What is good project management?

This post is about agency project management, where communications projects are developed and implemented for clients. The same principles apply to other communications projects, but the responsibilities within the project are likely to be different.

My inspiration for this blog post comes from a Facebook post in a freelance group I’m in.

Another freelancer in the group had just agreed terms with a new agency client, and received more details on a project. And had been asked to send back the first piece of work with a deadline barely 24 hours away, but she was afraid of upsetting the new client if she said she couldn’t meet that deadline.

This lack of consideration for the freelancer annoyed me so much that as well as adding my own advice to the other comments, I felt compelled to write about it!

I’m in the position that not all freelancers have been in – I’ve worked agency side and client side, as well as being a freelancer. I am a project manager with over 20 years of experience, and I know exactly what constitutes good project management.

So what do I think good agency project management looks like? I think there are three basic elements. The plan, managing client expectations, and managing supplier relationships.

1. A comprehensive and flexible plan

All projects need a plan. Small projects probably don’t need a detailed plan, just a few notes on a typed up document perhaps. But all other projects need plans, whether in a spreadsheet or an online project management tool.

A plan should include all key client and other external deadlines that are known.

The format and timing of all deliverables should be agreed with the client.

Then, other internal deadlines should be added, such as those for printing, web programming, approval timelines, design work, copy and internal reviews.

And these should be monitored regularly and changed as needed.

2. Managing client expectations

So what does a client want from a project?

They want it completed with all the required deliverables on time and within their budget.

Some clients keep a close eye on everything all the way through the project, and some are less involved. But either way, it is critical to manage their expectations.

Communicating potential delays and cost increases might be the scariest part of managing a project, particularly for newer project managers. But I think it’s probably the most important. A client who is kept informed and given appropriate choices along the way will be more likely to be happy at the end of the project. And more likely to want to work with the agency again.

3. Managing supplier relationships

This is the reason for me deciding to write about this topic.

Something to remember as an agency project manager is that suppliers are businesses too. Whether they are a freelancer working by themselves or are a printing company or web development agency, they have other customers to service and other aspects of running a business to contend with.

So you can’t expect them to be able to turn round a task in a short timescale, even when a client asks. Not unless it was agreed when briefing them about the work. And even then, you need to listen to them when they say that a task can’t be done well in the timescale you’ve suggested. They are experts on doing that type of work, that’s why you’ve hired them.

If you keep finding yourself asking suppliers and freelancers to do urgent tasks, you might need to take a step back and look at your project plan or your client relationship, to see whether there are changes that need to be made there.

When you give your suppliers sensible deadlines and treat them with courtesy, including giving useful feedback and saying thank you, they will be more likely to try to fit in urgent tasks for you in the future.

In some types of work, good freelancers and other suppliers are hard to find, so maintaining good relationships with them is essential!

In summary

I think that good agency project management starts with a plan, and needs good people management skills alongside this plan, to manage relationships with both clients and suppliers.

Although the example I refer to relates to managing a project within an agency, it could also be adapted to assist with an agency pitch, a project within another organisation or charity, or even a team of volunteers organising an event within their local community.

But the same principles apply whatever the project – create a plan, monitor the plan, and keep people informed.

I enjoy ensuring that projects are managed properly.

Whether that’s by managing them myself, setting up a summary or detailed project plan for someone else, training a team on how to manage an ongoing project, or reviewing a project after it has finished to see what can be improved next time.

If you have a team or business that could do with some help from an experienced project manager, get in touch!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Published by Nina

I am an explorer, observer, thinker and planner who communicates using photography and writing. I'm brilliant at creating order out of chaos, turning big ideas into practical plans, and currently work as a freelance project management specialist (marketing/communications).

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