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A Detailed Guide to Project Management for Agencies

Running and managing clients' projects is at the core of any marketing agency. The more efficient and effective an agency can execute these projects, the more this agency will grow.

If you want to run a successful and growing marketing agency, implementing proper project management, and introducing the use of agency project management software, is very important, if not absolutely essential.

In fact, without project management, your agency will only struggle to chase one deadline over the others, leaving you no time to build a business.

Yet, implementing project management for agencies can be easier said than done. There are unique challenges you'll face in an agency project management that aren't there in traditional project management, and not to mention, there are various project management methodologies to choose from, which can easily confuse you.

In this detailed guide to agency project management, you'll learn everything you need to know to have a winning agency project management strategy, including but not limited to:

  • What is project management?

  • Implementation of project management in agencies: unique challenges

  • Different project management methodologies to choose from

  • Hiring a project manager for your agency

  • Automating your agency project management with the right agency project management software

What is Project Management?

photo-1531403009284-440f080d1e12Project management refers to the methodology or framework that used to plan, manage, supervise, and execute projects to ensure:

  • The project achieves its objectives effectively and efficiently

  • The project stays within budget and the agreed timeline

Simply put, project management is a step-by-step roadmap for executing a project to ensure success.

In a marketing agency environment where the agency is executing projects made for clients, project management is crucial to ensure:

  1. Every internal and external stakeholder involved in the project has the required clarity to manage and execute the project.

  2. Ensure the project's deliverables meet the client's requirements.

  3. Ensure the project achieves its objectives while using as few resources as possible.

All three are very important in ensuring the success of a marketing agency, not only in generating predictable revenue but also in encouraging sustainable growth. How Project Management for Marketing Works: Best Practices and Principles

Challenges in Agency Project Management

Although project management is crucial for any marketing agency, we have to consider that implementing project management and agency project management software in a marketing agency as a service-based business will pose some unique challenges:

1. Handing multiple projects for different clients at any given time

Unless the marketing agency has the luxury of retaining a high-profile client that can pay all the bills, most likely, the agency would need to juggle different clients with different projects and different requirements.

When this situation is not managed correctly, this can lead to various conflicts and issues. Even a seemingly simple problem, like assigning a resource for a specific task in the project, can be challenging in practice.

2. Ensuring accountability

conflict-1In project management, accountability means ensuring every stakeholder and especially team member, is responsible for their actions and decisions and are aware of this fact.

When team members know they are accountable, they will naturally be more committed, resulting in better work performance.

However, ensuring accountability in a marketing agency setting can be tricky, and it's a known issue that most agency teams lack accountability.

3. Lack of transparency over resources

Again, the larger the agency, the more projects it will handle, and potentially the more complex each project will be.

That said, attracting resources suitable for each project along the way can be increasingly challenging.

What project is your graphic designer currently working on? Are they available for the next project nearing the deadline? Will you need to purchase more licenses for your software solutions to ensure a project's success?

A lack of transparency over available resources can be a significant issue.

4. Scattered data and information

Unfortunately, many marketing agencies still rely on traditional means to manage their projects. Yet, when handling multiple projects at once, depending on emails and phone calls to share information can pose many challenges.

When information and data are scattered, your team members may spend more of their precious time looking for this information rather than working on the projects themselves.

Marketing agencies must start leveraging technology solutions capable of providing a centralized hub for data, assets, and information in a central, cloud-based location that can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.

5. Ineffective communication

notif_job_chat (3)Ensuring effective communication and collaboration can be very challenging with team members involved in different projects with varying complexities.

Not to mention, many marketing agencies still rely on traditional communication technologies like email and phone calls, which are inefficient in meeting today's agile standards.

In the long run, ineffective collaborations and communication can create many issues, including missed deadlines and even total failure of projects.

Different Project Management Styles for Agencies

There are many different project management methodologies (frameworks) available for your agency to adopt, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Yet, while choosing the right project management technology might be quite a daunting task at first, keep in mind that the best project management framework to choose is the one you use consistently.

Below we will briefly cover some of the most popular project management styles and their advantages:

1. Kanban

kanmanYou might have heard about the Kanban project management methodology in recent years due to its popularity. Kanban is popular for some clear reasons: it's versatile and easy to use due to its visual nature.

Kanban is characterized by its visual elements, especially the Kanban board technique. Unlike many other methodologies, Kanban doesn't have a defined process, which can be an advantage (more versatility) or disadvantage (lack of clarity or structure) depending on your agency's current needs.

Due to its versatility and visual nature, Kanban is great for agencies of all sizes and especially those with remote workers.

2. Waterfall

The classic waterfall methodology is also a very popular project management framework, mainly because of its simplicity.

As the name "waterfall" suggests, this is a linear framework in which tasks and assignments are performed top-down in a sequential (cascading) order, just like a waterfall.

