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Even if you’re not a project manager by trade, sooner or later as a marketer, you’ll likely need to develop project management skills.
For example, you may get promoted from a creative role into a leadership position where you switch from executing projects to managing them.
Or, you might need to take the lead on an initiative you’re spearheading, coordinating tasks across teams to get your vision implemented.
Fortunately, you don’t need a ton of experience to pick up the basic knowledge and skills needed to plan your team’s projects and keep them on track. While project management is a deep and complex professional field, as a marketer, you can get by with simply knowing how to implement basic concepts.
And if you are an experienced project manager, marketing teams have specific needs and requirements (which you might not be aware of, especially if your previous experience was in a different industry).
This post will cover what marketers need to know to keep projects on track (even without prior experience), and provide some insight into what marketing teams need from project managers (even if you have experience outside this specific industry).
This post is packed with information you’ll need to get your project up and running. But, it’s not about to tell you a bunch of stuff to do and then leave you to your own devices to figure out how to actually get it done.
Instead, to help you implement each step, it includes several templates (many of which are the exact same as the ones used internally at CoSchedule). Download them below and then put them to use where they’re mentioned throughout the post:
In simplest terms, anyone tasked with this role needs to fulfill a few basic things:
Whether you’re looking to break into a project management role, or you’re already responsible for project management tasks (and just need some direction), this video from PM Perspective explains quite a bit about what work the job entails (starting around the 5:27 mark):
Of course, there’s a lot more to getting the job done, but this bullet-point version gives you a high-level understanding of the role. Later in this post, you’ll learn in more detail how to actually achieve these aims (and more).
If you’ve never managed a project before, it’s easy to quickly feel like you’re in over your head.
So, the easiest place to start might be to understand what skills you need, so you can identify gaps in your skillset and know where you need to grow your capabilities.
Before digging into the technical skills required to manage projects effectively, it’s worth understanding the general and interpersonal skills you’ll need first. Each of these are worth a blog post unto themselves, and so this post includes links for further reading per skill.
Even if you’re on the introverted side, developing these skills (and learning to be at least somewhat of a “people person”) will go a long way toward your success here.
Now, it’s time to dig into the hands-on skills you’ll need to actually manage projects. This isn’t necessarily a complete list, but it covers the major competencies you’d do well to develop. Consider this a short list of what you need to get by (which is really what we’re going for here).
This isn’t an exhaustive list of skills, but for your purposes as a marketer-turned-accidental-project-manager, these will cover most of what you need.
What does this post mean by “accidental” project management?
Think about one of the following possible scenarios:
In any of these cases, pivoting toward a new life as a project manager probably isn’t necessary. You just need to develop enough skills to effectively see projects through to completion. Above all, you just don’t want to be caught flat-footed when the time arrives for you to take the lead on a project.
With this simple framework, you can ensure that doesn’t happen.
This is where everything starts.
You’ve likely conducted some sort of brainstorming process or otherwise determined loosely what the given project will be.
Whatever it is you’re working on, you need to make sure you’re crystal-clear on its purpose and intended outcomes.
Next, buckle down and write a project brief (otherwise known as a creative brief—they’re essentially the same thing). This is a simple outline of everything the project will entail, including:
The form this document takes doesn’t need to be overly complex. Generally, a Word doc or PowerPoint slidedeck is all you need. Here’s an example of what a creative brief might look like (based on the actual template CoSchedule uses internally):
A project should always have a goal. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling into the trap of doing stuff just to do stuff, mistaking activity for results.
It helps to have a repeatable process in place for setting goals too.
Try following the SMART Goals framework:
Every goal you set should meet this criteria. If you determine it doesn’t make sense to set goals for the project at this point, instead determine who will set goals for the project in the next step.
Implementing these meetings have been transformational for project management at CoSchedule.
There’s not much to them, either. You simply gather everyone together who’s going to be working on a project, discuss availability and requirements, and then start mapping out how much time everyone needs and putting together loose timelines.
How can you run such a meeting yourself?
Start with a simple PowerPoint presentation (like the one in the template kit included in this post). The first thing you’ll need to do is summarize your project:
Here are some hypothetical examples for a website redesign project:
This project will:
This can be as simple and high-level as this.
Next, list all the deliverables the team will need to produce for this project. This means all the tangible assets that will be created (ex: blog posts, landing pages, videos, social content, emails, etc.):
Then, list which teams will need to be involved in the project. This means which specific marketing teams in your company, plus other departments (like development or accounting) that need to be involved:
Finally, describe the goal of the project. Keep it as concise as possible, but do include specific statistics and numbers you’d like to achieve (if possible):
Then, schedule a date for the meeting, and send a calendar invite letting everyone know about the meeting.
Once you kick off the meeting, run through the following:
Then, you can complete a rough timeline as the meeting progresses, and leave with a good idea of what everyone will need to make what you’re working on a success. You can use the last slide in the template to document the timeline:
There are a few things to know about this slide to use it effectively:
By the time you’re done, you’ll have the raw information you need from the team to actually start mapping out the project in your project management software.
With that in hand, it’s time to get granular in planning out the individual tasks that will need to be completed throughout the project.
Ideally, your team members will be able to tell you which tasks they’ll need to tackle, and all you need to worry about are the deadlines for each team member’s phase in the project.
Jump into your project management platform (whichever you’re using is fine, but for demonstration purposes, this post is going to use CoSchedule) and start creating entries for each phase and mark off deadlines.
