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Behind every good agency is a set of damn good project managers. Without their dedication and hard work, there would be no projects, no clients, no agency! But digital projects are not easy to run and they come with a unique set of problems and challenges.
So how do you help make your project managers lives easier?
How do you create even happier clients?
How do you stop hitting bumps in the road?
You start following these best management practices for digital projects! I learned most of these lessons the hard way, so learn from my mistakes. These 8 BMPs can save you a lot of heartache (and lost profit!).
1. Never Jump Ahead
It doesn't matter if you have 4 steps, 8 steps, or 332 steps, never skip one! If you skip a step it's going to come back and bite you in the ass. You must have a clearly defined project lifecycle to walk the client through and you must follow that process every time. You cannot effectively do a design for a website if the copy isn't completed. If you do try to do a design you’re going to be jumping back-and-forth between getting copy approved and getting designs approved and you’re going to waste you and your clients time and resources.
So if someone comes to you and tells you to take the copy from their existing website and go for it, that’s okay. Just make sure you take that copy, put it in a Word document, and have them sign-off on it. Then, and only then, can you move onto the design phase. This is so important because later on when they decide that they don’t actually like the copy and they want to change it, you can say, “No problem, here’s your change order form.”
It’s not the clients fault, they just don't understand that a few paragraphs can change everything. You’ll have to slice it differently, the layout may have to change, the design elements will need to be redone, etc. And that design dictates how you program it, or implement it, or set it up on Facebook or on Google. The copy will dictate what the design looks like, the design will dictate how you go about setting everything up.
When you look at it like this you begin to realize why you must follow the steps of the process, in order! If you don’t you’ll have to jump around, back track, and keep redoing things. This is when projects go over budget, past due, and scope creep sets in. There’s a process for a reason, so follow it.
2. Quality Assurance
Do not take a website or an ad that is 80% done and send it to a client. If you send it over to them and it's not 99% done then all they will see are the errors. This will make them upset and that feeling will carry over into the rest of the project. From that point forward, they’re going to be on guard looking for mistakes and if you do make just one they will chew your ass out. After all, you promised high quality.
It's your job as the agency owner to ensure that your project managers and account executives are only delivering excellence. It’s easy to create a happy client if you deliver excellence every single time. Once you make them a happy client and they see how great your processes are and how high quality your work is, if you send them something that isn't perfect they'll see it as an anomaly and they'll brush it off.
It’s easy to create a happy client if you deliver excellence every single time.
However, if the first or second thing you send over is half-assed, has broken links, wrong numbers, or anything wrong at all, it will ruin expectation levels. The client will perceive you to be lazy, or that you don’t pay attention to details, or even that you don’t have their best interests in mind. So make sure you have a system in place that assures you’re sending out only the best. Everything should be double checked, have a second pair of eyes on it, and revised again. Going through everything with a fine tooth comb before you send it to a client will keep your ass from getting in trouble and leave you with happier clients.
3. Documented Sign-Offs
Every project you do is broken up into phases, or sprints, or whatever you call it. The important part is that at the conclusion of each phase, you must send over a sign off document for the client. The client needs to read, approve, and sign it before you proceed with the next steps.
Having a formal and binding sign-off process shows the client that this isn’t something to be taken lightly. It’s not just approving copy, it's setting the stage for the rest of the project.
The clients who don’t take the transition from one phase to the next seriously are typically the ones who want to come back and revisit the copy phase right before you go live. Or decide after the website is up that they want a different color scheme, or a new button, or logo, or anything. Enter: scope creep.
To avoid this you must have a documented sign-off before proceeding to the next phase. Having this in place will protect your agency. Now, when a client wants to come back and make changes to a particular phase, they'll know that work will incur additional charges. Following this practice will free up time and save you money. There will be less backtracking and do-overs, and more progress.
(RELATED: For more great tips on how to eliminate scope creep check out this article.)
4. No Fluff
If you get a text after hours or a Skype message during the day make sure the client knows that it’s informal. If it does not go through the project management portal it does not count. The reason being, these are the outlets where you tend to get into fluff talk with the clients. Fluff talk is all of the dreams, what-ifs, and hypotheticals in a project.
The problem with these conversations is that clients don’t understand the difference in the meaning “Yeah I can do that.” When you say this you probably mean you’re physically capable of custom coding a page, but that doesn’t mean it's in the original agreed upon scope. But in the client's eyes you just agreed to custom code an entire page for them.