Each task in this framework is dependent on the ones above and below it, so one task must be completed before the next one can be started. 

The waterfall framework is simple and predictable and effectively ensures work stays on track while simplifying communication/collaboration. The downside is that it is a rigid model, so it won't suit projects that demand agility.

Great for large projects with multiple different stakeholders due to its structured nature with clear steps and dependencies throughout the project.

3. Scrum

happy friends together in bright and colourful colors over white backgroundThe scrum project management methodology is based on the agile manifesto, and is characterized by a small team led by a Scrum master (technically a project manager) whose primary role is to remove obstacles to getting work done.

In a scrum framework, the project is divided into short sprints. Each sprint focuses on finishing a single task and typically lasts two to four weeks. However, every day the Scrum master evaluates the progress of the Scrum and may make the necessary adjustments. 

The scrum methodology is excellent for agencies when executing projects that demand agility and speed and can work with small and large agencies (by dividing larger teams into small teams.)

4. Scrumban

As the name suggests, Scrumban is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban methodologies, adopting Scrum's sprint cycle but embracing the pull-based system of Kanban. Scrum provides structure, while Kanban offers flexibility and visualization.

This allows agencies to meet the project's and client's needs without being limited by the project management methodology. 

Ideal for agencies who want both structure and visual clarity and can also be used when transitioning from Scrum to Kanban and vice versa.

The Project Manager Role in Agencies

To successfully implement project management in your marketing agency, having a project manager (or project managers) is crucial.

Yet, every marketing agency is unique, and they will handle different clients with different needs, and finding the right project manager to cater to these individual needs can be easier said than done.

There are two prominent roles a project manager can fulfil in marketing agencies: strategic and operational.

1. Strategic Project Manager

A strategic project manager is mainly responsible for planning the strategic approach to how a project should be run and managed. This includes choosing the proper project management framework (as discussed above), establishing guidelines so the team can effectively handle projects, and so on.

However, since this project manager is typically more focused on the big picture, they often struggle with the delegation and establishing day-to-day collaborations.

This type of project manager is more suited for newer/smaller marketing agencies with no clear project management framework or those who haven't got any project manager role in the team.

2. Operational Project Manager

Establishing a framework and project management methodology is one thing. However, day-to-day execution is a different beast. A marketing agency may need another type of project manager, as well as implementing agency project management software, if they are currently struggling with making their daily project executions more effective and efficient.

An operational project manager is more focused on scheduling and managing day-to-day tasks, estimating and monitoring budget usage, tracking project progress against the timeline, and keeping clients updated, among other operational responsibilities.

Suppose you are struggling to meet project deadlines and cannot meet your client's requirements. In that case, this could be a sign of disorganization, and your agency may benefit from having an operational project manager in this case.

When Should Your Agency Hire a Project Manager?

photo-1590402494628-9b9acf0b90aeMany marketing agencies hire their first project manager too late, often leading to irreversible damage.

It may be tempting for agencies to think they don't need a dedicated project manager when they are just starting. They would only need to hire a project manager when they start landing more prominent clients or retaining more (valuable) clients.

Yet, it's quite often that by the time the agency starts landing more significant clients, there are already inefficiency issues within the agency; some might be more deeply rooted than others.

So, when is the right time to hire your project manager? To answer this question, we should first understand that there are five main stages of a marketing agency's growth:

  1. Startup: a marketing agency may start small, with a small team of five or fewer people. At this stage, typically, the agency hasn't landed enough clients and may struggle with limited capital. Hiring a project manager is usually not viable at this stage.

  2. Early growth: at this stage, the marketing agency begins to handle more clients and projects and typically has recruited more talents (still under ten people.) If your budget allows, this can be a great time to start hiring your first project manager while still aiming to grow the agency.

  3. Established agency: the marketing agency retains more clients and bigger clients. Suppose you started as a simple agency focusing on just one marketing channel (i.e., SEO, or content marketing, by this stage, you may want to begin transforming the agency into a full-service marketing agency to attract more potential clients.

  4. Full-service marketing agency: the agency has already grown with more than 50 team members/internal stakeholders and probably already has multiple offices. Ideally, an agency this size should have more than one project manager.

  5. Big agency: the agency is now established with more than 50 employees and more clients retained. The role of project managers in this stage is increasingly becoming crucial, focusing on hiring top talents while keeping your existing team happy.

So, it's best to start hiring your first accounting manager early, at late stage 2 or early stage 3.

Implementing Project Management in Marketing Agencies: Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Define the project's scope

Since, as an agency, you'll be running and managing clients' projects, the first step you should take is to meet your client to define the project's scope.

Meet with your client and involve the key stakeholders to define the project. In this kickoff meeting, you should discuss:

  1. The client's needs and expectations

  2. Establish a scope baseline

  3. A rough estimation of the budget and timeline

Based on the results of this meeting, you can create a written project scope statement as a central hub of information for the project's scope so that every stakeholder can be on the same page.

