Kickoffs and go-lives are high points in any project—but what exactly are we supposed to be doing during all of those days in between? In digital agencies doing web or mobile development projects find that the make-or-break points can sneak up subtly in the day-to-day activities.
This post lays out the fundamental process for managing the daily ins and outs of a digital project. These will help you with things like:
- managing your project plan
- managing tasks
- reporting on status
- managing communication
dealing with project challenges
Simple Steps for Managing the Day-To-Day of Digital Projects
For anyone with a hand in running digital projects, or anyone in charge of leading teams of web designers and developers, following this process will help keep your projects on track.
In the rest of this post, you’ll look at 5 basic steps for keeping your projects from going off the rails
- Following up
Let’s dig in!
To keep things on track we’ve got to know where they’re at. We need to make sure that what appears to be happening on the surface is actually what’s happening underneath. Knowing where things are at allows us to gently align our team and adjust as soon as things are veering off course, rather than having to deal with a big crisis later in the project.
Tips for assessing:
- To assess, you need data. Start by making sure you’re taking advantage of available PM tools that gather the type of project data you need.
- To determine what data you need to track, go back to your project’s strategic goals. What would make the project successful? What would make the project unsuccessful? Answering these questions will give you an idea of the areas you need to be tracking.
- Don’t underestimate a quick check-in conversation. Talk to your team to get the type of data that you won’t find recorded in any of your tools.
We’re continually trying to improve the trajectory of our project—the course of our ship. We need to continually be refining the route we’re going to take, the tasks we’re going to prioritize, and the resources we’ll need to deliver.
Tips for planning:
- Think of planning as an ongoing activity—maybe you’ve already made a plan of action or to-do list, but it’s inevitable that you’ll have to modify and update your plan as the project moves along.
- Start by making sure you’re using proper project briefs complete with all the necessary info, such as descriptions of tasks, requirements, roles, file names, due dates.
- Take your task planning to the next level by making workflows that reflect the reality of how a task moves from person to person. If possible, make these workflows and task dependencies visible to everyone on the team, so they can see how their work affects others and minimize blockers for other team members.
Inevitably, things impact the project along the way. When it does, we need to react appropriately and make adjustments.
There are usually two things that we have to react to:
- things going wrong
- things changing
When things go wrong:
When there’s a problem, we need to assess if the problem is part of a bigger problem or just a one-off issue. If it’s a recurring problem, we need to ask why this keeps on happening. We have to decide what part of the problem, if any, might need to be communicated to a client. And most importantly, we need to ask ourselves what needs to be done to keep the momentum going.
When thing change:
This is always going to happen as a project unfolds. The clients decides they want to add something new in or we find that there’s a better solution to than the one we’d previously recommended. These new developments are not always bad, but again, we need to manage them quickly. We need to make sure they don’t get forgotten about or just swept under the carpet. When things change we need to assess the impact, work out the viable options and then ask the client to make a decision on what change they want to execute.
One way we can keep our projects running smoothly is to connect the dots where they’re not connected. You’ll often find on your project that there’ll be two groups, people, or problems that should be connected, but that for whatever weird reason, they aren’t.
The breakdowns in communication that you deal with on a daily basis often seem ridiculous. They could be so easily solved by those involved if they just talked to each other. So often though, people can get territorial, myopic, and focused on “their thing”.
Tips for connecting:
- If you don’t already, start doing daily check-ins where team members briefly list the things they’ve worked on or plan to work on that day.
- Have you considered weekly 1-on-1 meetings where you simply meet face-to-face with a team member to check in on their progress, issues, and discoveries?
- Often, people are hesitant to communicate because they don’t want to interrupt others. If this is the case, set times of the day that are designated for reviews, updates, and other sharing so that everyone is encouraged to air their thoughts on a regular basis.
We’ve got to make sure we’re following up with our team members, clients, and stakeholders. We can’t assume that they’ll remember every request or wise piece of advice that we give them!
Tips for following up:
- Every day, we’re going to have to dispense a lot of friendly reminders, (“Hey, sorry to be a pain, but did you get to X yet?" Doing this will give you some peace of mind that people are on track, but also help give you a quick pulse check on how things are going. It’s often during those quick check-ins that you’ll discover something isn’t quite going to plan.
- As a rule of thumb, remember that it’s better to be over-cautious on this and risk annoying people than to let important things slip.
- Provide clients and/or stakeholders with high-level, simple, and brief updates on the project status, what’s happening, what’s going to happen, and any issues.
No matter what type of project you’re working on, how big your team is, or what your specific processes are like, you can apply these 5 steps to help you manage the day-to-day events that get you to the finish line. They help you cover the bases by assessing the project status, planning proactively, reacting appropriately, connecting your work with others, and following up with the team and clients.
Refer to these steps regularly—write them down, print them out, and keep them visible so that you’re reminded of those basic actions you can take to make sure you’re steering your projects in the right direction, every day.
Ben Aston, Founder, The Digital Project Manager
I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of The Digital Project Manager
, the largest online resource for digital project managers. I've been in the industry for over 10 years at top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS, flash games, banner ads, eCRM and eCommerce sites across automotive, utility, FMCG, and consumer electronics brands.