Project Management Tips for Marketing Teams – Whiteboard Friday
Posted by Aaron Wheeler
Time management is one of the toughest parts of any job, but in web marketing, it’s impossible to do your job if you can’t manage your projects. Since web marketers are wearers of many hats, it’s helpful to collaborate, regroup, and organize often enough to keep on top of things. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Tom Critchlow from Distilled and SEOmoz’s VP of Marketing, Jamie, discuss some ways we maintain control here at SEOmoz and how you can adopt parts of our marketing team’s project management methods in your own practice. Have a great project management tip? Let us know in the comments!
A Photo of Marketing Project Whiteboard
A few notes: we use the larger Super Sticky Post-It in four colors, which represents a few different areas of focus SEO/Site, Social/Community, Performance, and Marcomm. We have colored magnets which represent different things like "Requires Development", "Requires Design", "Waiting For Someone Else".
Tom: Howdy, SEOmoz. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This is Jamie.
Jamie: This is Tom.
Tom: And today we’re going to talk a little bit about the SEO project management system. I came over from Distilled, and I have implanted some of the ways that we do things at Distilled, and between us, we’ve come up with this kind of way of managing projects, managing tasks across the marketing team, and we thought we’d share with you a little bit about how it works. So, Jamie, what are we looking at here?
Jamie: So, what we’ve done is we have taken every team member and created a column for them on the whiteboard. Now, just for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday, we’ve got just the two of us. The idea is that we have these Post-it notes that represent projects or outcomes of things that we’re all working on. The idea here is that we have this line. If a project is above the line, that is a project I am going to be focusing on today, that particular day. Things below the line are things that we would consider to be in sort of a holding pattern. Maybe you’re waiting for somebody to get started on this. Maybe it’s the next thing that you’re going to work on.
Tom: So, you can really quickly and easily see everything that’s on my to- do list now broken down by what I am directly working on now, either like today or tomorrow, but also stuff that I’m waiting on other people. This is like end of the week, next week, further out. These are just kind of like they don’t have a specified date, but this stuff is the stuff that I am working on like right here and now.
Jamie: Yeah. I will say though I think one thing that we’ve tried to do here is keep this simple and not necessarily have these be the most atomic or the smallest task. But instead be some sort of measurable outcome. So, for example shoot Whiteboard Friday, when I am done shooting Whiteboard Friday, I’ll be done with this. I’ll take it from here and I’ll put it into a different column, which is accomplishments or achievements. The idea is that by the end of the week this should be filled up with between 10 and 30 different Post-it notes of the progress that you’ve made that week. But I think the clear distinction that we’ve made is that everyone has their own sort of project management system that they use. I use the software for my Mac. You use I believe . .
Tom: I use Remember the Milk.
Jamie: Some people use notepads next to their desk. But this, for example, may have ten different tasks that I go through, but the team really only needs to see this. So that’s what we’ve tried to do here by making these certain size projects. So, what is the right size of a project to go up on this board would you say?
Tom: I think basically any project that goes up on the board here should be a sizable chunk of work that has, like you were saying, a defined outcome. So anything really that’s like maybe less than an hour’s work or isn’t going to be that measurable or impactful. Like, I’m not going to put on here a meeting with somebody necessarily. That’s not something that is particularly important for the team to know that I am working on. But it is useful for the current defined output. So rewriting copy for a new page on the website, that’s like a task that is going to take me some time. Everyone else might want to know when that’s done, when I’m working on it. That leads into, I think, one of the powerful things of this system is really the simple, the ease with which you can see what everyone else is working on. It’s like everyone on the team can see what everyone else has on their plates, see what they’re not working on, and see what they’re working on and adjust their schedules accordingly. So, for example, let’s say that you have this task here for wireframing category pages.
Jamie: Actually, I moved it up here.
