At Steel Croissant, we manage dozens of projects every year, many simultaneously. Our clients come to us to help them grow their brands and businesses. Doing so means intensive work with each client to help them build the right marketing strategy for their business, develop the right marketing technology infrastructure, manage customer relationships, and much more.
Our work with clients across regions and verticals requires a high degree of collaboration and organization. Keeping track of client notes, sharing revisions, and scheduling internal deadlines are intrinsic to our daily work. And we're always looking for ways to improve our internal organization, collaboration, and workflows. Because productivity is crucial to our success, as we know it is to yours.
We'll share with you a look at our process and the tools we use to manage projects. Hopefully, understanding our process inspires you to take a look at your business project management and workflows and gives you an idea or two about how to optimize them.
While project management (PM) predates PM software, it's nearly impossible these days for teams to work productively without a solid PM enterprise software application in place. And if you don't have one or the one you use doesn't isn't a good fit for your people and processes, then it's time to find and implement the right one.
When evaluating PM software applications, you'll want to consider your organization's needs, culture, personnel, and constraints. To optimize your productivity, you'll want to select a platform that seamlessly integrates with other applications you use or are likely to use. Your ideal platform should be scalable so that you can continue to use it as you grow. You'll also need a secure platform that can fit within your IT governance documents and easily fold into your cybersecurity plans.
Here at Steel Croissant, we use Monday.com, a cloud-based project management platform that helps us stay on top of client projects. We appreciate its kanban-board interface that allows us to lay out specific projects, tasks, and goals in a graphically appealing manner and share them with teams and individuals as needed. Each board can be customized by the variables we choose, from budget to assigned team members to deadline dates, and shared with those we choose. Further, Monday.com offers us a Files view, Form view, Calendar view, and Chart view of our boards in addition to the normal Kanban view.
In addition to facilitating real-time communication through a Chat function, Monday.com allows us to display our project's progress through Gantt charts. And numerous integrations allow us to automate certain workflows, rack time precisely, and create built-in reports that help us remain productive. Because many of our team members work on the go, it's crucial to us that Monday.com's mobile options are as robust as possible. And we've found that whether on iOS or Android, Monday.com helps us stay connected and productive.
While we recommend Monday.com, it might not necessarily be the best solution for your business. There are several other notable PM software applications on the market you may wish to consider.
Airtable is a spreadsheet-like software that helps users share data and files in real time. Businesses can use Airtable to organize tasks, project calendars, and facilitate collaboration. The platform comes with a large array of templates, which various businesses can easily adapt. Airtable also helps users track project progress effectively and share that progress across departments and user groups. Now, it's a bit trickier to use than Excel, as functions like copy/paste and formula building are not as intuitive. But with some planning, this low-code platform can be customized to suit a variety of workflows and needs.
ClickUp's cloud-based project management application is also a robust solution that provides businesses with a vast array of visual tools to keep them on task. With ClickUp, you can share files, assign tasks, communicate with other users, track time, and keep track of progress using Gantt charts. The platform lends itself particularly well to projects in fields like marketing and agile software development, and– based on its extensive client list– the platform seems to work well for companies ranging from colleges to sports teams. ClickUp offers many integrations, almost too many. And while the learning curve may be a bit high as a result, ClickUp's considerable customization capacity can definitely be leveraged for your business.
Another option is Notion, which merges note-taking and project management software into a versatile platform you and your teams can use to collaborate. The interface is deceptively simple, but within it, you can add searchable task lists, upload relevant files, schedule projects, and tag other users as necessary. Notion also incorporates Wiki development, allowing you to create department or business-wide portals that can offer users the information they need in a centralized location. The platform requires a bit of customization time and does not have the most intuitive editing or formatting functions. But Notion also provides a clean and simple platform that can handle many fundamental functions, which may be perfect for many small businesses.
Widely popular among project managers, Basecamp offers many of the same features as Monday.com. With Basecamp, you can schedule projects, delegate tasks, communicate with other users, and more. We've found Monday.com better suited to the Steel Croissant team as it’s more feature-rich right out of the box. For example, Basecamp lacks built-in time tracking, forms and task prioritization functions, among other features. Now, you can customize Basecamp, as it supports multiple integrations. But we've found Monday.com simpler to configure and use, with easily replicable workflows and automation that help us stay on task and move faster.
Of course, the right software platform is only one aspect of effective project management. You need the right team in place for each project, which requires careful thought and deliberation. We begin with a careful assessment of the project requirements and scope to determine what kind of talent is necessary to produce the required deliverables in line with the client's vision.
We know that each project requires different kinds of expertise, so we first carefully evaluate the functional requirements of each project and begin to sketch out what roles may be required. We also look closely at capacity. Monday.com allows us to quickly see whether a staffer's assignments will or won't give them the time and space necessary to do superior work on a new project.
When we look at each project, we also determine who will be the best fit to lead each one. Doing so isn't always a matter of choosing the most experienced staffer in a particular field. We look for the professional who is the best fit for the project, the team they lead, and our organization. For some projects, we'll look within the pool of talented and reliable freelancers with whom we've built strong working relationships. Doing so adds budgeting to the selection criteria. But we continue to focus primarily on which team can do the best work within the timeframe provided on behalf of our clients.
