Management’s a many-headed beast. There’s marketing management, human resource management, finance management, public relations management, resource management, time management, team management… you get the picture. But most complex, gnarly and all-consuming of them all, is agency project management.
If it happens to be your job to wear the project manager hat, you probably find that involves doing a little bit of all the other management types above. Which demands a whole lot of management skills – and quite possibly a few superpowers.
In fact, project management in a digital agency isn’t like project management anywhere else. Because you’re not dealing with your everyday office folk here. Oh no. You’re managing creatives and probably delivering intangible products that go out into the digital world, ready to wreak digital havoc if they’re not done properly.
There are a million contingencies to consider, so whatever processes you set in motion, their goal has to always be to quash friction, keep things moving and continuously optimise everything your team does. Easy peasy, right?
Well no, probably not. But don’t worry, we’ve got you. We want to help you get all your bases covered and run your agency efficiently, so we’ve put together our five top tips for improving your agency’s project management.
Because really, you shouldn’t just be ‘managing’. You should be excelling, swimming, strolling through a project and delighting your customers – with only the tiniest little bead of sweat visible on your brow once you hand over that shiny new finished product….
1. Have kick-offs that count
At the start of a project, you’ve got to land squarely on the same page as your client. If you’re not talking the same language from the get-go, you’re just waiting for those wires to get crossed. This stage is about getting all the information you need from the customer and making sure everyone on your team understands it, 100%.
While it’s nice to have tea and biscuits at this meeting (and every meeting), it’s also important to walk away with a sense that everything’s been transparent, the goals and targets have really been spelled out, and the customer is happy with the plans you’re proposing for making their project a success.
Work backwards. Get your client to clearly explain what their happy place looks like, so you can plot a path to get you all there.
2. Remove resource access hurdles
A lot of time gets wasted searching for passwords and logging in and out of applications. As a digital agency, your team needs to be empowered with tools that help them flow from one resource to the next as they work towards that project finish line. An application like 1Password can make access quick and effortless, while eliminating data protection threats.
You probably also want to share documents with clients or third-party partners, but it’s important to manage the access they get so you’re not compromising privacy or security. A strong digital asset management system like ResourceSpace can help you structure tiered access parameters and make sharing files quick, easy and straightforward.
Map out the workflow of your project and decide what level of access each stakeholder really needs. Then choose digital asset management software that gives you the flexibility, personalisation and security you’re looking for.
3. Agency project management tools are essential
When a team’s working towards a common goal, accountability plays a huge part in the process. Not because your people need to be micromanaged, but because, with so many components to juggle, the likelihood of losing track of deadlines and targets increases.
It’s incredibly helpful to put a centralised system in place, using software that allows you to assign tasks, share files and keep everyone in the loop about what’s happening. Find a tool that works for your team and you’ll be able to bring people together, streamline their efforts and map out project milestones so everyone can see what they’re responsible for and when it needs to be delivered.
Top agency project management tools:
These kinds of tools make it super clear where someone’s contribution to a project is expected to start and finish – and they’re also a great way to visualise things. Most of them let you create lists, calendars and boxes that can be ticked off as you go along, making everything feel logical and straightforward.
How you keep track of your time is also how you keep track of your budget. So, don’t compromise on project management tools – find one that fits your needs and get it up and running as soon as possible.
4. Meetings that matter
Because there’s a big creative element to what your team does, you don’t want to interrupt everyone’s flow with lots of ad-hoc meetings. And really, you shouldn’t have to.
If you’ve had a great kick-off meeting, established what everyone’s working towards, equipped your team with the right tools and encouraged everyone to collaborate, let them get on with it. Only schedule meetings when you really need them, then keep them short, focus-driven and positive, so everyone leaves knowing what the key takeaway was.
Meetings must add value. It’s as simple as that. As part of the framework for how you manage projects, outline what kind of meetings you need (one-to-one, departmental, full team etc) and schedule them thoughtfully.
5. Lead like a team player
It’s relatively easy to dump a whole bunch of expectations on your team, enforce a lot of protocol and measure everyone’s productivity according to the framework and targets you’ve created. But it’s not exactly encouraging. When you’re managing a project, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with your team.
If you spot a bottleneck, don’t call someone straight into your office and ask why they’re not pulling their weight. First, look at things pragmatically and try to understand where the issue’s coming from. Then work out what you can do to get things moving.
It’s also your job to set a great example of work ethic and keep everyone motivated, however long the project lasts. The many tasks involved in completing a major project can start to feel isolated, with people losing sight of where they fit into the bigger picture. Keeping people on track, involved and interested falls squarely on your shoulders.
Optimising everyone’s efficiency means boost engagement and accountability, and having an open-door policy is a huge help. With a ‘no job too small or too big’ attitude, you’ll encourage people to come to you – not just with their problems but with their ideas too.
6. Get the ‘project manager’ knowledge
Digital agencies are dynamic and evolving environments. The bar is continuously rising, and your agency’s profitability depends on its responsiveness to improvements in technology and the ability to integrate with current industry best practices.
To build your client base as well as gain the respect of your team, it’s essential to show a commitment to continuous improvement and learning. This means dedicating time to upskilling and self-educating about new technologies that can enhance your project management process.
You’ll find that once you dedicate yourself to picking up new, relevant skills, you’ll generate more innovative ideas and support your team more effectively. Pursuing knowledge doesn’t necessarily have to stretch the budget either. You’ll find that many of the programs and software packages you use have free online tutorials. You can subscribe to industry-related blogs on Medium, or use online learning platforms like Skillshare, which often have free courses. If you’d like to add more official certification to your CV, you can look at courses like the CAMP certification in project management.
Be the kind of project manager that inspires skill development in others by setting a good example. Allocate training time to not only yourself but also your team. As your knowledge base grows, you’ll benefit from a more efficient, motivated and capable team.
“Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.” ― Brian Tracy
How you manage your projects plays a big part in the perception your client has of your agency and can have a hugely positive or negative impact on your relationship.
It pays to get it right. Efficiency starts with a good grasp of what’s needed to achieve the result your client expects. Once you’ve got that, you can build your strategy, allocate your resources and rally your troops – constantly asking whether each step you take is getting you closer to your client’s ultimate goal.