Project management

Media project management skills and techniques

Project management image courtesy of pxhere and posted under Creative Commons Universal

In the first of this three-part series, we looked at the basics of project development for a media organization to launch new products or refresh current production. This module included defining the target audience, presenting the unique editorial proposal, evaluating the cost of the project and calculating the return.

In other words, you’ve thought about it. But there is still a lot of thinking to do if you want to turn your idea into a real product. To do this, you need to use the skills and techniques of project management.

Many books have been written on this subject. There are detailed project management methodologies that you can learn, if you wish. A man called Gantt invented a useful chart that helps you manage your project.

But you can do without all of this if you follow the basic rules. Here they are:

1: Specification, time and money

The three main elements of any project are the specifications, the time allowed and the money available. You want to complete the project to specification, on time and on budget

This speaks for itself, but it is essential that you understand all three components in detail before you start working. So you know, and everyone knows, exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Your entire project plan is based on this understanding.

The reason I insist on this is that external forces often want to change basic components after the project has started. They could (and often do) try to change the specs, bring the launch date forward, or reduce the amount of money available.

They need to understand that any change in specifications, time or budget can mean a complete overhaul.

2: Planning

It is important to plan everything before you do anything. If you forget all the other rules, remember this one. Your thinking time is your most precious time. Get the full picture of the project in your head before letting the work begin

3: Work flow

Next, you need to identify the workflows involved in the proposed project. The sites are the pieces of work that all need to be done.

They may include recruiting, training, purchasing equipment and software, commissioning design work, writing technical specifications, producing guidelines or standards, leasing space, getting permits, booking trips, market research, rehearsals, printing, marketing, pilot or prototype production, testing – whatever. You need a complete list.

4: The project plan document

Once the workflows are in place, you should note all the elements in a project plan document.

It could be a large sheet of paper, a Gantt chart, a spreadsheet, or a whiteboard in your office. Start by writing today’s date on the top left and your product launch date on the top right (If reading from right to left, reverse these instructions).

Let’s say there is two months between today and your product launch. Divide the space between them into equal time segments. For example, you might have two months to complete the project, so your first row will be split into eight segments representing eight weeks:

The date today L-7 L-6 L-5 L-4 L-3 L-2 L-1 Release date

Under “Today’s Date,” you’ll make a vertical list of all the workflows – the things that need to be done.

In the row next to each workstream header, you’ll write the critical milestones, in the week they are due.

Let’s say one of the workflows is design. It might look like this, showing the important steps:

The date today L-7 L-6 L-5 L-4 L-3 L-2 L-1 Release date
Design Write a design brief Call for tenders Choose supplier Examine the designs Make the final choice Design work delivered

Do it with all the workflows. In particular, you are looking for dependencies: where a necessary job cannot be done until another is done. Here is an example of a Gantt chart showing dependencies in an architectural project:

Gantt chart by Bob Eggington

5: plan for the unexpected

It is important in any project to include a little slack to allow for things that will inevitably go wrong.

Planning is the key to success, but as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until you punch them in the mouth.” Things will go badly. You must therefore allow a little margin in your project to allow this: a little more time than you think you need; some hidden cash in case of an emergency that can be solved by throwing money into it; and one or more specifications that can wait after launch, without significantly affecting the outcome, if any.

6: Teamwork and collaboration

Make sure to share the plan with your team and let them improve on it if they can.

The team will do all the work and they have to own the results. You do this by listening to them, involving them and respecting them. Make sure they are all absolutely clear and support the goal. If people doubt the wisdom of the project, it would be better if they found another place to work.

7: Start

Now the work can really begin. And you will soon notice the benefit of having thought through everything beforehand.

8: Communicate

Make sure you constantly communicate with your team and meet at least once a week.

Set an example for the team by understanding what they are doing. If you aren’t interested in their work, neither will they. Know all the details of the project inside. Be available to everyone and don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do on your own.

9: Continue the progression with sensitivity

You have to make sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so a project manager should always keep progressing, but it’s important not to overburden people – it’s not sustainable.

It’s your job to make sure deadlines are met and the weekly meeting is a vital checkpoint. Know exactly how you’re going to react if a workflow is late. It must be clear how any lost time is going to be made up for. But it’s also your job to make sure they don’t overwork.

I have seen people burn themselves out trying their best to meet deadlines. Their dedication is admirable, but this way of working is not sustainable. So keep the workload within reasonable limits and make sure they take some time off. It will be better in the long run.

10: Test

Make sure you have enough time for testing before launch.

Ideally, your product should be ready at least a few weeks before launch so that you can thoroughly test it. No matter how good your work, testing is sure to raise issues that need to be addressed. Because testing is pretty much the last thing before launch, it’s also the thing that’s most pressed for delays earlier in the schedule. So be ruthless to enter the testing phase on time. Otherwise, the first thing you will know about some issues will be when the product is launched to a surprised audience.

11: Learning

After launching, do a full cleanup, learning all the lessons from the project.

Usually everyone is exhausted after the launch. They want to go party or lie down in a dark room. They should have time to do it. But it’s important to review the entire project while the memories are still fresh. This way you can record any lessons that have been learned and start planning for fixes or improvements to the product that the project has initiated.

In the third and final part of this series, we take a look at an example of a successful media project and the milestones made along the way.

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