Finally, we strive to ensure that our teams are working together optimally. That doesn't just mean they're using Monday.com as effectively as possible. It means that every team member is continuously on the same page about the project goals and deliverables and how those goals and deliverables contribute to the client's success. We do a certain amount of table-setting before initiating each project and periodically check in to ensure everyone remains on the same page about goals, expectations, and deliverables.
At Steel Croissant, our success hinges on how well we've delivered on our clients' needs. That means we need to understand every aspect of what we've been tasked with and how we can exceed expectations. Some clients approach us with vague descriptions of their needs and broad timeframes. Others ask us for very specific deliverables with firm deadlines. In either case, once we've taken on a project, we must determine our internal deadlines as soon as possible.
Using our internal final deadline for the entire project, we begin to break the project up into phases, subprojects, and individual tasks as necessary and determine what needs to be completed by when. When the project requires a rapid turnaround, it's helpful to work backward from the final date, determining each phase and due date in reverse order. These dates set the stage for the entire project and all the interrelated subprojects and tasks that must be completed. Every team member must understand the internal project schedule as soon as the dates are set.
In setting these dates, you may find that to produce the best work, you need further clarification from the client. Don't be afraid to ask. It is easy to take a project entirely in the wrong direction because you hesitated to get clarification on an element that was not clear from your discussion and notes from the client. If there's ambiguity about deliverable dates, get your questions answered immediately. But questions about creative, business goals, vision, and future marketing plans are no less important and can materially affect the internal project schedule you establish.
When we think about managing high-productivity teams, we consider whether we've set achievable goals and communicated expectations clearly. Doing so is the most important part of any project we undertake.
At Steel Croissant, we start our projects with a kickoff meeting at the beginning. Our goals for the meeting are simple yet essential. By the end of the meeting, every team member should clearly understand the project's scope, what they and other team members are responsible for, and what the project's internal schedule and client deadlines are.
We also want team members to understand expectations. After evaluating the project's scope, establishing a team, determining their roles, and establishing a project calendar, we'll also have a sense of the key performance indicators (KPIs) we should be tracking along with our progress toward our deliverables.
For example, suppose part of our project involves developing and launching an email marketing campaign to increase a client's qualified leads. We know KPIs like leads, traffic, and new users are relevant in that case. We also know that these KPIs may evolve as work on the project gets underway. However, we want our team to understand expectations and know how we'll be measuring success at the outset. So, we make sure we have a conversation about KPIs early on. And as our work progresses, we make sure we clearly communicate new KPIs we're tracking and those we no longer are.
We also establish a time and day for a standing weekly or bi-weekly meeting to provide progress updates. While group chats and individual conversations are great and necessary to move the ball forward, they are no substitute for full team meetings, where we can ensure everyone is up-to-speed, share ideas, and discuss possible solutions to project challenges. Keeping these meetings focused helps us stay productive, and we do so by:
If our project involves multiple teams or brands, we try to establish appropriate touchpoints to ensure that everyone is organized and working towards the same project goals.
Once the project is underway, consistent communication is essential. Many projects have been derailed over a lack of communication, resulting in misunderstandings. The role of project manager is crucial to keeping your teams on the same page, whether things appear to be running smoothly or heading in the wrong direction. The project manager must have full command of the project scope, schedule, and deliverables to ensure that team members can be directed, progress tracked, and timelines adjusted as needed. Further, they should be prepared to check in on team members, answer any questions, and seek clarification from the client as necessary.
Despite our best-laid plans, projects go awry. A key supplier fails to deliver, multiple team members fall ill, or a client now needs deliverables quicker. Our project leads must be prepared for the possibility that things may go wrong and, if they do, be ready to work with their team to determine solutions that will help get the project back on track. Even amid a crisis, leads must keep the team on the same page, ensuring that each member is aware of changing expectations, deadlines, deliverables, KPIs, and other relevant aspects of the project.
We also rely on our leads to help bring the best out of our teams. That may mean keeping members focused on their goals but also facilitating conversations that spark even better creative pieces or encouraging team members to ask the kind of questions that improve our deliverables. Team communication isn't just about ensuring we hit our internal deadlines, but also about delivering the best we can for our clients.
Team communication also isn't just reserved for the beginning and middle of a project but the end as well. We must acknowledge success, critique ourselves as a team, provide individual feedback, and memorialize lessons learned in a format that can be shared with other teams tackling similar projects.
Managing marketing projects is not easy. You need to build the right team and assign them the roles and responsibilities for which they're the best fit. You must understand the project's scope, be able to divide it into discrete and achievable components, and assign each appropriately. No matter the project's status, consistent and relevant communication is crucial. And whether managing one project or a dozen simultaneously, the right software platform can help you stay on track and minimize your risk of making costly mistakes.
Working with Steel Croissant means you no longer need to build and manage the right marketing team for your projects. Our team can manage your marketing projects, be they developing and implementing the right marketing strategy, optimizing marketing and sales funnel activity, identifying and deploying the right marketing technology stack, managing paid media or public relations campaigns, and so much more.
If you're just starting a project or encountering challenges midway through, contact us. We're happy to help you achieve your goals, build your brand, and help you grow your business.
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