To do this in CoSchedule, start by creating a Marketing Campaign:
Next, start adding relevant content types for each piece of the project onto the calendar by clicking each day a phase is due:
Then, select the relevant content types you need to add to the project:
Once have everything placed, you’ll be able to switch between viewing your projects and campaigns on the CoSchedule marketing calendar:
Or using the Kanban Project Dashboard view if you prefer a more traditional kanban approach:
Now, ideally the tool you’re using will allow you to set up tasks, with deadlines for each one. At this point, each team member should be able to add their tasks (Task Templates can make this extremely easy, by allowing you to create and save task lists).
Here’s what tasks look like when you click into an item on the calendar in CoSchedule:
Otherwise, you can sit down with each team member to help them walk through all the tasks they’ll need to add.
If tasks need to be approved by another team member or manager (such as yourself, possibly), you can use Task Approvals (this way, a team member will not be able to check off something complete until you’ve confirmed it’s done:
If certain tasks require other tasks to be completed before being assigned, you can use Task Rules too (this allows you to set up triggers where when one task is complete, another is added to the list).
Team members can use the Team Management Dashboard to view all their tasks in one place too (this also allows team members to see what each other are working on as well):
By the time you’re done, you’ll have all your deadlines for each phase, and all of the tasks everyone needs to complete all planned out in one place.
Alternately, you can use the marketing project management calendar template (included in this post—you can find the download shortly after the introduction of this post). It looks like this:
To use this template, do the following under the Sprint Backlog tab:
Then, to manage workflows for each project, create a checklist using another app (such as Evernote or another note-taking app). This is the quick and dirty, lower-cost approach.
If your marketing team is using agile project management, you’re probably already familiar with the concept of a standup meeting (sometimes called a scrum meeting).
Essentially, they’re morning meetings held each morning where everyone on the team shares:
That’s about it. If you run these meetings in the purist sense, everyone stands up during the meeting to discourage it from running too long. You get to the point, and if anyone needs to have a discussion about anything, you find who you need to talk to afterwards.
You can also run these meetings simply by sharing status updates over Slack or your other internal chat app. The marketing team at CoSchedule has experimented with both approaches. You can feel free to do the same and find what works best in your situation.
As a manager (even just as an ad hoc project manager), your success is determined by your team’s success.
Of course, the actual success of any project is somewhat independent of how well it was run. You could be extremely effective in running a project or campaign that simply doesn’t deliver results (and as much as it stings to admit sometimes, not every project can be successful every time).
But, from a project management perspective, you can gauge the success of your efforts based on whether team members are hitting their deadlines, and you’re able to ship on time.
To measure this, simply track task completion using your project management tool. If you’re a CoSchedule user, this is easy to do using the marketing calendar (which shows completion status for every project at a glance):
Now, what makes tasks even more powerful is the Team Performance Report. It calculates all task completion and shows you who is getting their work done on time, and who is lagging behind:
Together, this makes it extremely easy for you to see how projects are progressing, know when deadlines are getting met, and actually quantify your team’s productivity. That means you can follow up with your team only when you need to, because you can see very quickly when deadlines are coming up, and know when it’s time to have a discussion about a task’s status.
You can achieve similar goals with other tools too, or even do this work manually by planning and tracking tasks and projects using spreadsheets.
Now, working with endless spreadsheets contributes to a problem CoSchedule dubs “makeshift marketing,” but they’re also free, and using what you have available is better than doing nothing at all.
With that in mind, you can use the downloadable project time tracking template (included in this post—scroll up near the introduction to find the downloadable template bundle if you haven’t gotten it yet) to manage projects and see how things are going.
Under the first tab labelled Project Type 1, you’ll see this:
Have each team member create a copy of the sheet and add what they’re working on and log their time spent on the project. Then, on the tab labelled Time Tracking, they can add all their projects and hours logged for the month:
This helps visualize what work is actually getting done (provided everyone completes their time sheets accurately). Again, some sort of software (whether that’s CoSchedule or something else) is vastly preferable for tracking work completion, but this approach can work too in the absence of more advanced options.
Or something just might not go as planned.
When conflicts arise, it’s important to remember it’s not the end of the world. You just need to get to the root of the issue, remove the source of contention, and keep the project moving along.
The most common concern you’re likely to face is something comes up and someone can’t get something done when they initially promised.
If you built in some buffer time into your project, you should be able to move their deadline a bit without delaying the project as a whole. This has proven to be a lifesaver a time or two internally at CoSchedule.
However, if someone is constantly blowing deadlines, you may need to help them better estimate how much time they’ll actually need to get work done. Estimating is tough to get right and takes some time and practice to really understand how much time you should actually set aside for a given task.
If that fails, the next step is to discuss the issue with a manager. Or, if you are the manager, take corrective action, which is a topic for another time and post.
Say you want to take your project management capabilities to the next level. Where can you go for further training or what should you read to learn more? Here are some suggestions.
That should be plenty to get you started, though a quick Google search can yield many more options.
You’ve seen CoSchedule mentioned throughout this post, and even saw some high-level examples of how it works. If you’re interested in learning more about how it can help you get project management under control, then get all the information you need to get started below:
This isn’t a complete guide to managing projects, and there’s plenty more you can learn about its ins and outs. But, for most marketers, this post may well include as much as you’ll practically need to know to manage projects and campaigns day to day. It might seem overwhelming at first, but with a little bit of practice, it’ll start to feel like second nature. Best of luck.
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