Inside look: project management at Brand Manual

January 10, 2017

Last year we took a very close look at our own organisation. We defined, yet again, our values. We also analysed how we handled client projects, how we work well, and how we don’t. And what we like about working, and what not. The resulting project management methods and tools were summarised in 8 principles, which is what guides our working method today.

As one can imagine, the principles aren’t rocket science. In fact, they are (or we feel, should be) common sense. Moreover, every time we experience a problem during a project, it is always possible to point to one or the other principle, which wasn’t followed. The goal of having project management defined in this very tangible and focused way is to ensure, that Brand Manual can grow. That when people change and new people join us, that they have a clear understanding of how a client project is to be handled, in order to ensure that the end result meets both the client’s and our own quality requirements.

Defined as principles, they are exactly that. Not rules that absolutely must be followed in every case. Because there will always be an exception. Where time or money or staff availability dictates, that some shortcuts be made. But in those cases, there is also a good explanation of why or the other principle was ignored, that can be backed up with facts.

So, without further ado, these are our 8 project management principles.

1. Get the whole team onboard a.s.a.p.

We work as a consultancy and during the course of a project, many different specialists will be involved at different times. However, this selection of needed competencies should not happen in reaction to how the project is proceeding, but rather clearly defined right at the beginning.

This makes the project team a real team. Everyone has the same starting point, which makes working together possible and fun. In order to to that, everyone on the team has to be on the same page, knowing everything there is to know about the project.

The faster everyone gets on the same page, the faster everyone works towards the same goal. And ONLY if everyone has the same goal, do we have a team working together that is able to share work and responsibility.

2. Define everyone’s role in the project

We’re a multi-talented organisation. Many people have different skills that are necessary in different situations, which naturally also results in different kinds or responsibility. In order to avoid confusion of what this or that person is doing in this particular project, we need to define exactly what each and every team member’s role is this time. When everyone knows what is expected of them, it is easy to fit in that role.

If the roles are not defined, then everyone presumes things based on past experience. And we all know that presumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups.

3. The whole team meets the client at the start

The work is a lot more important and fun for everyone, when we work for a client. Not for the art director, strategist, service designer or project manager.

But to share responsibility, the team must feel responsible. And no matter what we say, the project is never as urgent or important when you’ve never met the client face-to-face.

4. Plan the project in small steps of one or two weeks

The more the team meets to review progress, the more progress there is.

Let’s say that again:

The more the team meets to review progress, the more progress there is.

But the weekly or bi-weekly meetings are not for judging performance, but to make sure that the work is moving along. And if someone is stuck, then we together as team, we can figure out a solution and get unstuck before we get way behind the schedule.

To make this kind of small-steps working work, everyone’s input must be listened to. It also requires a bit of confidence from people presenting rough and half-ready work to their colleagues. It is important to remember, that the meeting is not about the people in it, but about meeting the client’s needs and ensuring that we as a company deliver on brief, on time, on budget.

And importantly, no meeting ends without agreeing on the next deadline.

5. Document and follow-up all meetings and decisions to everyone on the team

Only things that are measured, are achieved.
Only things that are documented, happened.

Documentation is the only way to rewind a project, if it becomes necessary. And yes, writing the memo of an important meeting can take as much time as the meeting itself. But, everyone will be happy that you did, when the shit hits the fan. (Interestingly, the better the memo is, the less fans in view:-)

6. Separate conversations must be communicated

The only way the team stays a team is for everyone on the team to know as much as everyone else.

Of course, there will be meetings that don’t include everyone. But these conversations must be communicated afterwards, or one part of the team will stop being responsible. And you can’t blame them for that.

This point, is in fact, incredibly important. Especially for distributed teams. When its easier for two people to talk than to involve the rest of the team, in order to solve a problem or move ahead, then the result is alienation of the rest of the team. They’ll no longer feel involved or necessary. And trying to get them involved again, is incredibly difficult.

7. Nothing, ever, goes to the client without the project manager / team leader knowing about it

The project manager / team leader is responsible for the smooth running of the project. For the total result. And he or she cannot do that, if she or he doesn’t know everything before the client does.

There can be no exceptions to this principle. In some ways it mirrors nr 6, because when information passes one by, then it suddenly can no longer be that persons responsibility.

8. Get the project done in 3 months

Deadlines are motivating and easy to hit.
Moving targets are very difficult to hit.

Plan the project with concrete end dates. Even if the job will take a year, create definite stages that end. Otherwise it will become an endless struggle to stay focused and motivated to deliver on something that will eventually be finished.

Project planning flow. From start to planning work, not just meetings.