Need to Improve Your Process?

Are you experiencing missed expectations, poor communication, missed deliveries or worse yet, unhappy clients? If that’s the case, you’re probably losing profit and team morale is running low. But worry not, you can fix that!

Brett Harned will show you how, as he walks through project process from sales to delivery. Founder of the Digital PM Summit, Director of Education at TeamGantt and author of Project Management for Humans, Brett shares real-world advice gained from wrangling projects and working with many different organizations of all shapes and sizes. Read on for advice to optimize five critical process points.

Process Point 1: Estimation

Estimates are difficult, for a number of reasons. One simple thing to keep in mind: estimates aren’t exact. So if they aren’t exact, why estimate at all? There are some powerful reasons to create estimates. Here are some of the questions that good estimates answer:

  • Will the project be profitable?

  • Is the project worth it?

  • Do we have the staff to take on the project?

  • Can we get a sense of how long it will take?

  • Are we excited about the project?

What Goes into Solid Estimates

Before jumping into estimating, it’s important to ask questions to gain a clear understanding of what the project entails. Brett recommends digging into things like goals, needs, client politics, budget, technology constraints, stakeholder involvement, potential risks and more. As you start to think about the estimate, initiate conversations that surface the answers you’ll need to create your estimate.

  • What is the goal of the project?

  • How will you and your client determine if the project is successful?

  • What returns will you and your clients see as a result of the project?

  • Who will participate from the client side? Does your client employ anyone with expertise on the topic?

  • What range of services does the project require? Will your services be required after delivery?

  • What is your client’s budget and timeline for the project?

  • Is there technology involved? If yes, what is it?

Estimation Tactics

Once you understand what all the client is asking for, it’s time to crunch some numbers…Right? Not just yet, says Brett. Before you start throwing out numbers, you need to talk about the project—so you don’t leave important information, time or money on the table.

  1. Discuss business goals to formulate scope—and to avoid scope creep

  2. Dissect what it is you’re designing or building and why, and discuss requirements to determine the what and the why before outlining the how

  3. Discuss timeline and resources needed to determine who’s best suited for the project

  4. Consider stakeholders and partners to evaluate how much education and wrangling you may need to do. It’s easy to estimate time spent on tasks, but remember to work in time to help guide and respond to clients.


Work Breakdown Structure

One way to get better at estimating is by using a work breakdown structure. A work breakdown structure is a project management method that allows you to visually represent the composition of a project by breaking down all project stages and aspects into their smallest possible components. Here’s an example of what this might look like if you’re estimating wireframes:

1. Brainstorm & Present

  • Brainstorming meeting (2 hours x 5 team members = 10 hours)

  • Design (20 hours)

  • Internal review (1 hour x 5 team members = 5 hours)

  • Revisions (6 hours)

2. Present

  • Prep presentation (2 hours)

  • Present to client (2 hours)

  • Travel time (2 hours)

3. Finalize

  • Revise v1 (8 hours)

  • Revise v2 (4 hours)

  • Revise v3 (2 hours)

  • Client approval (0 hours)

By breaking everything down into subtasks, it’s easier to understand what it’s really going to take to deliver tasks. You can create a spreadsheet or estimate within your project planning tool to create an initial plan and estimate.

Process Point 2: Kickoff

It’s important to start projects as quickly as you can, but you’ll want to be sure to start off on the right foot. Here are some tips to help kick things off smoothly:

  • Have sales set the expectation of when the project will start, by outlining how many days the project will start after the contract is signed

  • Hold a project handoff meeting to get the project team comfortable and informed, and to transition the project from the business development team to the project team

  • Consider adding a client introduction meeting to introduce the account manager or project manager to the client, and to transition the project lead

  • Make sure your project lead has a backup, so clients have a second person to go to if they have concerns or issues

Process Point 3: Choosing Process

Agile has become increasingly popular over the past few years—so much so that it’s become something of a buzzword. As Brett points out, “Agile is a pretty strict process that many agencies can’t take on fully.” Before deciding on a project, it’s important to get a sense of what process methods are out there. First, two project truths:

  1. Not all projects require the same process

  2. None of us manage projects the same way

3 Common Process Methods: Agile, Waterfall & Hybrid

Agile, waterfall and hybrid are three methods common to the digital industry. Here’s a quick overview of each:

  • Agile: Agile isn’t so much a process, as it is a set of values and principles. Agile requires teams to be dedicated to one project, which can be difficult to achieve in an agency setting. Ideally, self-organizing, dedicated teams work together with a product owner based on stories they’ve developed to deliver functional pieces in sprints. Scrum is one way of acting on the Agile principles, and Kanban is another. Agile is collaborative, iterative and focused. It’s not driven by deadlines. It tends to work really well for internal teams that can control the outcomes of a project.

  • Waterfall: With waterfall, you complete one step before moving on to another. Teams work in their respective disciplines and look to project managers to guide the project and align efforts. Waterfall is characterized by milestones and dependencies.

  • Hybrid: In many cases, neither Agile nor waterfall work for most organizations, which is why many are taking a hybrid approach. In his presentation, Brett outlines benefits of a hybrid model, and ways you can create one to best suit your organization.

Process Point 4: Creating Accountability

It can be really tough for project managers to successfully motivate a project team and create accountability. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Share Information Openly: Brett recommends making information sharing a big part of your process. Provide a place where information is shared openly with your team and clients, to cultivate an open dialogue as well as accountability.

  • Set & Manage Expectations: People miss deadlines for a number of reasons, and many times it’s left to the DPM to scramble when a deadline is about to be missed (or has been missed already.) Setting expectations with both your team and your clients gets you ahead of the game before anything goes south. What happens when a deadline is missed? What steps will you take? The answers to these and other questions should be clear to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • Sort Out Who’s Responsible & Accountable: Everyone on the team has a role and specific tasks. It’s up to you to communicate and follow up on the details, but not to babysit. A RACI matrix is a helpful tool to keep people engaged and accountable for their work. In a table, you list out team members and stakeholders as columns, then add tasks below as rows. Everyone gets a rank for the various roles: R (responsible), A (accountable), C (consulted) or I (informed).

  • Hold Standup Meetings: Standup meetings are quick, simple and painless. They help foster responsibility, accountability and communication, as each team member verbalizes three things:

    • What I worked on yesterday (or since our last meeting)

    • What I’m working on today (or until our next meeting)

    • What blockers or issues are in my way

Process Point Five: Continuous Learning & Improvement

Many agencies move from project to project super quickly, without really formalizing a project’s end or making time to learn from the project. Here are some tips Brett recommends to help wrap up projects gracefully:

  • Ensure clients are trained and ready to proceed without you

  • Communicate project end and fulfilled commitment to scope

  • Remain available for a period of time

  • Develop a system for handing over files

  • Archive projects in your tools

  • Make time to learn from your projects, by running effective postmortems

Always Improving

Process is always changing and improving. What tips would you share to help project teams optimize their process? Share your thoughts by commenting below. You can also join Brett and other industry leaders at the seventh annual Digital PM Summit, or check out our curated library of 900+ resources by becoming a Bureau of Digital member.