Online Work Tips & Best Practices

By Toby Jenkins, CEO of Bluewire Media

Like most web marketing professionals, we’ve had great projects and terrible projects. The trick is figuring out what accounts for the difference—and what to do about it.

Located in Brisbane, Australia, Bluewire Media has worked with clients in the same room and as far away as Guadalajara, Mexico (7,858 miles) and London, UK (10,553 miles). Over nearly a decade, we came to realize that the defining characteristic of a project’s success was not distance or time zones.

It was communication.

The breaking point for us was a project that took two years to complete. It could have been done in four weeks if we’d known what we know now. It was demoralizing, exhausting, and expensive. Getting approvals was a nightmare, and rework was a major issue.

We realized we needed to improve how our projects and people were managed. The result is the communications schedule template—a document that maps out when, and why, we need to regularly connect with our clients during a project.

There Must Be A Better Way To Manage A Project

"A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow." George PattonWe began our quest by looking all over the world and across industries to try to find better ways to do the work. We dramatically improved our planning process, speeding it up to a two-day process that defines all the elements we need. We learned to break each project down to smaller stages, so we can iterate faster and get more feedback, more frequently.

We realized that once you have planned out your project thoroughly, in terms of knowing exactly what needs to be delivered, it then boils down to who will deliver it and when.

With this knowledge in hand, we began experimenting with different approaches to planning and running a project.

Get decision makers involved from the start

We insisted on having all decision makers in the planning session at the beginning with our project team. We thought this would help by having a clear understanding of the project by everyone involved.

It helped, but didn’t give us the speed we were after.

Get sign off on project scope

We insisted that all decision makers sign off on the scope of the project so we could more easily manage the change process.

It helped, but didn’t give us the speed we were after.

Put deadlines in place—for us and the client

We put in place exact dates and meeting times for delivery of progress and approvals. We made sure that they were included in everyone’s calendars and even tried to insist on penalties if the client didn’t deliver on their milestones.

It helped, but didn’t give us the speed we were after.

Check in with the team 2x a day

After a ton of tweaks to our process—each leading to noticeable, but small, improvements—we tried twice daily 10-minute check-ins between the project team and the client.

The result? Fast. VERY fast.

In fact, the project we first used this technique on historically would have taken us six months. On this occasion? Five weeks.

The Four Questions that Belong on Your Check-in Agenda

We’ve integrated these check-ins into our regular process, which is formalized in the schedule, but to be effective they need to have focus. Below is the agenda we use.

We ask each member of the project team to report the following:

  • What have I done since the previous check-in?
  • What am I planning to do before the next check-in?
  • Do I have any bottlenecks? Can I see any bottlenecks arising?
  • Do I require any feedback or approvals on my work? If so, who do I need to get involved?

These check-ins can take place in person, on the phone, or via Skype or Google Hangout. Provided the above questions are addressed, you’ll reap the rewards.

But Isn’t That a Lot of Contact?

We’ve found that the communication schedule takes time, but the twice daily check-ins are crucial for four reasons:

  1. By increasing the frequency of the review process, we dramatically reduced the amount of rework required. The worst case scenario is that a day’s work might need to be redone.
  2. The client can see the progress which we’ve found helps them maintain excitement and commitment to a project.
  3. Because the client sees the work twice a day, the approval process speeds up and it’s easy to get sign off.
  4. They allow us to catch issues early, when they’re easy to solve, rather than late in the process when it becomes much harder.

Communications Schedule

This is the exact communications schedule template we put together to help us manage our projects. We designed it specifically to address the problems and to include our new-found technique for speeding projects up.

This tool can help you:

  1. Get agreement by all the decision makers and your project team in the same session.
  2. Make sure the project scope has been approved by everyone necessary (this will prevent rework later).
  3. Get commitment to timeframes and meetings for approvals and delivery of project work.
  4. Hold two effective 10-minute project check-ins each day.

You’ll find this story, and many other “confessions,” in our new book Web Marketing That Works. Have you uncovered any techniques that have transformed how you run your remote projects? Please let me know in the comments.