This is especially important for all of you serial entrepreneurs out there who love to talk about what you could do. You cannot fluff talk and you need to make sure your project managers don't either. Always focus on the project at hand and what’s already be agreed upon. If a client wants to talk about additional items that's fine but you’ll need to take them out of the project phase and bring them into a formal sales meeting. At that point you can up sell them on additional features and get more money in the bank. But brainstorming about big ideas and possibilities in a casual conversation is a big no-no.
Always focus on the project at hand and what’s already be agreed upon.
If a client tries to engage in fluff talk and you feel tempted just remember, both of you legally agreed that you were going to deliver a project for a certain amount of money within a certain time frame. If you want to stick to that agreement you have to stick to the original scope and plan. Fluffy conversations will confuse clients, and they won't know what's actually included and what's not. So make sure you’re always sticking to the pragmatic and factual side. If you’re having a formal conversation it goes through the project management platform.
5. Quick Wins
Whenever you can, deliver easy products or services that give your clients the “Quick Wins.’ These are all of the little value adding things you can do for clients that only take 5 or 10 minutes of your time. Think of things like:
- A quick dashboard report if you're doing ads
- Setting up an image on a website
- Doing a quick demo on how to edit something in WordPress
- Anything quick and easy that builds value!
In every project, there will be a couple times to deliver quick wins. This can make a huge difference in the long run. When clients ask for some big change outside of the scope you can say, “Sorry that falls outside of the project scope and remember we already did XYZ.” This will help smooth things out and keep clients happy! Just make sure these quick wins don’t take up tons of your time. There’s a fine line between a quick win and scope creep, so make sure you don’t cross it.
6. Over Document
Document everything as much as you possibly can, then document it some more. You may think this seems excessive but it will cover your ass if you do it properly. Begin documenting things such as:
- Billable vs. non-billable hours
- All communications
- Change Orders
- Scope Documents
- Legal Agreements
- Miscellaneous files and documents
Document anything and everything related to the project and make sure it goes through a centralized project management platform. To really cover your ass, avoid complications, and simplify communications I recommend following a single point-in, single point-out philosophy. This means one project manager and one client handle all communications that go through the project management platform. Following this philosophy will ensure that each party is always on the same page. When you have ten different people talking about ten different things it’s easy to confuse clients, through off expectation levels, and get the project sidetracked. So stick to single point-in, single point-out communications.
Keep in mind this is different from documented sign-offs. That is a document that makes the project processes more formalized in the client's eyes. It helps them understand the value of each phase. Over documenting is keeping all information in one spot for both parties to access. If you get into a legal situation, you can always refer back to all of this documentation and as long as you did it properly and thoroughly, it will save your ass.
7. Client Accountability
Some people tend to assume all responsibility, it's just their nature. I'm looking at you agency owners! But the truth of the matter is that clients are responsible for their actions and should be held accountable. If they're abusing the system and you're not holding them accountable to the parameters agreed on in the proposal then you're going to run into problems
If they agreed to only communicate through the project management portal, hold them accountable. If they agreed to send all login credentials within 24 hours, hold them accountable. If they agreed to only go through one round of revisions, hold them accountable.
You and your agency are expected to uphold the proposal on your end and you should expect clients to uphold their end. Imagine what a fit the client would have if you wanted to go live a week late! To keep the project on time and on budget you need the client to cooperate and do their part. So don't put all of the responsibility on yourself or the project manager, both parties should be held accountable.
(RELATED: If your proposal didn't include those parameters then you need to kick it up a notch. Download our free proposal template to get started.)
8. Transparent Communications
A little pain upfront is better than a lot of pain later on. If your project hits a bump or something goes wrong, communicate that with your clients. Being transparent means you aren't keeping things from your client or being deceptive. Now, this may not always be the easiest thing to do but clients will appreciate it and it will save your butt in the long run.
I have a stone on my desk with the engraving "Above the Line" on it. This reminds me to take personal responsibility, do the right thing, and stay honest, even when times are tough. Following this practice helped me gain loyal customers and avoid legal troubles.
(NOTE: This is just the tip of the iceberg. To get legal advice, templates, change order forms, project scope documents, and more check out the Project Management online course.)