firm to the need for engaging all stakeholders in a thorough discovery process.

It always pays dividends.

The upfront learning that occurs during Discovery is a critical component to the success of the project. We dive deep to understand clients’ fundamental goals, making sure that all stakeholders’ voices are heard, and that we understand the “why” behind every goal.

As we move toward alignment among stakeholders, big decisions emerge from Discovery concerning the brand, the vision, key performance metrics, and the user journey.

During Discovery, we identify goals and KPM’s for a successful project delivery, these serve as an essential guide that we refer back to throughout the engagement.

Forward Focused

While team members are focused on the task at hand, it’s the job of the project manager to always be thinking ahead and align the most important work with the roadmap. What’s next? Are there any hurdles that need to be proactively addressed or cleared?

We create excellent project plans with the understanding that the unpredictable happens all the time, and does not need to derail us.

A clear understanding of the client’s expertise and the degree to which they might need to be guided through the project is another essential factor in the planning process. Nuanced distinctions matter a lot, and this is yet another advantage of the in-depth discovery. We know the resources that we are devoting to the project, and the more we know upfront about what’s going on with the client, the better.

A good plan that is built to stay on track steers clear of a one-size-fits-all timeline. It factors in everything that is distinct about the project, assessing risk on the front end, and building strategies to mitigate or work around them.

There is a depth and breadth of thought and consideration that factors into the creation of a schedule. Once it’s completed we work to view it as a script that needs to be followed.

Sticking to the schedule requires both early and ongoing risk assessment and an understanding of the team’s strengths. Our project managers also encourage the team to stay ahead of deliverables instead of focusing on deadlines. None of us are in college anymore and pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline is not a recipe for optimal results.

Regular status meetings are, of course, essential, and it’s important to not just view this time as a review of accountabilities and removal of the possible blockers for what’s to come next. Acknowledging the great work that’s going on and a bit of conviviality is time well spent.

Project Manager

Efficiency Enhancing Tools and Methodologies

Most project management articles would focus upfront on tools and methodologies for enhancing efficiency and there’s a good reason for that. Tools matter.

At Solid Digital, we tap into all the ways that modern tools can streamline workflows and serve as a repository for resources and reminders, but tools and techniques are not what differentiates our approach to project management. For us, it’s a matter of values.

Nevertheless, we rely heavily on leading-edge technologies and methodologies. Here’s a shortlist of the ones that we advocate.

  • Basecamp serves as our centralized agency hub for all projects, with tasks, reminders, resources, and updates efficiently grouped. Projects that appear in Basecamp include all the people involved, along with a recap of every discussion, document, file, task, and deadline.
  • Harvest + Forecast are a cloud-based, time-tracking and resourcing software tool that includes features for time and expense management for both individuals and teams, along with invoicing and scheduling support.
  • Google Docs represent a vast leap forward from the days of labeling drafts as v1, v2, v3, final, final final, final final with revisions, and so on. Google Docs are forwarded as a cloud-based link, in which all updates and revisions are automatically saved. Team members can work on the same doc remotely, and permission levels for “viewer,” “commenter,” and “editor,” can be set by the document owner.
  • Jira enables project managers to monitor progress, assign new tasks, and keep track of when projects are completed with a series of project sprints and is an excellent tool for tracking both individual and team progress.
  • Agile Project Management methodologies are based on dividing a project up into defined stages or “sprints,” that allow for ongoing improvements and iterations based on collaborative team input. Agile project management accelerates development and enhances quality with built-in collaboration among teams.

Project Management Tool Icons

A final Project Management differentiator at Solid Digital — and possibly the most significant factor — is our focus on blurring the line between the agency and the client. Too often, project management tasks and challenges are broken down into an “us and them” mindset. Our goal is to serve as a seamless extension of our client’s team — to make it as easy as possible to work with us, with the completion of one project leading into the next chapter of a long-term partnership.

Interested in experiencing the difference first-hand that Solid Digital’s game-changing approach to project management can make? Give us a call!

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