Tom: Lets’ say this is top of your list. I can be like, "Oh, so I see this is important. So I should probably move up the copy for the category pages on my to-do list." I can just move stuff around like this really quickly and easily. That’s the power, and it is not too restrictive. There aren’t too many rules going on here. But it gives us a really quick and easy way of seeing what’s going on. But the whiteboard is only one part of the project management system. We also have these daily stand-ups where we have the whole marketing team. We come together for like maybe no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Do you want to talk us through that, Jamie?
Jamie: Yeah, sure. So, every morning at 10:00 a.m., that’s the time that we chose, and it may be different for your organization.
Tom: Well, we’re lazy here at SEOmoz. So 10:00 a.m. feels like a nice. gentle . . .
Jamie: I would say it’s between 3 and 10 minutes.
Jamie: It really depends. But really what we do is each person just does a quick once over of what’s on their roadmap or their radar so to speak. So, if this was the stand-up right now, I would say, "Well, today I am going to work on the wireframe for the category pages." As soon as I am done with that, then it will go off to you so you can work on the copy.
So that’s why Tom would probably move that up there or consider doing that. Then, I’m going to say, "I am going to work on the presentation for SMX Advance and that will probably take me a day or two." So that will be kind of the two things on my roadmap. Then, I might say, "Something I have on deck is to shave." If you’re going to do Whiteboard Friday, it’s actually probably not a bad idea to shave before you do it. So that’s why I have that next on deck. Then Tom, you would kind of go through your projects in the same manner.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. By doing this, like it’s really important that the whole team then gets a sense of what we’re all working on. It’s really quick. It doesn’t take anyone’s time too much, but we all get that top-level visibility, which I think is really important for a team, particularly for the marketing team where we might be working on a whole range of disjointed tasks. Some of it is something to do with the website, some of it is to do with emails, some of it is the affiliate program. We don’t all need to know the nitty-gritty of all those different projects, but it is useful for us to just understand broadly what we’re working on and when those things are achieved.
Jamie: And what those outcomes are.
Jamie: I think some other things that we get in that daily stand-up processes are help. So, if I throw this up and I talk about it in stand-up, Tom might say, "Oh, let me help you with that. I’ve got some time today." So it really helps you to help each other. It also helps you to provide feedback. So, if Tom puts this up, I or someone else on the team might say, "I don’t know if that’s the most important thing. I don’t know if we need that this week." So he might swap these.
Jamie: It’s something that we do throughout the day, in fact. Not only do we move things in stand-ups, but you’ll notice people walk up during the day and they move things around. They take things that are completed and they move them over.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah.
Jamie: Talk to me a little bit about the line and where you think it should be, because it’s something that we’ve played with a little bit.
Tom: Yeah. I don’t know if we have this perfectly working in our system at the moment. But I think that this line really, it’s kind of a line in the sand to try and differentiate between what tasks I am actively working on right now versus tasks that are just like, eh, someday, when I get around to them. Or maybe it’s important but I am waiting on somebody else for something.
And I think that we’ve tried to play around with keeping these tasks just stuff I am working on today, but I think it works a bit more broadly like today you stroke the next few days. The top of mind is things that I am actively thinking about and working on now. Because there are loads of subtasks involved with these, you might end up working on a whole bunch of things at once. Right?
Tom: You don’t just single focus and go for a whole day I am just doing this task. You kind of work on bits and pieces here. You maybe send something off to somebody and you wait for feedback. There has to be a room for a few different projects or a few different tasks going on at once. But I think the idea being that having this line . . . we tried it without the line to start with. It didn’t work so well. But having a line really separates, mentally primarily, like what’s really active right now and what’s not active.
Jamie: I see this sort of in focus and out of focus. I think we did, we did play with the line. I think different organizations are going to have a different point where the line makes sense. But we’ve sort of gotten to the point where the lines is, if the number of projects you have above the line is crowded, like they don’t fit, that’s probably not going to be a successful day. You’re not going to be successful at touching all of those things. I think ours can fit about four.
