Why I think that completed projects should be reviewed

This blog post was originally published as an article on LinkedIn. It’s about projects that are completed within an agency, for corporate clients. But many of the principles still work for other businesses that manage communications projects – just that some of the key metrics may be different.

I was a project director in an agency (medical communications and public affairs) for a number of years, and one of the things I did in that role was ensure that once a client project was completed it was reviewed by the team.

All that was needed was a project team meeting and someone to write up the notes and actions. There was already a template with suggested questions, so we didn’t have to create that each time. But it was something that often got missed in a busy whirlwind of new and ongoing projects.

I think that reviewing completed projects (and proposals/pitches) is critical in improving internal processes and client relationships (and ultimately agency profitability!). Below are some of my reasons why.

Provides information for review with the client

As an agency, you’re in business to provide solutions to your clients for their communications needs. So I think it should be standard practice to review a completed project with the client to understand whether you met their needs. This allows the project to be refined further the next time it is done, whether that’s another series of advisory board meetings later that year, or an awards programme or symposium run annually. It also enables you to find out what other challenges the client has for which you could provide a solution. 

But like any client meeting, you’ll need to prepare for the discussion – and having an internal project review is the ideal way to start this preparation.

Identifies key internal challenges

A project review should include consideration of the budget and therefore the hours spent on the project. It can help identify how accurate the initial cost estimate was, and whether the project was resourced appropriately. Reviewing the data might also identify a data gap that needs to be improved. In addition, team members might comment that they were unable to do part of the project as effectively as they would have liked, and this could lead to a new insight that benefits the whole agency – for example purchasing new equipment, outsourcing a specific type of task, providing more training for team members.

Prevents repetition of the same mistakes

Within an agency there will be multiple project teams working on similar types of projects for different clients over the course of a year – but there may not be opportunities to talk about the projects with other colleagues. Mistakes made on one project will (hopefully!) be lessons learned for the project team that made them; but these learnings would also be valuable to share more widely. Ensuring that all projects are reviewed after completion allows these mistakes to be documented and potentially prevented in future.

Creates information to use for case studies

When pitching for new projects, whether to existing or new clients, it’s important to include examples of similar successful projects. It can be difficult to remember details when you’re busy creating a slide deck for a pitch, so having a database to go back to can be really helpful. It’s also challenging to create interesting case studies that retain client confidentiality, so having a collection of past projects provides more choice of examples to use.

Improves client – agency relationships

By reviewing a project internally, the team can also discuss their relationship with the client. Each client will have different needs and preferences, and reviewing projects provides a good platform to identify these. For example preferences such as regularity of calls, detail required in status updates and key project metrics could be noted. In looking at the way the project was run, you might identify personality clashes or skills gaps that can be addressed, as well as acknowledging where there is a really strong relationship with the client that can be nurtured.

Acts as a reminder of the need to track progress against key metrics

Each type of project will have different measures of success. Reviewing a completed project allows you to document successes in a quantifiable way, as well as noting qualitative client feedback. These could also be compared with results from previous projects. For example, key metrics might be number of attendees at a symposium, responses to an email or survey, signups to a website or email list, satisfaction ratings on meeting evaluation forms.

Provides an overview of client projects past and present

If every project completed by an agency was documented in a database, this would be a valuable resource for business development. You could look at one particular client to see what types of projects you typically do for them, to see whether this could be expanded. You could identify whether there is a type of project that you would like to do more often. You could compare the profitability of different types of projects, and drill down to see some of the reasons for this.

In summary

I believe that reviewing completed projects is a valuable activity, even though it requires an extra hour or so of a project team’s time. 

You’ll also note that I mention proposals/pitches in the introduction, but don’t refer to them further. I’d be interested to know whether any agencies do review completed proposals/pitches in a similar way. Often the success of a proposal is seen as whether it wins the business. But I suspect that there are also plenty of learnings to be gained from reviewing business development activities!

 

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

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A generalist or a specialist?

This is the second time I’ve freelanced, so I’m building on what I learned last time in terms of the types of projects to take on.

There is a lot written about having a niche, offering just one specific service, so that potential clients know what you do.

But I’ll be honest, I struggle with that.

Firstly because I love variety. That’s why I freelance, and that’s why in more recent years I’ve focused more on working with agencies than directly for one pharma company. I don’t want to be working on the same therapy area all the time. I’m curious, I want to be learning about something new.

And secondly because I have a broad set of skills.

I haven’t followed the traditional sales then marketing pharma route or chosen between medical writing and account management on the agency side. I haven’t worked in sales, although I spent plenty of time out and about with sales reps in my CRM database role doing 1:1 bespoke training. My agency contracts or jobs have been hybrid roles, where I did a bit of account management, a bit of writing/editing/proofreading, and a lot of project management.

And my work has been across marketing, medical communications and public affairs/policy, supplemented by working with small businesses and charities and by local volunteering!!

I am primarily a project manager/project director, but I like to use my other skills and knowledge as well.

So as a freelancer I have chosen to focus on working with organisations in the areas of health and medical communications, and offer a broad range of project management and writing services. I have found that this is particularly appreciated by smaller organisations who just need to get on and get things done.

So yes, I’d say I’m a generalist not a specialist.

But I thrive on that. It’s right for me at the moment. It keeps my interest and gives me endless possibilities. And allows me to continue to work with a range of companies on a series of different projects.

Image by diapicard from Pixabay

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Why Purple Crocus?

Why did I name my company Purple Crocus?

Well to be honest I wanted to name it Purple Penguin, on account of my fondness for penguins. But that name had already been used. So I went for Purple Crocus instead.

But as it happens, purple crocuses do also have a significance for me.

You may have seen large clusters of purple crocuses growing in your local town, with a Rotary sign next to them, and wondered why that was.

A project that Rotary is involved in internationally is the End Polio Now campaign, aiming to completely eradicate polio from the world. This takes the form of fundraising, awareness raising, high level advocacy work, and practical assistance with vaccinations in specific countries.

When children are vaccinated, their fingers are marked with purple ink so that the health workers can easily see who still needs vaccinating.

Rotary Day is in February, when crocuses are emerging into the spring light. And hence the purple crocus was chosen as a symbol for the polio awareness campaign that occurs at that time every year.

So my company name has a nice reference to my voluntary work as a Rotarian as well as my work as a medical communications freelancer.

For more about Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, visit the website.