Sometimes the work that has the greatest impact on an initiative’s success is the work that goes unnoticed. In legal marketing, the silent hero of many projects is the project manager. This is especially true for projects that require the development of large amounts of content, such as website redesigns, bio rewrites and practice group description overhauls.
So what does a project manager do? It varies widely. In fact, I’d say there is no “right” list of tasks to assign. Rather, it’s whatever best serves the project, whether that’s managing the timeline of the entire project or simply managing the workflow of the content development process.
Here is some information about three project management tools I use in my own practice as Jaffe’s Content Strategist. These resources are handed over to a project manager who then owns the entire content process and project timeline, which frees up strategists and writers to do what they do best: strategize and write.
The Gantt Chart
You need something to assess and track the overarching timeline of your content project. That’s because writing content will almost always take longer than you anticipate, so it’s best to chart out a realistic timeline so that you are not overpromising and under delivering.
One project management tool that was created explicitly for this purpose is the Gantt chart. The Gantt chart dates back to the late 19th century as a tool to visually track the progress of a project and its many phases. Essential elements of a Gantt chart include project start dates, deadlines and a breakdown of the project into its individual components. Other elements that some Gantt charts employ include progress bars to show degrees of completion per task as well as information regarding dependency, which denotes when one task is dependent on another task’s completion.
While seemingly complex, Gantt charts are easy to master with a little time and practice. They also create an essential blueprint for a large-scale content project that can help hold all parties accountable for their activities.
The Workflow Checklist
While the Gantt chart helps manage a content project on a macro level, a workflow checklist can help you manage the project on a more micro level. Note that the two are not interchangeable. I recommend that every content project have both a Gantt chart and a workflow checklist assigned to it to help the project manager track the development of each piece of content as well as the project as a whole.
A workflow checklist is simply a list of the various activities required to complete the development of a piece of content. “Development” in this sense refers to the writing portion of the content marketing stage, as opposed to strategy, distribution or analysis.
To develop the checklist, simply take an inventory of all the steps required to complete a single piece of content, such as an attorney bio or a practice group description. A common workflow looks something like this:
- Interview the attorney or relevant subject-matter expert
- Develop the first draft
- Deliver the draft to the attorney for review
- Receive the edited draft from the attorney
- Incorporate edits into the draft
- Return the draft to the attorney for final review
- Receive the final draft from the attorney
- Incorporate edits into the draft
- Proof the draft
- Store in “Final Draft” folder
As you can see, I err on the side of more steps since I’m prone to parsing the process as much as possible. But you can develop your workflow any way you see fit. Whatever is most useful to you and your team is what is best.
There are a number of ways to create the workflow checklist. Its simplest form is a spreadsheet. I recommend Google Sheets because of its real-time collaboration feature, which allows any member of the project team to check on the progress of a piece of content at their convenience. Set the top row as your steps and the primary column as each piece of content (e.g., for a batch of attorney bios, it would be each attorney’s name). As each piece moves through the process, your project manager will check off each step to show completion.
While email certainly can serve as a communication tool during the life of a content project, it’s not ideal. If you’re like me, your inbox gets flooded fast. This makes it hard to track communication specific to your content project, which can create delays, as well as errors due to miscommunication.
Instead, I recommend those working on content projects (as well as large-scale design projects and website projects) implement some form of cloud-based collaboration tool that allows for easy team communication. Two of the best service providers I’ve discovered are Slack and HipChat. Slack is my preferred platform because I like its functionality more, but HipChat is good for teams that want their collaboration to include video and voice communication in one application.
These software solutions allow you to create separate “channels” that you can use to communicate about different project phases. The project manager can have the authority to “invite” team members to participate only in channels that involve them. For example, a writer might be invited to participate in a channel called “Content Development,” but might not be invited to the channel titled “Strategy.” This streamlines project management communication and avoids unnecessary group emails that only serve to muddle the process.
The other benefit of collaborative software like Slack and HipChat is that it creates an easily accessible record of communication regarding a specific aspect of the project. This is superior to email since all communications associated with a particular task are stored in one silo as opposed to being buried deep within the belly of your inbox.
Getting the Most Out of Your Project Manager
Of course, if you really have the need and the resources to buy a full-scale project management solution, such as Podio or BaseCamp, that might be the best option. That said, some projects just don’t require a comprehensive solution. This is especially true if you recruit a savvy project manager.
But what makes a savvy project manager? I recommend you find someone who is extremely detail-oriented, deeply knowledgeable about spreadsheets, an expert at breaking down tasks, and assertive and responsive in their communications.
Want to learn more about how to manage your content? Contact Terry M. Isner at firstname.lastname@example.org.