How to Manage Long-Term Timeframe Projects
Most of the projects I work on are small, such as blog articles like this, newsletters, and email campaigns. However, some are huge, such as 50- to 120-page websites or copy for multi-variable direct mail projects with a spreadsheet of components that have to be tested.
Though managing long-term timeframe projects is extremely complex, detail oriented, and challenging, I've learned that following a few relatively simple steps can help make big projects more manageable. As a bonus, these tips can also help you manage shorter timeframe projects:
1) Select a project management system – While you might be tempted to start with a schedule, choosing a project management system or platform for your plan is critical. This system, similar to a content management system, must align with your organization’s existing best practices for web-based technology, tools, systems, and procedures. The most feasible project management systems enable collaboration in real time, are process-oriented, and can work across multiple departments or computer platforms of your company (and your clients).
2) Set the schedule – Call a kick-off meeting to discuss realistic goals and schedules by defining the project’s lifecycle. Realize that there may be multiple extensions to the initial deadline because of a myriad of factors, so make all the department heads aware of that from Day One. Ask for feedback from the major decision-makers as soon as possible, then post the approved schedule to the project management system and refer to it often to make adjustments as needed.
3) Provide weekly and monthly milestones – Carve out a time for weekly online meetings where all the major stakeholders can participate. Schedule it so everyone on your team can attend by dialing in to one conference call number with computer access to your screen. Ensure critical milestones have an owner for every step of the project so things don't stall.
4) Report the project plan metrics – Continually take the pulse of the project plan’s metrics to gauge progress on all fronts. If you need to update the schedule because of a minor or major delay, do so immediately. Bad news is best shared quickly. No one likes surprises, especially department heads and other stakeholders on large, costly projects where time is money.
5) Check in with each project team frequently – Between the weekly online meetings, call or email each of the project teams once or twice a week to check on their progress. If any team has hit a bottleneck, you can step in to help resolve the issue or point them to someone who can fix it quickly and help them move forward.
6) Offer training at all levels – If your project requires employees to be trained to learn a new system, to work with new software or hardware, or merge two or more departments, consider training programs based upon skill sets and managerial or leadership goal development.
7) Manage the meetings – The key secret to large long-term timeframe success is being able to manage the meetings. Start each one with an agenda that you can post to the project management system to let everyone see the tasks for that week’s meetings, discuss each item on it in brief, and then delegate teams to work on those items offline and report back the following week. It’s important to write down and schedule the specific response to each action item, such as “Marketing Team update due on 2/1/11,” “Website to launch on 1/17/11,” “No action is required," or "Task completed."