Project management is a highly effective tool for getting marketing work done, from advertising campaigns and SEO to social media content and promotions.
This guide will take you through how to do project management in a marketing context, either as a way of completing big projects, or as a tool for planning routine work such as social media posts and blog articles.
Our aim is for you to leave with a better understanding of what project management is, and how marketers like ourselves can use it.
What is project management?
On the most basic level, project management is a managed approach to doing work. You’re not just completing tasks; you’re working on them within a process that is planned and can be monitored.
While there are lots of different ways to approach project management, most instances involve some common components:
- Deliverables: These are the tangible results that the project will deliver. In a website development project, a new web design could be the primary deliverable. In a social media marketing project, the deliverables might be Instagram posts. Some projects also have secondary deliverables, such as campaign data.
- Tasks: Each project is made up of multiple tasks, each of which is assigned to a responsible team member or sub-team.
- Stakeholders: Everyone involved with the project is a stakeholder. This includes all the people in the project team, as well as others such as clients, c-level insiders, and customers who will eventually be targeted with the marketing assets delivered through the project.
- Methodology: A set of rules about how the project is managed.
In a nutshell, the project needs to deliver certain outcomes, which can be broken up into tasks. The tasks are assigned to people on the project team, who must complete the work within a managed process.
Marketing project management in-practice
Project management is used to deliver all sorts of marketing projects, including:
- Website development
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Video advertising
- App development
- Email marketing
- PR campaigns
Regardless of the specific work being delivered, project management is usually centred around a project management software. This is the digital platform where stakeholders can manage their tasks to completion, and where senior stakeholders can monitor overall project progress.
Every team member should be able to access the software using their own login credentials. When logged in, they can see the tasks which have been assigned to them. They might be able to upload files and comments to the tasks, and change the status of tasks to reflect whether they have been initiated, completed or held up by some sort of ‘blocker’.
Senior stakeholders can also assign tasks to team members and set deadlines for their completion. (In some teams, all stakeholders are granted permission to do this.)
In any project, it helps to have a team member acting as the project manager. This person is responsible for helping the whole team use the project management process and software successfully. Some project management methodologies also require the project manager to perform additional duties, such as leading regular team meetings (sometimes called ‘scrums’) and helping other stakeholders find solutions to blockers.
A marketing project will typically flow through an intuitive series of phases:
The phase we’re calling kickoff is the start of the project. At this point, the marketing team gets together with the stakeholder who is commissioning the work to discuss the details of the project. The parties will come to an agreement on some fundamental details of the project, including:
- What are the project deliverables?
- What are the baseline time and cost budgets for the project?
- What is the maximum amount by which the project could exceed its baseline time and cost budgets?
When all the key project stakeholders are happy with the terms, a contract or informal agreement can be made to start the project.
During project planning, all the team members with a strategic role get together to decide how the project deliverables will be achieved. While the planning process varies from project-to-project, the following elements are usually involved:
- Setting milestones. Milestones are the key waypoints on the road to project completion. For example, in a video ad campaign project, ‘storyboarding completed’ and ‘filming completed’ could be milestones. Each milestone is given a deadline, to help keep the project on-track.
- Identifying project risks. In project management a ‘risk’ is a possible external event which could affect project outcomes, either positively or negatively. Identifying major project risks during project planning ensures the team is ready to capitalise on opportunities or respond to threats during the project.
- Dividing the project into tasks. These are the individual pieces of work needed to accomplish the project’s deliverables. At this stage, it’s also important to identify dependencies, where the completion of one task depends on another task being completed beforehand.
- Assigning tasks and ownership. Each task needs to be assigned to a team member (or sub-team) who will be responsible for its completion. In some cases, senior stakeholders may also be given ownership of project deliverables.
Once the project is planned, the team can get on with the work of project delivery. Each team member should be using the project management platform to manage their tasks throughout this phase.
Project management supports the team in several ways during the delivery phase, including:
- Task management. Throughout the project, each team member is responsible for updating their own tasks within the project management platform. This typically includes uploading files, changing task statuses, and informing the project manager of any blockers which are preventing tasks from getting done. If new requirements are identified during the delivery phase, new tasks are created and assigned to a team member.
- Progress tracking. Most project management platforms include visual tools for tracking project progress, such as Gantt charts and burn charts. These resources help stakeholders assess how well the team is progressing with its tasks, relative to the project’s time budget. Senior stakeholders, in particular, will carefully monitor project progress throughout the delivery phase to determine whether the planned time and cost budgets for the project remain achievable.
