This post is for all my DPM peeps out there. That stands for “digital project management” in case you manage projects from under a rock. So, while I no longer work full-time in digital project management (I only dabble, as now I am a strategist/writer full-time), I’m still passionate about client relationship management and making sure our lovingly crafted digital projects go smoothly. I’ve found that now being on “the creative side” has given me even more passion for project management, as I feel like I have a better idea of what it’s like for the people I used to schedule and plan for, both internally and externally.
But we’ve all been there: the digital project that goes completely off track and looks like it’s destined for the rubbish pile or worse, public consumption as a warped, ugly version of its formerly wonderful concept. Let’s face it, it’s usually a website.
So what do you do? How do you tackle this seemingly insurmountable beast and tame it back into a (oh god here comes a cliche) beauty? By following these oh so useful tips of course.
But first, we need to identify the signs of a project going off the rails… We’ll assume it’s a website for the purposes of this example because, well, it probably is.
The Signs Your Website Project is Going Cray
A Sudden Barrage of Changes
If you’re almost done and your client suddenly wants to change “a few things” (aka 4,389 things), it’s time to slow down and question what’s going on. Are they actually minor changes? Or will the sum of them add up to being a total deviation from the original scope and plan, and end up with a mishmash of crap on a screen, instead of a clearly laid out website?
Sometimes a change is just a change, but make sure you’re paying attention and watching out for Just-a-Tweak-a-geddon. Not to be confused with Twerk-a-geddon.
So you’re 90% done and you just need a few more things from your client to complete their site. It’s usually content, right? Anyway, all is going well until your client drops off the face of the planet and you can’t get ahold of them for a month or more. What gives?
Maybe they don’t have the time or resources to get you what you need, so follow up and ask how you can help. Maybe they just need some guidance. Either way, don’t just wait for them to call you back… be proactive!
Deadline Like a Freight Train
Is your deadline fast approaching and you still need a bunch of stuff from your client? Or, is your deadline ever-changing, and slowly creeping up to be sooner and sooner but you’re not ready yet?
Stop it! If you’re still needing stuff, call your client and lay down the law. Unless you get x, y and z by this date, the deadline is going to have to move. They’ll either get you their information, or not. Either way, you’re both on the same page and that matters more than the actual date of when something is supposed to happen. Stay real and stay honest.
How to Stop, Drop & Roll On With Your Project
So now that you know the signs, how do you turn them around?
This sounds super cheeseball but the first (and only) step is communication. You gotta talk to your client, like a real human being to human being talk, and just lay it all on the table.
First, start off with why you think things are going off track and what the result will be. Maybe your client doesn’t realize what’s going on. Of course they want to avoid potential doom as well. Help them out. Say something like, “Hey, Mary, I know you asked to make a few changes recently. That’s totally okay, but I want to make sure I’m understanding them correctly. You want to completely redo the header of the website now — how come? I thought you liked it before. This may affect the design and navigation of the rest of the website so I want to make sure we’re on the same page here. Why the sudden change now?”
Just be honest!
Or your conversation might be something like, “Hey, Mary, you’re asking to make a lot of changes late in the game here. We’re almost ready to launch. Changing things now isn’t within our original scope or budget, so we’ll have to create an estimate of the additional cost for you. Are you okay with that? I’d also like to explore why there’s the need for these changes, so that we don’t blow your budget unless we have to. Let’s start with this first request here, what makes you want to change the header?”
Be nice. Be genuine. Care about your client’s thoughts and budget. You and your client are just two people trying to get something awesome accomplished. So work together to make that happen. It’s really that simple.
After communication comes action. Talking is great but worthless without follow up on both participant’s parts. You may need something from your client (let’s face it, usually content-related) so make sure to follow up your conversation with an email or Slack message restating what you need, so they have an easy reference. Also, make sure you follow up on anything your client asked you about, either an expected timeline or a promise to do something for them.
The Digital Project Management Checklist
- That’s it.
- Actually there’s a few more things.
- Create a plan with your client to get back on track.
- Agree on deliverables for each of you.
- Follow up.
- Be genuine!
Keep this handy. Next time a project looks like it’s heading for trouble, open up the checklist and get it back on track. You’ll be done in time to enjoy a coffee to go with your smug expression.
Get it, girl.
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