In a recent webcast hosted by MarketingProfs and Workfront, two experts teamed up to talk about how to better manage marketing projects. In this three-part blog series, we’ve pulled out the ideas and insights shared by Jason Falls, Chief Instigation Officer at Conversations Research Institute, and Brent Bird, Solutions Marketing Manager at Workfront. Please enjoy part one: Creating an Intake Process That Works.
Jason: Today, we’re going to talk about those essential elements from project management, those skills that project managers have been using for years, and how you can use them even more effectively in your marketing work. So that you can say to the people you work with, “Look at me; I’m the project manager now.” Essentially, that’s what we’re looking to do. Because when you look at what marketing teams are being asked to do, it can look a lot like this.
Marketing teams are asked to churn out ideas and turn them into rainbows and unicorns and ultimately revenue—by taking those ideas from the beginning and putting them through the marketing machine so they can come out looking beautiful and causing us to create some revenue in the back end, as well. That’s often with little resources and declining budgets, while also being asked to do more with less. And oftentimes our workload is steadily increasing, as well. And one other thing; the deadlines that we’re working with don’t ever shift; they’re always the same and they’re never moving. Those are the challenges we’re working with today as marketers.
When you look at what it’s like to actually manage work from a marketing perspective, this is kind of what it looks like.
This represents the sheer amount of work it takes to actually get marketing work down. Right here we can see what a typical marketing project management scenario looks like if you were to map that out. As you can see, there are multiple steps to getting any project done, and oftentimes there’s a massive amount of tools and techniques that we’re using to get us to the end.
When you think about it, requests are coming in via email, for example. You’re tracking your work in spreadsheets or a Word document or some other tool. When it comes time to actually do the creative or design work, typically that’s done in some type of an Adobe suite or whatever the designer prefers to use. Because of all of this, it’s really difficult to know what step your project is on.
You really don’t have any visibility into the other work that’s going on, so you really don’t have a holistic view of the way things are working, because everyone's using these disconnected, disparate tools to get their work done. Sadly, this is really the reality of executing marketing work.
We’re here hopefully to make that better today, and to help you navigate that a little bit more easily. We’re going to be walking through project management in terms of each of the phases of marketing work.
Hopefully on this slide here, you recognize some of the steps there as well; it looks a little bit familiar to you as a marketer. We’re going to discuss each phase as we go, so let’s go ahead and jump right in and talk about these things.
We’re here to talk about six project management skills that every marketer needs to know. The first one we’re going to talk about has to do with intake. For those of you who don’t know, intake is the process of receiving that work request; people are requesting work from a marketing organization and including all of the supporting documentation that goes along with it.
What does intake typically look like now? We’ve showed you what project management looks like for marketing, but what does intake look like? Jason, would you like to talk about this?
Jason: Yeah, intake is crazy, Brent. And I’ve had the opportunity to work at both agencies and brands, so I’ve worked in multiple variations where you’re serving a couple of different types of end clients for your projects. So whether it be that you’re at an ad agency and you’re working both internally to accomplish things, and you’re also working to accomplish things on behalf of a client or on a client’s deadline; or you’re working at a brand and you’re working with agencies and having them move projects along with you.
The problem is that you almost never, especially in marketing communications, work in the vacuum of one business, one team. You’re constantly having to bring people in from outside to help you accomplish things. There’s everything from project management software; you see a Gant chart here that if you’ve ever worked within a project management ecosystem, you know what that is.
But I think the biggest thing we can all understand and nod our heads and know what it’s like is our inbox. More often than not, the intake process for getting things done is someone sends you an email and says, “I need you to do this.” That’s why we want to walk everyone through these steps and talk about intake from a different perspective. Because managing everything out of your inbox doesn’t scale, and it’s not effective or efficient. So putting some project management tools and philosophies into place can help you do things a lot better.
“Managing everything out of your inbox doesn’t scale, and it’s not effective or efficient.”
The biggest problem with intake today is we just don’t have consistency through all of our workflows. Whether it’s doing internal projects, whether it’s working with outside vendors, whether it’s integrating the two into one—there’s little consistency from one place to another in how we take in information to set the mechanism running so that we can actually accomplish the project at hand.
Tip #1: Create an Intake Process that Actually Works
Brent: Perfect. Thank you very much. We’re all familiar with going to meetings and even chatting with people to request that things get done; there’s lots of ways that work gets to us right now. What we’re going to recommend for the first skill is to create an intake process that actually works. So what does that mean?
Primarily, we recommend you designate a central location for all of the requests that come into your team. The biggest benefit of doing this is the visibility that you’re going to get—exactly what Jason just spoke about. You’ll be able to clearly see the work that you need to do, and you can see who is actually doing it. You can also see where it is in your pipeline, so if things are struggling or at risk of not being done by the projected due date, you’ve got visibility into that so you can help that project or that task along.
Also, if you can see all your existing requests for your team, you get that holistic view so you can better plan and prioritize other incoming work as well; you’ve got a complete view of everything that needs to be done.
You’ll also need to develop a system for request submission. Once those requests come in at the central location, what do you do with them? How do you divvy those out, and what’s your process for getting it all figured out? Once you do receive that request, what does your team do? Do you just look at them in a nice, shiny diagram, or do you have them all collected into one spot? What is your goal for getting the actual work done at that point? Those are the things you need to figure out when you’re creating this intake process that works.
Some recommendations we have for you to get started doing this today; it can be as simple as just creating an email address for all project requests received.
So all the project requests that come into your organization go to one spot. For example, email@example.com, all the email requests can go there. You can also use a shared folder where requests are submitted; that’s pretty easy to do and something you can set up right away.