- File storage. Depending on the nature of the team’s work, the project management platform may be used to store project work, e.g. documents containing copy for use in content marketing. The easy accessibility of the project management platform to the whole project team can help prevent important work from getting lost.
Project management during the delivery phase will only succeed if every team member buys into the process and fulfils duties such as updating the status of their tasks. It’s important to make this clear to team members. The team should also have a knowledgeable person on hand to help anyone who is struggling with the project management process or software.
When all project work is completed, the senior stakeholders – including the client or internal customer – can meet up to review the project outcomes. If all parties are satisfied that the project deliverables have been accomplished as planned, the project can be considered as completed, and the stakeholders can provide their sign-off.
In advance of this phase, some project teams will use tools built into their project management software to produce reports and documentation. This can be an efficient way to explain the work that has been carried out to the client.
Some marketing projects finish with sign-off.
Others conclude with an analysis phase. This could be anything from analysis of website data following a site redesign project, to customer sentiment analysis following a TV advertising campaign.
Analysis can be understood as a bridge between the current project and future projects. The findings from this phase can be fed into the planning for compatible projects in future, helping the team plan more efficiently and optimise its processes.
Some project teams will also analyse their experience of the project management process, during a project. This helps to identify problems people have encountered with the project management approach, which can be amended ahead of the next project.
How to use project management to deliver routine marketing work
The phased approach to project management we’ve just discussed is best-suited to delivering time-limited marketing projects with a moderate-to-high level of complexity.
If your work is of a more routine nature – for example, if you need to deliver a certain number of social media posts each week – this can also be accomplished through project management. You just need to use a slightly different approach.
For routine marketing work, we recommend using a project management solution with a kanban-style system to manage your content, e.g. Trello. In a kanban system, each task is represented by a card, which can be moved from one column to another to represent its status. In a social content workflow, you might have columns titled ‘Ideas’, ‘Text’, ‘Text and photo’, ‘Text and photo signed off’ and ‘Scheduled/Published’. As new components are added to the draft for a post, its card can be moved along, until the post has been published. This approach simultaneously enables a team to plan social content, work on the content, and manage the progression of each post as a mini-project.
Here’s a video tutorial showing how project management tools can be used for routine marketing work:
Which project management tool should I use?
Almost all project management is done digitally, using project management software. These software provide the infrastructure for the team’s chosen approach.
We advise exploring a few popular project management platforms before you commit to one. The Target Internet team has had good experiences with the following options:
Asana is a fantastic tool for managing tasks and projects, with a beautifully accessible user interface that makes working on tasks and assigning them to teammates simple. It also happens to be the project management tool we use to manage our content marketing – including our work on this article!
Asana is a particularly affordable project management solution, offering both a budget-priced premium package and a fairly comprehensive free version.
This ingenious tool enables you to manage your work using a system of cards, boards and lists.
Trello is particularly well suited to managing content items such as blog articles or social posts through a workflow.
Teamwork is a fantastically feature-rich project management solution, with a suite of optional add-ons including chat, CRM and office functionalities. Teamwork’s interface is arguably less approachable than Asana’s or Trello’s, but it more than makes up for this with its formidable capabilities.
Beloved by developers everywhere, JIRA is the ideal project management tool for teams using the agile work methodology.
Other popular project management softwares include Basecamp, Nifty and Monday.com.
What are the benefits of using project management to do marketing work?
Using project management can bring lots of advantages for marketing teams and professionals. The key benefits include:
- Collaboration. Most marketing projects require input from multiple stakeholders, whether that’s specialists such as SEOs, PPC bidders and social media executives, or clients who need to monitor project progress and provide sign-off. Project management software can become the shared workspace where collaboration takes place and is recorded.
- Tracking complex projects. When you’re working on a marketing project with lots of different components, it can be hard to keep track of every important detail. Project management can provide a comprehensive overview of project tasks, including whether or not they have been completed on time.
- Productivity. Some team members perform more reliably and productively when working in a project managed process. There are several potential reasons why project management can improve productivity, including efficient access to task information and deadlines, and the effect of having everyone’s open and completed tasks visible in the team view.
- Replicability. Getting started with project management takes a little time, but once you’re set up, you will find that many projects involve a similar project management process. In the long run, most projects will be able to use the same software settings and process as a previous project, saving time and effort.
There are undoubtedly some downsides to project management, too. Adopting the process can be frustrating, or even alienating, for some team members. There is also the risk that too much focus on the fine detail of project management could detract focus from productive project work.
The key is to find the right balance, between making the most of the undeniable advantages of project management and leaving your team with enough breathing space to work. If you can nail that balancing act, your projects will reap the benefits.