PM pro Hala Saleh dives into the execution phase, with practical tips about reviews, approvals and scope creep.
How can marketers harness the power of project process to be more efficient and competitive? Last March, project management speaker and expert Hala Saleh joined us for a webinar crash course on the basics of project management for marketers. Here’s what she had to say about the third phase of any project. Enjoy!
Now that we’re in the execution phase, it’s finally time to get work done. Assignments are being fulfilled. Your project is crawling, slowly but surely, toward completion. It’s like you’ve been stuck winding through mountain roads for three hours and now you’re finally opening up onto a nice straightaway.
Finally, you think, we can get this thing done and off our plate. Except for a couple snags that have taken down more than a few projects…
No, you can’t talk about execution without talking about a couple of things that have a way of derailing even the best of plans: the approvals process and scope creep.
Getting Approvals Back on Track
At Content Marketing World last year, Workfront asked content marketers how many days, on average, the approvals process set their projects back. Sadly, 92% said that inefficient approval processes set their projects back, with 19% stating that the resulting delay was over one week long!
But why is the review and approvals process so dreadfully slow? I think we’ve created the conditions that lead to this reality. So much of what we do creates more overhead around work.
For instance, we schedule meetings with people to make sure they get things done (like reviews), when they probably could have just sat down and reviewed something on their own time without taking up yours.
Nobody wants to be the one who has to stand outside of a restroom, stalking their stakeholders to get that final approval so the project can move forward.
So what can we do to make the review and approvals process less painful? Here are a few surefire tips:
1. Communicate with your stakeholders
As I explained in “Project Management 101 Part 2,” setting the right expectations with stakeholders will save you a ton of heartache. At the outset of a project, communicate to them the approval process, how much they’ll need to be involved, and how much time they’ll need to set aside.
2. Minimize the number of approvers
I’m a big fan of this one. You might map out your workflow, for example, and notice that you have five different points in the workflow where you’re getting approvals. In these situations, sit down with your team and determine if these steps and the number of approvers involved are really adding value. Is there perhaps a more streamlined process that can yield just as much—if not more—value?
3. Hold them to a service level agreement (SLA)
When you can’t minimize approvals, a SLA can be a great way to keep so many approvers and approval steps from holding things back. For instance, your SLA might give approvers 48 hours to give their feedback. If they don’t chime in within that timeframe, you move on without their input. Having that SLA in place can help speed up projects, and can also work well for those people who want to be kept in the loop but don’t want to be in the fray.
Beating Back Scope Creep
Scope creep happens when you start out with a certain understanding of what you’re delivering on your project, but as you go through the project, that scope continues to grow. Problems arise when scope grows, but your deadline does not change.
As we know and have discussed before, things change in the course of most, if not all, projects.
We’re never immune to projects changing, new requests coming in, learning something new, or the market changing. In many cases, change can be really positive, such as when we learn something new can help us be even more successful. So, if we think about change as being inevitable, and even potentially beneficial, the question becomes not so much how we eliminate scope creep, but how we prioritize and manage change effectively.
As with most aspects of project management, communication is the most important asset you have when change is introduced into a project. Stakeholders need to understand and be on the same page with how we prioritize and manage our queue. This means, if something moves to the top of the queue, stakeholders should align with the understanding that the new project or deliverable is more important than what was there previously.
Of course, the worst thing you can do is to accept new things into your queue and promise that you’ll still deliver everything else by the original target date. Trying to absorb new scope into original timelines almost always leads to disaster, as well as confusion and frustration of your stakeholders.
Ultimately, beating back scope creep is about establishing an agreed-upon system of prioritization and tradeoffs, making sure your clients/stakeholders understand and align with the rules of this system, and making sure you don’t break your own rules.
Don’t miss the first two articles in this series:
About the Author
Hala is a speaker, entrepreneur, and technologist who transforms organizations and creates real, tangible business results. She is also the president of 27Sprints and the co-founder of Produktivity Box.Follow on Twitter More Content by Hala Saleh