Most days, most of us have two or three above the line. I don’t know if we mentioned this idea that whatever is closest to your name is sort of the highest focus, if that makes sense. Below the line we sort of similarly use the same sort of prioritization, but it is very simple. It is very easy to move things around by just saying, "Oh, this has been delayed, so I am going to do that." So that folks can kind of see what may be up next on your plate.
Tom: Yeah. This has been working pretty well for us the last couple of weeks. I think the team really appreciates having the stand-ups especially. Getting that high-level view across everyone else’s projects I think is really valuable, but also I think it’s really important for the whole company. We have this whiteboard behind the marketing team. It has everyone’s tasks on it. It is very colorful. Anyone who walks by, like Rand can walk by, anyone from the exec team can walk by, and they can just instantly see, oh, what is the marketing team working on right now?
Jamie: Yeah. It’s right here.
Tom: What’s in the queue?
Jamie: What have they recently accomplished?
Tom: I think this achievement section is really that kind of positive reinforcement for like, "Oh, we’re achieving loads of stuff at the moment." This is good.
Tom: Keep that momentum going. That’s one of the big differences I’ve found coming from agency to kind of an in-house role is you guys don’t really have that kind of external motivator so much. It’s not like there is a client on your back hounding you all the time to like get this done, get those done, or I need a report or whatever. You are your own bosses.
Jamie: We need to choose what we work on.
Jamie: And this helps us do that. Because as a team, we’re able to say, "I’m working on this week," and someone else can say, "Oh, this is a supporting project. Let me help you out with that."
Tom: Yeah. And there have been a few times in the stand-up where everyone will go through all their tasks, and then somebody will put their hand up and be like, wait, what, who is owning X? Like some . . .
Jamie: We’ll literally do this. We’ll put the project on a thing and, you know, I will.
Tom: And that’s great. Everyone feels like someone’s got ownership of it. We don’t forget the task. There isn’t that situation where everyone goes, oh, I thought that you were working on it. Oh, I thought you were working on it.
Then it falls through the cracks. So it feels quite simple, but it is actually a surprisingly powerful way of managing projects and tasks, and that visibility, I think that communication between the team is really key to making it work.
Jamie: Yeah. I think two other things that we’ve done that have been sort of interesting is that we take the achievements from a given week, so first thing Monday morning, we take all the achievements from last week and we put them somewhere else. What we do is we’ve been drawing a box around it and then writing the week. So we can actually see these boxes that have 20 or 30 of these in them, and not only does it help us say, what did we do two weeks ago, but it helps us see that progress and what we have actually noticed is that there have been more Post-its each week.
Tom: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jamie: We’ve been doing more each and every week. I think it’s not just because we’ve been doing smaller things. I think that we have become more efficient as a team.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Jamie: Then we also have these little magnets that we’ve been using a little bit. These are sort of an optional thing, but what we meant to do is that we have some projects that involve our development team and some projects that involve our engineering team. So we have a few different colors of these magnets, and it allows someone from our engineering team or from our design team to walk up to the board and say, "Oh, that’s a project that’s going to require some help from my team." It gives them a visibility on what projects are going to need their help. So it’s a way that we signal to other teams in the company that those are projects that need their help.
Tom: Again, internally in the team, if we have a whole bunch of tasks here that all require development, we can decide to deprioritize some of those because we know we aren’t going to get all of them done straightaway.
Jamie: Yeah. We’ll look and say, "Oh, jeez, we have way too many development projects. This one is not important. It’s going below the fold."
Tom: Absolutely. Yeah.
Tom: Awesome. Thanks guys. I hope that was helpful. We’ll post some photos in the blog post down below, as well, of the real whiteboard. This is just a dummy one for the Whiteboard Friday. I’d love to know how do you guys manage your projects. I’d love to hear in the comments as well.
Jamie: Yeah. And how do you think we could improve this? Because it’s just something that we sort of came up with over the last few months.
Jamie: Great. Thanks a lot.
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