14 September 2022 |

The perils of poor project management

By Tracey Wallace

The project management industry was worth $5,359 million in 2021 and is projected to hit $20,420 million by 2032. And yet, just about no one I know actually like their project management tool 🥹

For most marketers I know, they are using one of the following:

  • Jira
  • Monday
  • Airtable
  • Asana
  • Wrike 
  • ClickUp 

As of yesterday, I have officially used them all (Tested out Wrike and am a little bit in love). 

Several years ago, as I was moving from individual contributor to manager, I found myself project managing a team of 50+ marketers as the “content marketing manager” at a large tech company.

Not exactly what I was hired for––but I did it well, learned it quick, and realized just how much less work we could all do if we all just talked a little bit better before putting in our requests. 

Here’s what I mean:

How content organizations end up doing far more work, far less strategic, work

Often, I’d have someone of an enterprise team make a request for a piece of content about ecommerce tech stacks, for instance.

We’d get that in the queue for the team to create, and then several weeks later (before we could even publish the first request), the partner team would put in a request for a piece of content about ecommerce tech stacks, but one that could educate our ecosystem on where our company fit. 

Now, the enterprise team and the partner team were convinced that these were two different pieces of content. Me, as the defacto project manager and content marketing lead, knew they weren’t that different. 

Sure, for the partner piece, instead of talking about “your brand” like we would in the enterprise piece, we’d need to switch that out to talk about “your client.” 

And yes, the headline would likely need to be a little bit different, and because both internal and external perception of a piece is important, we’d want to give each asset a different cover image so that they felt like two different pieces of content. 

In reality, though, 90% of the content and even the design in each of the assets are the exact same thing.

Now, if I wasn’t the project manager, and someone else was, then my team would have been given two different tickets for two different pieces of content––which would take at least 2x the amount of resources on my team.

Then, once we wrote that content, our design team would have had 2x the work––needing to create two different white papers entirely, instead of just swapping out a bit of text and a cover image on something that was already formatted. 

That’s not all, though. Distribution and and more powerful go-to-market opportunity would have taken a hit. 

Each person on the two teams (enterprise and partner) would put in a ticket for the email distribution of the piece. Likely, because the enterprise piece was requested first, that one would go live first to our enterprise audience.

But that would be a poor use of our company’s resources, and make a far less effective campaign. 

After all, if you’re going to create a piece of content about tech stacks and where your company fits within them for your enterprise audience, it’s likely that audience uses the partners in your eco-system a lot. 

So, you probably want to send the email to partners earlier on (even though this ticket was submitted later than the enterprise one), so that you can educate partners and so that they could write up blog posts, update their sales decks, etc. 

Why? Because when you send that email to your enterprise audience, one of the first things they might do––if they read it––is go ask their agency partner or any of their preferred tech partners what *they* think.

And the answer is going to be in your favor if you’ve accounted for the eco-system education before that conversation happens. 

Remember: business deals get done over email and in small Slack groups. That’s where you need influence the most, even if you can’t see it. 

Why successful content teams become defacto project managers

Of course, you can’t clearly plan for this type of go-to-market if you don’t have someone who understands content, go-to-market flows, and buying behavior patterns of your audiences overseeing your project management.

(You can also have better integrated marketing processes in place at your organization, but I have rarely seen those done well and in the way ultimately intended. Project managers end up being the “Wait, this is the same” folks who raise their hand and help stitch together what should have always been an integrated program). 

This is why it is the content marketers who end up in this project management position at a lot of companies.

They end up there typically victimized by their own success. 

That is so say, the more successful a content marketing organization is at any company, the more that company realizes the power of using content in all channels to have something powerful, relevant and interesting to say. (You might think this is table-stakes, marketing 101. I promise you, it is not). 

As content teams get moved to more integrated functions, I see a lot of content marketers experience exactly what I did years ago: panic as they learn to go from individual contributor to manager, and even director.

In that move, content leads produce less content and need to map more of it. No, not site maps. Internal workflow maps. 

The mapping is project management, and figuring out how to setup proper project management is a key part of a successful marketing strategy––especially in remote work environments where you can’t just go tap someone on the shoulder. 

Let’s back up a moment: Why is project management a strategic function within a marketing organization? Because without, marketing efficiency is difficult to achieve.

And, when you aren’t efficient with your marketing, you end up with organizational bloat, which reduces company margin and profitability, and can often lead to lay offs. 

Dizzying, I know. 

That doesn’t mean that having the right project management system in place will stop any of that from happening (you need clear and enforceable KPIs, too, but that’s for another newsletter), but it does help considerably in measuring any team’s efficiency, bandwidth, and ensuring projects get over the line on time, at a lower cost, and a higher quality. 

OK, that’s a lot of words to get to this next part:

What makes for a good project management tool?

Well, because I spent four hours of my time this Sunday testing out Write, and am now wholly ready to give up Monday forever (I will say, Monday has been my least favorite project management tool of them all), I have a solid list:

  • Customizable statuses and workflows based on asset type 
  • Reusable custom field types 
  • Automations to reassign owners based on status 
  • The ability for any individual task to live on multiple projects / fields 
  • Clear dependency attachment and structure 
  • Clone-able project / task blueprints or playbooks that teams can easily recreate to get projects going ASAP (this should house your GTM movements for asset type) 
  • Calendars, ones that include everything (or can be easily filtered down to specific things) and show you tasks by asset type but also by status 
  • Custom formula fields –– for some many things and all of the project management tools I’ve used have this, but if it doesn’t, don’t use it. 
  • Integrations with other helpful tools like Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc. It doesn’t have to sync with everything, but a few things would be nice to help track performance of assets. 
  • Level of effort for different task types. 

For managers:

  • Bandwidth visibility for your team for a given day, week, month, quarter. This can come in the form of workload charts, too. 
  • Status and task speed breakdowns by team member so you can see who takes longer, who might be struggling, and where difficult folks may need to focus on upskilling. 
  • Team utilization status.
  • Reporting on overdue tasks by assignee.

Finally, it is your job as a content leader to set up / use a project management system that makes sense to your team, that helps them figure out their priorities, and hit their deadlines autonomously. 

How can you tell the project management system is working?

  • It answers more questions that it causes 
  • It helps to reduce meetings to review statuses or different tasks for a project 
  • Your team is using it regularly––updating tasks, etc., without much of a reminder from you (likely because it helps them get their job done faster / better). 

I finally hit the end of my rope this week with Monday (after 6 months). Wrike has won me over in all the possible ways. But, I’ve also equally loved Asana, Jira and Airtable at other companies, too. 

Note that no project management is ever perfect, but some of far better than others, and if yours is causing you pain, take the time out to solve that for you––and your team. It is your job. 

Here’s the thing: once you and your team are efficient, what your working on it clear to the organization, and how to GTM with content is documented and repeatable, doing things like taking vacation or staying months ahead in content to reduce stress and just love your job come a lot more naturally.