Or, you can choose to use some sort of shared document through Google or some other arrangement through Dropbox, where you can all have visibility into the work that’s being done and all the requests can go into that one, central location.
Lastly, obviously I work for one of these, so of course I’m going to talk about it; you can also leverage work project management software to make sure that you’re being more successful in the work that you’re doing.
Jason: Brent, I would also throw in here regardless of whether or not you’re going to use project management software, if you’re using shared folders and if you’re using shared Google docs or even have that one, central email address, the mechanism is what we’re talking about here but don’t forget that you need to actually map out the workflow.
You need to pick the individual within your organization who’s going to check the shared folder. You need to make sure that there’s a starting point for projects. If you formalize not just the technology part of the process but also the actual framework of who’s going to do what in the blueprint of how each project is going to start and be moved through the organization, then you have much better accountability and eventually, everybody learns the system and gets on the same page.
Brent: I’m glad you mentioned that, because that is a key component—making sure you’re actually working on the things that are coming into your central location. Next, we have the fact that technology can help. Jason, would you like to talk a little bit more about that?
Jason: A few minutes ago, we touched on Google docs. We talked about shared folders. But obviously, Workfront is a project management software. There are lots of other project management solutions out there, and then there are lots of things that have come on the market that are bits and pieces that can help you piece it together. I was at an agency not too long ago that decided to move everything to a software called Slack.
I personally didn’t care for it because the conversations weren’t threaded, so it was very difficult to go in and find what you were looking for, even though everything was in one place. For me, Slack is really just a communications mechanism; it’s almost like an advanced chat room or text managing system, not necessarily a great project management software.
But there are lots of options out there that can help you. First, set up the technology so that you have one place to go, so that people who need to be notified when the project has started are notified appropriately. So that when the project moves from that starting point to the next point of assigning team members or passing along that project to the first person who’s going to march it down the field as it were, there are appropriate notifications that go into inboxes, that go into calendars so that meetings happen.
“In this day and age, especially in the marketing discipline, if you are trying to manage a team of people and manage a number of project without having some sort of technology behind you to help, you’re going to fall behind.”
And yes, you can set up basic, simple mechanisms using the technology through things like Google docs and Google calendar and whatnot. And you can go into very robust project management software systems like Workfront, and there’s everything in between. But the point is if in this day and age, especially in the marketing discipline, if you are trying to manage a team of people and manage a number of project without having some sort of technology behind you to help, you’re going to fall behind. We simply work at a higher volume in today’s age because we have technology. So to not leverage it is actually missing an opportunity to move both your own personal productivity and your organization and business’ productivity forward.
So understand what technologies are out there. Understand as we said on the previous slide, you don’t have to have anything complex; you can use free tools that are out there. But at the same time, if you don’t know what the possibilities are, then you don’t know exactly how well you can do this.
Brent: Perfect, thank you very much. Lastly about this tip, you want to make sure that you’re spreading the word. You can have all the processes in place, but if no one knows about them, it’s just like having no process at all.
Jason: Absolutely. I like to tell people that when you are going to implement a project management system within your marketing team or within your whole organization, what you need to do is find what I call the “buck stopper” in your organization.
This person doesn’t necessarily have to be an executive or someone high up. At an agency it can be an account executive, it could be a project manager, it could be a traffic person (which is another terminology in the agency world). If you work in the traffic department, you’re basically a project manager who ushers things from one vertical to another to make sure that projects get through all of the processes they need to get through to get done.
“You’ve got to find that person who is going to hold every single person on the team accountable, from the top to the bottom, and from the right to the left.”
But you’ve got to find that person who is going to hold every single person on the team accountable, from the top to the bottom, and from the right to the left; everyone is going to be held accountable for using the system. They’re not necessarily the person who comes in and shakes their finger because you did something wrong, unless the something you did wrong was that you didn’t follow the process the way you should have.
When you go into larger agencies or larger marketing departments, you do have that project management team or that traffic team that is in charge of making sure the creatives, the copywriters, the media buyers, the strategy folks, even the top level executives (if they are involved in a project at all)—that they plug into the project management system, the framework, the process the way they’re supposed to. Because it’s important to keep everything documented. It’s important that there’s a single view of what’s going on with the project at any given time.
And if anyone steps out of bounds and emails a meeting notice without putting it into the project, or accomplishes a task that they’re supposed to accomplish without marking it in the system and so forth, then everybody gets an incomplete view of the project, which ultimately slows the project down and hurts it.
So you’ve got to find that process buck stopper in your organization, who’s going to be the bull in the china shop that will physically get up and walk into every single person’s office, hold their hand and show them how to do it, and then insist they do it that way every single time. If you can find that one person in your organization, or if you can actually go out and hire that one person in your organization, you’re going to find that your project management works a hell of a lot better.
Brent: Absolutely. And I really think holding firm is a key component, as well. If people are emailing you requests and not using the system you have in place, you’ve really just got to tell them, “I can’t work on this because I don’t see it; it’s not in the project management system,” or whatever system you’re using. So really enforce it.
Tune in next week for the second installment in this blog series, where Brent and Jason will talk about Using Request Forms and Making the Most of Your Workflow. Or watch the complete webcast on demand here.
About the Presenters
Brent Bird is Solutions Marketing Manager for Workfront, where he leads go-to-market research and content marketing strategy. He’s worked with hundreds of global marketing teams and agencies to help them effectively manage their workloads and control chaos.
Jason Falls is the Chief Instigation Officer at Conversations Research Institute and an advisor at Elasticity. He’s one of the most widely read and respected voices in the digital marketing and social media industries. A social listening and analytics innovator, he spends much of his time analyzing online conversations for clients. He also loves Louisville, sports, and bourbon.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner