A project manager’s main job is to bring a particular project to completion, both on time and within budget. As a legal marketer, chances are you’ve been thrown into the role of project manager for any number of initiatives at your law firm, from managing attorney blogs to developing a new website to rewriting bios. Because few legal marketers have formal training in project management, though, the task is usually learned through experience, which often means a lot of trial and error.
However, there are best practices that can help you diminish the learning curve and prepare you for project management success. Here are five project management tips to help you keep projects on track while maintaining your sanity at the same time.
- Start with a Well-Defined Project Scope
A completely detailed project scope, with approval from all stakeholders, is a necessity. I can’t stress how critical this is. You don’t want a situation where you are handed a project that you can’t deliver on time, task or budget. This step ensures that everyone on the team, including the client (who may be your firm’s attorneys, managing partners or administration), understands the limitations of the project. The scope should include:
- Project objectives
- Interim milestones
- A detailed timeline
- A budget that is sufficient to cover all required work
- Strategies for “scope creep” (see #4 below)
Sit down with your client/stakeholders at the beginning of the project to review the scope in conjunction with the project timeline and budget. This gives you the opportunity to explain process and procedure, such as why it will take two weeks for the team to come up with homepage concepts. Conversations like these bring understanding to both parties and help avoid questions or frustrations later.
- Organization Is Key
As a project manager, you are responsible for keeping all the balls in the air. You must know where each piece of the project is and where it is going next, and ensure that all components are moving through your workflow in a timely manner. To do this:
- Document everything: A good project manager will document everything – internal and external meetings, status calls, and even sideline comments that may come up. Keep a notebook specific to that project where you can write notes and action items. You’ll be surprised at how often you will need to look back to find a detail or directive, and you’ll be happy you have the answers at your fingertips.
- Be “big picture”: It’s important to always keep the greater scope and goals of the project in mind. Getting too bogged down in the minutia of the project could stall or slow progress. Understand where you want to go and how your project management plan will get you there.
- Think in detail: While keeping the overall project in mind, you still must be able to get into the details to make sure things stay on track and deadlines are met. Keep a healthy balance between focusing on the end game and concentrating on the smaller details that will get you there.
- Spreadsheets Are Your Friend
As my colleague Keith Ecker wrote recently, project management technology is essential. If you are managing 90 bio rewrites or 150 website content pages, keeping track of where each piece is in the process will be nearly impossible without some sort of project management tool to help you maintain organization.
There are many project management solutions available, but project managers should choose the one that works best for them and use it to give the client confidence that:
- Your team understands the requirements, priorities and deadlines for each task.
- You are communicating progress and roadblocks as you work through the tasks.
- You are working toward meeting the deadlines that have been established.
Personally, I find an Excel or Google spreadsheet to be most helpful. While it may be old school, a spreadsheet lets me create a workflow detailing each step that has to be taken, and I can easily check off when a step is done.
- Flexibility Is a Must – But Avoid “Scope Creep”
Changes, additions and delays in a large project are inevitable. It’s important to discuss strategies for dealing with these issues at the beginning of the project (see #1 above).
Scope creep happens when new elements are added to a project that’s already been approved, but no consideration is given to increasing the budget, adding more time to the schedule and/or adding more resources to compensate for the revised project.
When changes or additions are proposed, let the client know immediately how they will affect the timeline and the budget. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself if the client asks for a major addition that would substantially delay the project. It’s okay to suggest that you deliver the original project first as a phase one, then begin a new phase-two project to integrate the feature they suggested. That way, you won’t have an ever-lengthening timeline with no deliverable in sight.
- Constant Communication with the Client and Team Is Crucial
One of the most critical steps in the project management process is to ensure that communication lines are open. As the project manager, you will have to be the operator of this communication system. To do this, keep a communications plan, and stick with it. Throughout the entire project, communication should be consistent, open, honest and clear. Make sure you keep in touch with all key stakeholders and team members during the project process. Ensure that everyone has the information necessary to make decisions and proceed with their part.
For easier collaboration, use tools like Skype and other chat software. Weekly phone calls and status reports can be invaluable, helping everyone to maintain awareness of next steps, action items and project risks.
Finally, find an ally on the client team, and do your best to build a solid relationship with that person. By doing this, you can learn client-side politics and how they will affect the process. This information can help you manage the timeline, schedule your team, alert them of delays and anticipate upcoming changes to the scope.
With planning, organization and communication, you can go a long way toward ensuring that whatever project you are managing will be a success.