Strategic planning techniques: getting work done on time and on budget
When you manage a campaign or project, there are certain targets that you’ll want or need to achieve, such as meeting certain profit margins, quality standards, deadlines, and delivering excellent customer service. However, when you’re running multiple projects across many teams, keeping track of these targets can be complex. Strategic planning is therefore essential.
So, how can you plan and manage your projects efficiently without jeopardising profit margins, quality or other targets? That’s what this article will demonstrate.
The key elements of project management
Project management allows you to review the details of your project and successfully address the following:
1. Recognising inefficiencies, interruptions and dependencies
These sort of problems have many causes, such a lack of information or access limitations to certain software. Staff holidays may also come into play, especially when you have critical deadlines to meet.
To identify these issues, you need to first establish a ‘critical path’ for your project by breaking it down into smaller activities. Consider what steps must be taken, and in what order, for the project to achieve its objectives.
Your ‘critical path’ will help you to spot where there may be issues surrounding inefficiencies and disruptions to work. For example, if you want to do link-building for search marketing, you may need to first optimise a landing page on the target website. A hold up to the landing page work will also hold up the link-building team.
Recognising where these dependencies and issues may occur in your project, will allow you to manage and monitor these areas of work more closely.
2. Establishing time frames
Think about the time that it will take for the project team to complete certain activities, including time frames you have little control over. For example, before you can analyse data you may need to run a lengthy extract, transform and load (ETL) process. Or, in an agency setting, you need to allow time for your client to approve and provide feedback on an infographic before it can be outreached.
Pull this all together by setting up internal, external and critical deadlines (ones that can’t be moved), and map these to your client deadlines. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be one step closer to successful project management!
3. Evaluating resources
Weigh the resources available for each project based on availability and skill-set. If certain tasks can’t be completed internally, are there other suitable options? External resources that can do the job well and to schedule are well worth considering.
4. Planning your budget
Once you have established the budget, communicate this to the project team. This is a good way of determining whether the activities you have planned are necessary for your project. Your team will know what’s missing, or where there are savings to be made.
Ensure that you track your expenses, including unexpected costs, and regularly check what has been spent. If your client or manager makes a new request for the project that hasn’t been planned for, account for this in the budget and explain whether it can be achieved within the current spend.
Taking these steps means you will be better able to organise your processes:
- selecting the best process, or path of activities
- prioritising and setting appropriate deadlines
- choosing suitable resource options
- achieving your profit targets.
The basics of planning
Here are a few of the steps necessary for planning a project:
- Start your project by brainstorming ideas, and establishing its purpose and objectives.
- Split your project into deliverables, tasks, and milestones:
- Deliverables are tangible items, such as a report or a document, that needs to be produced as part of the project. The deadlines that are set for these are usually critical and can be considered as delivery dates for work that needs to be presented to a client or your manager.
- Tasks are items or actions that the team needs to complete for them to achieve a deliverable. For example, if the deliverable is an article created by an external writer, a task would be to brief the writer. Both activities are important and help you to prioritise scheduling this in.
- Milestones are the ‘Xs’ on the calendar, marking the completion of a phase or stage of a project, such as an endorsement, signing off a deliverable, or having a high-level review meeting.
All of this is needed for better transparency of your project as it aids better prioritisation, scheduling and management of the activities. It can help you to understand and direct the sequence of dependent activities – for example, you can’t expect to tick off a deliverable (like an article) if you haven’t first completed the associated tasks (like briefing the writer) – which will influence the overall duration of your project.
- Measure the resources available and choose who is responsible for each activity within your project.
- Once your plan has taken shape, you need to track your activities, keep your documentation up to date, and maintain communication with the team working on the project. The more complex your project is, the more likely you are to encounter unexpected issues. You may see this as an overwhelming process, but if you follow our steps and tips, you’ll be fine.
Some agencies and in-house project managers invest in project management software that combines resource planning, collaborative working and financial tools. This can speed up processes and help you to organise projects more effectively. You can also use it to keep track of resources, expenses, and the time members of your team have spent on each task.
You can save yourself time, and strengthen the consistency of your approach to new project work by having established processes. Here are some examples of what we do at Further:
- Campaign meetings: having these regularly with all members of your project team means that everyone is on the same page and up to date on the project status. They will also know what you expect from them. Working collaboratively means you can bring new ideas to the table, and continually evaluate and reflect on performance. It also allows you to maintain an agile working environment, where you can make changes as needed, rather than wait until the end of the project.
- Regular catch-ups: weekly one-to-ones with project team members is an efficient way of keeping tasks and resources on track and on budget. It also helps you to maintain communication with your delivery team, and allows you to check and report on project progress to your client or manager.
- 90-day plans: if your project is long-term, consider splitting it into shorter periods to ease the project management – at Further, we work in 90-day plans. Your project team members can recommend what they need to deliver within the shorter period for them to achieve the overall goals and objectives.
- Statement-of-work (SOW): is a document that showcases key deliverables, and lists important deadlines. You can use this as a communication to your client or manager to explain what you expect to achieve. It’s a handy quick-reference reminder.
- Time sheets: getting your team members to log the time they spend on each activity allows you to measure and reflect on the project’s efficiency and profitability. You can use this to compare what you planned against what you delivered. This will allow you to make more accurate time estimations in the future.
- End of project review meetings: you should evaluate the success of your project and make improvements moving forward.
Strategic planning is a way to improve efficiency across your team. It helps you to work towards your objective, manage your resources and organise relevant processes.
When creating your plan, you must consider what your team needs to do, who is going to do it, how and by when. Start by defining the purpose of your project, then work closely with your creative team to prioritise and estimate workloads.
Plan smart by dividing your large project into tasks, deliverables and milestones, and establish realistic time frames. Measure your resources, consider dependent activities and prioritise accordingly. Transparently communicate this to everyone involved in the project to set expectations.
Don’t neglect your project once it has taken shape. Track your activities, keep your plan up to date, and maintain regular communication with your team and client or manager. Deal with problems as soon as they arise – ensure you or your team take decisive action to resolve issues proactively.
And finally, make sure you plan for a profitable campaign. Estimate your spending then keep track of costs. Compare the budget you set with what the team has spent, so you can make strategic decisions about future projects.
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