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 two: Use Request Forms and Make the Most of Your Workflow. Missed part one? Find it here: Create an Intake Process that Works.
Tip #2: Using Request Forms
Brent: Our second tip that we’re stealing from project managers is using request forms. It seems simple enough. The important thing to remember is that request forms can really be your friend. They’re one of the easiest ways to make intake a better experience, because you can actually use forms and ask the questions that mean the most to you and your team. They can standardize the process of getting that request into your team.
You’re actually controlling the information that you need to gather. So if there’s specific information that you need to gather that your team requires, you can put that onto your form up front and make sure that you’re collecting that information before you even get the request to come to your team.
Also, if you’ve got any questions that typically might come up in different projects that you consistently have to ask every single time, you can cover them with the request form right at the very beginning. Things like:
- What format do you need this in?
- Who do we go to with requests and clarification?
- What’s the date we need this delivered by?
- Who needs to approve it?
- What things should we avoid?
This really does need to be mandatory for all projects you accept so that you can make sure the information you’re gathering is going to help your team to be more effective and to actually reduce the amount of rework and work that goes into the work that you’re doing.
Jason: You really need to think broadly about this, too. Because remember that from top to bottom and side to side, if you’re looking at it from a marketing perspective, you’re going to look at things like design, copy, maybe development, certainly strategy. But you also don’t want to leave out the fact that there are project managers working on this, there are potentially media planners and buyers and strategists that are coming in and helping the project. Maybe your accounts receivable and accounts payable have to get into this project as well.
So think very broadly about the forms that you create. And we’re going to get into a little bit more specificity on what type of information you want to look at and look for in just a second. But keep in mind that it’s not just the copywriter and the graphic designer that have to access this information. You’ve got a full team. Think about it very, very broadly when you are looking at those forms so that when you do take in information, you have as much of it as possible.
Brent: Well said. Then, we’ve got a construction worker, a sculptor, and a doctor. Why are we looking at these people?
Jason: We’re looking at these people because it really goes with that same point; you have different people within different disciplines working on each project. I guess if you are in this particular scenario of disciplines, if your project is building a hospital, maybe you’re going to have construction workers that have to access your information. You’re going to have artists and sculptors to make it look nice. And then obviously, you’re going to have to build it for the end user, which is the doctor who’s going to be using it.
You have to think very broadly about the disciplines of who are going to be accessing your project, what information they need, what deadlines they have, what resources they need. Because if you take all of that into account on the front end in the intake forms when you’re starting the project, then you don’t slow the project down in the middle, having to go back and then find those resources and the information.
Brent: You may be asking okay, how do I get started? I want to make sure I’m providing the right amount of tools for the people I work with; how do I do this? Realistically, just think of request forms like a map that you’re going to use throughout the work process to make sure you can get to your final destination, whatever that may be, or to the treasure; however you choose to think of that.
You want to make sure you’re delivering quality work that meets your clients’ expectations, whether they’re internal or external clients. So without that map or with no request form, it’s very likely that your team can get lost along the way.
So you want to make sure you’re as diligent as possible to make sure you’re capturing the right requirements for your team. You want to know what information is absolutely critical, and you want to make sure there’s no confusion as you’re going forward after actually getting this information from the teams.
Another thing that’s important to remember is something we like to call the Goldilocks Principle. You want to make sure with the request forms that you’re creating, that they’re not too long, they’re not too short; that you actually have just the right amount of information.
Jason: I am always someone who wants to err on the side of having as much information as possible. So I’m one of those people who says if you are going to make a very short form or if you’re going to just capture a little bit of information, there needs to be a second part to the form and the intake for that particular project. I think someone is going to need to follow up with you and ask you a bunch of questions. I go directly back to my agency experience.
The intake forms that I’ve used in the past, especially in agency settings, have been very focused on helping define the creative brief, which is the document that the strategy and planning people polish and give to the creatives to set them forth on creating the marketing communications. There are dozens of questions, really, that are a part of a good creative brief. So the intake forms try to capture all of that.
I’m okay with it being not too long, not too short; just the right amount of information. But I’ve always been a big fan of you get all the information up front, and then you don’t have to go back looking for it. So as long as you’ve got a shepherd on the front end who will say, “Okay, I have the basic information needed to kick the project off,” or “Because this is going to involve development as well as design as well as some strategy work, I need more information,” then someone can step in then and solicit that information from the person who started the project. I’m okay with that.
When I see an intake form that’s three or four questions, I say, “This isn’t going to do me any good; I’m going to need a lot more room than that.” But again, that’s just from my experience, depending on the project and depending on your department and what you do for the other stakeholders that you serve.
Jason: Absolutely. Obviously, we need as much information as we can, and it’s also encouraging our stakeholders to fill that out. So it is about finding a balance.
Also, you want to make sure the form is useful for your team; much like the spork pictured here, one of the most useful devices in the world. You want to make sure it gives you the information you need to be able to prioritize better—and that it provides your customer, whether they’re internal or external, the ability to define their requests for you. This way, they’re doing the hard work for you on the front end so you can deliver what they actually want and what they’re actually requesting. Being able to do that with a proper form is a great way to do that.