In this stage, you should discuss the available budget and start planning for cost control.

Step 2: Define and prioritize goals

What's the purpose of this project in the first place? If you don't know the objective(s) of the project, project management is virtually impossible.

Refer back to the defined project's scope, primarily focus on the client's and stakeholders' needs, and determine the project's goal(s).

We'd recommend following the SMART goal principles when defining your project's goals, and your goals should be:

  • Specific: the narrower the scope of each goal, the better. It should be easy to explain this goal to a fifth-grader

  • Measurable: you can monitor the team's performance against this objective by assigning KPIs and metrics

  • Attainable: or achievable so that you can maintain your team's morale throughout the project's lifecycle

  • Relevant: relevant to your client's overall business goal and also align well with your agency's values

  • Time-bound: you can establish a clear timeline for each objective

Once you've identified the project's goals, list them and communicate them with your clients and stakeholders. If you have multiple goals (most projects do), you should also start prioritizing these goals based on importance and urgency.

If you're having trouble prioritizing your goals, discuss them with your client and stakeholders so they can provide valuable insights.

Step 3: Define project deliverables

Once you've identified the project's goals, the next step is to identify the deliverables so you can figure out the exact steps needed to produce these deliverables.

You should:

  • List the deliverables (if more than one), and list the specific outputs you are expected to produce in the project.

  • Define the requirements for each deliverable

  • Prioritize which deliverables should be produced first

  • Estimate the due dates for each deliverable

  • If necessary, set milestones for each deliverable.

Make sure you can track your progress after the project has been started so you can ensure your deliverables are meeting their requirements while staying within the timeline and budget, keeping your stakeholders and clients happy.

Step 4: Create a project schedule

By now, you should've figured out all the essential details of the project, and you can start planning a comprehensive schedule/agenda for the project.

To do so, refer back to each deliverable and then:

  1. Carefully define the series of tasks needed to produce this deliverable. Involve your team members and stakeholders so you won't miss any critical step

  2. Estimate the amount of time it will take to accomplish each task

  3. List the resources necessary for accomplishing each task and estimate the budget.

  4. Assign roles and responsibilities for each task while maintaining accountability

  5. Identify any dependencies between tasks. (Do you need to complete a task before starting another?)

We'd recommend using a project management solution capable of managing your schedule. With a solution like Aproove, you can easily input deliverables, tasks, dependencies, and milestones to the project management interface and choose from the many templates available to create a comprehensive and interactive schedule.

Step 5: Risk assessment

In managing any project, it's crucial to remember that no project is 100% risk-free.

Without a proper risk assessment, you're essentially dooming the project for failure, and you may face many problems.

Identify any potential issues you know upfront that may affect the project's planning and execution (i.e., scarcity of essential resources) and identify unforeseen circumstances that may create problems and bottlenecks along the project's implementation.

Identify known and potential risks, and develop a risk management plan accordingly.

Step 6: Securing client's and stakeholders' buy-in

Once you've completed your project plan and schedule, present the project to your client and stakeholders.

Carefully elaborate on how your project plan can meet your client's requirements and expectations and prepare solutions for potential conflicts.

On the other hand, ensure stakeholders clearly understand what is expected of them throughout the project's execution. Communicate every detail.

Once you've secured the client's and stakeholders' buy-in, you can finally start the project.

Step 7: Execution

In this step, you begin executing the project, and the majority of this step should be about the production of the project's deliverables.

The focus here is to meet the project's requirements while ensuring the project stays within budget and timeline without sacrificing quality.

Closely track your progress during the project's execution by monitoring the defined KPIs, and manage your team accordingly.

Step 8: Approval

annotation-aproove-hoverIn this step, you've submitted the project's deliverables, and clients review them before approval.

This step can be the most challenging and time-consuming in a marketing agency when not managed properly.

A centralized online proofing and project management platform like Aproove can significantly help streamline the review/approval process to minimize revision cycles and ensure efficiency.

Step 9: Closing Off

Once your client has approved the project deliverables, the project is done.

However, it would help if you still evaluated how the project fares and whether it successfully achieved the objective. Evaluate whether the project's deliverables meet the client's expectations and whether the project has successfully addressed the problem you are trying to solve.

Also, evaluate other KPIs to track the project's performance against its objectives, the most important ones being ROI (Return on Investment), actual cost (AC), and cost-performance index (CPI.) You may also consider other KPIs according to your project's objectives.

Wrapping Up

A good project management practice is crucial if you want to build a predictable, revenue-generating, and growing marketing agency.

The sooner you've figured out how to implement project management in your agency, the sooner you can focus on growing your agency rather than struggling to finish your projects.

Leverage Aproove project management solution to establish a centralized information hub, ensure effective collaboration among stakeholders, and maximize project ROI.

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