Brent: Just so you know, this is where project management software can really help you. You can have an intake form where you can select an option that says yes, I’m going to need website development on this, and then it gives you the option to answer three or more questions. The more sophisticated the software, the more customized and responsive you can make your intake forms.
Tip #3: Making the Most of Your Workflow
Jason: Let’s move onto the next phase of the project management cycle. We’ve talked about intake (in the first blog post in this series as well as the tip above). Now let’s talk about planning your project, what’s next in that. One of the most important tips is making the most of your workflow.
First and foremost, you really need to know what your actual work process is before you can improve it. You can’t just make a taco, for example. You need to know exactly how you’re making the taco so you can see how to do it better. Did anyone know that putting shredded cheese on the bottom of the taco maximizes the amount of crunch you get from your taco-eating experience? I did not know until I mapped out the workflow of actually making a taco. I realized, “Wait a minute, I could be doing this much better.”
Mapping out your workflow is the very same. You can find to ways you’re doing things incorrectly or inefficiently and make sure you can improve on those as you go along.
Brent: You know you’re learning something valuable if you’re learning from a guy who did reverse engagement on the workflow of a taco.
Jason: Let’s just say I take my tacos and other food very seriously, as you can tell from my profile photos.
It’s the same with marketing work, as well. How do you get work done currently? Here’s an example of a typical creative services workflow, based on our experience we have in the industry.
As you can see in this example, it takes 14 steps to get something through this creative services team. You’ve got multiple stakeholders along the way that need to review things, need to approve things. It’s a pretty big workflow for getting an asset or a piece of marketing collateral created.
So now that we know what the process looks like, we can now look for ways to improve and find efficiencies along the way, as well.
Jason: And as you can tell from a chart like that, we’re constantly juggling. We’ve got a thousand things in the air at any given time. So it helps you to be able to map out your process so that you can organize it, make sure that you’re more efficient in how you’re moving things along. But also, it will help you actually break things up into mini projects. I’m a fan of the lean methodology, which is much more of a manufacturing approach. And Brent has an example of that.
Brent: Here’s an asset that I recently worked with the marketing team to create: The Complete Guide to Marketing Work Management. In doing this, it took more than 23 different tasks to complete, including the writing, the design, the approval, etc.
So it was really easy to get overwhelmed or to lose track of the process because of all the different things that went into it. But because we broke the projects up into smaller chunks, we were able to see okay, here are the key elements of what it’s going to take to create this guide. We’re going to have to spend time conceptualizing, where we brainstorm and outline it. These are the rounds of copy that we’re going to have to do. And because we may use an outsourced agency or something like that to help us create the copy, we’re going to have to do rounds internally and externally as well. Knowing that in advance really helps us to create our workflow and to get it going well.
Then we know it’s going to go into the design phase, where we’re going to have to do the layout. How long is that going to take? How many rounds do we need to do to make sure the layout looks okay and that it’s going to be amenable to customers? And also internally, that it covers everything we need to do from a brand perspective. And then what else needs to be done along the way? Do we need to do anything else to help promote it? Do we need to create a landing page? What goes into that?
And then once it’s done and it’s the final asset, where do we take it from there? Do we need to publish it and upload it to our DAM system, our digital asset management system? And then we need to go ahead and create an email that announces the asset. There are different things that need to take place to make that happen.
Lastly, just make sure you’re lather, rinse and repeating. You can make improvements along the way. Also, create templates as you go, so you can repeat the process you’re doing and so you’re not having to recreate the wheel every single time, especially when it’s stuff that your creative team is doing all the time. When you create templates, it can be as simple as converting an existing or previously completed project plan into something you can use over and over again.
Then you have the option of keeping or deleting tasks, or predecessors, or whatever it is so it’s much easier for you to do this and break this up as you go along.
Jason: That’s a really good piece of advice for everything, even beyond project management. We just finished a big research project at the Conversations Research Institute. It was the first one and it took forever, but the second one will take a tenth of the time. You’ll notice when you set up your project management process and whatnot, it’s going to take you awhile to get it up and get comfortable with it. But you’ll notice the first project will take awhile to go through and then it will be fine; the second one will be much smoother, and by the time you do three or four, these templates will help you.
Brent: Absolutely. Because honestly, it’s really difficult to remember all the priorities; the things that are most important first. Do I post on Facebook that I had a baby, or do I actually hold the newborn first? It’s really hard to know which one comes first if you don’t have that template in place.
Jason: Yes, one of these is not like the other. You have to understand that every person in the process is different. People learn differently, people process information differently. Some people need to be reminded, some people don’t. So keep in mind that technology is grand and it will help you do ABC and XYZ, but you have to have the human component added to what you’re doing to understand your team, how they work, and how each individual needs to receive information to be optimally efficient.
So don’t automate everything. You’ve got to have that human element so you can account for those things that don’t look like the others.
Tune in next week for the final installment in this blog series, where Brent and Jason will talk about how to Create Schedules and Crush the Review and Approval Process. 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