In this article, I’m going to talk about the importance of having a technical Project Manager who can ensure the successful delivery of any digital project that requires an external company to implement.
It could be someone you have on your team….
…..or someone you hire in to help.
Either way, you will see why you need one!
You commission a website rebuild and, normally, there’s a technical side to this. You need to consider SEO, performance requirements, integration with 3rd party tools, and more.
You need to build a software tool that is specific to your organization. An external provider might deliver something but will it achieve the quality you want? will it be scalable? will costs overrun because of bad planning? How easy it is to maintain? Could another company take over the code base if required?
It’s crucially important you have a strong technical person on your side for any Digital Marketing project that requires technical knowledge!
And…these managers needs to have management and marketing skills also!
What is the role of a Project Manager?
A Project Manager ensures that a piece of work is delivered to a high standard, on time and within budget.
Their role will include:
- Getting involved in the initial planning of the project
- Creating a detailed project plan which outlines the tasks for each member/team to complete
- Making sure the right team members with the right skills are involved
- Running project meetings on a regular basis to keep the project on track
- Managing resourcing for the project
- Providing regular reports
- Getting the maximum performance out of all members of the project (internal or external).
Some of the typical skills a Project Manager will have are:
- People management skills – They need to get the maximum performance out of all members of the team.
- Communication skills – They need to be able to communicate effectively with all levels of the organization. They may be required to liaise with other departments or interact with senior management.
- Negotiation skills – At times they will have to negotiate with other members of the team, external agencies, internal resources, etc.
- Presentation skills – They need to be able to present to various levels of the organization on the status of the project.
- Organizational skills – They need to be able to produce a detailed plan and stay on top of it.
The difference between a Project Manager and a Technical Project Manager
A Technical Project Manager for a marketing related project needs to have all the skills of a Project Manager plus a broad range of technical marketing skills, including:
- Website building / website technology
- Conversion Rate Optimization
- Hosting setup
- Website Performance
- Payment integration
As I’m sure you know, Digital Marketing has become quite technical over the last few years.
I started my career in technical roles within the software industry and drifted into the Marketing industry when I started a blog.
So, with a strong technical background, I had a significant advantage building a business online.
Here are some of the areas where your technical skills may be called upon with a variety of digital marketing projects:
During his fantastic presentation at the Social Media Marketing World, Chris Penn shared some stats from his CMO report revealing that the use of marketing analytics in companies reached the highest point in years at 41.5%.
I know what you are thinking….
49.5% of companies are not using analytics to track their marketing results!
The reason being is that analytics can be daunting and technical for most marketing teams!
But this still HAS to be a key part of any digital project delivery.
If you are building a website, you’ll want to know the following before you begin the project:
- What is the conversion rate for email subscribers/leads/customers on the current website?
- What are the highest converting pages?
- Where are people spending most/least amount of time on the site?
- What is the speed of the current website?
And when you are building a new website you’ll want to ensure that analytics are set up correctly from the outset.
You’ll be asking questions like:
- Are you using Google Tag Manager to set up the analytics?
- Will you set up conversion tracking?
- Some of our conversions happen on external websites, will you be setting up cross domain tracking?
- We need to track PDF downloads, can you set up event tracking for this?
- Can you set up goals for email optins?
Without a good knowledge and appreciation for analytics, the vendor may not implement this the way you need it.
Understanding architecture and software development
OK…You must be thinking we’re getting a bit too technical now…
Software development is uncharted territory for most PMs, but not for a Technical PM!
You may be building some piece of technology to help you market your business (e.g. a free assessment tool) or integrating with an existing marketing solution etc.
Understanding how software is built is particularly important when you get an external vendor to deliver a software solution and you are a technical resource on the team ensuring successful delivery of this solution.
You’ll want to be asking questions (and understanding the answers) to things like:
- What platform/technology are they using to build the solution and does it fit your needs?
The vendor could build your website using their own content management system which ties you to that vendor for a long time. You need to understand the implications of this.
You also need to understand if the underlying platform used to deliver any solution will meet your needs now and in the future.
2. Is it scalable and will it deliver the performance we want?
The solution may work well now, but how will it perform when there are heavy loads (e.g. lots of users)?
You need to ensure optimal website performance during traffic spikes.
3. How maintainable is the codebase?
Would you rather deal with one file containing thousands of lines of uncommented code?
Or with multiple files each with clearly defined pieces of functionality with comments throughout the code?
I’m sure you’d prefer the latter!
Without a reliable vendor, you may be building a project that will have problems in the future.
Traffic and Conversion
Any project that is responsible for delivering traffic to your website and converting that traffic requires a project manager who understands the technical side to this.
When an Agency says they will do SEO, what does this mean? They will want to know the exact details of the work that is required.
What is the migration plan from the existing website? I worked on a project recently and I put over 100 technical items on the migration plan. If I didn’t do this, it would affect traffic to the website.
So, here’s just some of the questions you need to ask:
- What 301redirects will be in place to redirect old pages that are no longer valid to the new website?
- Are we resubmitting the site to Google to re-index new pages after migration?
- How are the new pages optimized for the search engines?
- If we’re moving the server, is the new SSL cert ready to go?
Need help managing the technical part of a new web project? We’ll help you navigate the rough waters of technical project management!
Other areas to consider
There are other technical areas that are important to understand, for example:
- Payment integration – What systems will the vendor use? As a Project Manager, you’ll probably liaise with different payment providers that are going to ask a lot of technical questions!
- Security – Are you familiar with SSL certs? Do you know enough about potential security threats to ask questions related to encryption, protecting against spammers, etc.?
What about Project Management Methodologies/Mindsets used
The most important skill for a Project Manager is the ability to lead a team to deliver a successful project.
…there are various methodologies they can apply to help them follow a process for delivering a successful project.
Some are fully blown methodologies, like PMI, and some are more about mindset and guidelines (e.g. Scrum).
Let’s see what they are!
The Waterfall method
When I was running software development teams many years ago we used the Waterfall method.
It is very simple to understand and use – you have specific phases for the project and you move onto the next stage when the first stage is complete.
Following the waterfall method, a project moves on through 6 phases: requirements, design, implementation, verification, deployment, and maintenance.
So, you start off by documenting all the requirements for the project and, when this is signed off, you move on to the design phase.
For large complex projects, the Waterfall method does not work very well because requirements change over time and, when you have requirements signed off, it’s more difficult to adapt to changing environments.
We often ran a year-long projects and by the time the project was released our customer requirements have changed.
It’s not by chance that ‘Agile’ means to move quickly.
With the Waferfall method you are more likely to move slowly.
If you were running an Agile project, you’d map out a list of requirements and pick off the highest priority one.
Your team would then start working on the highest priority item directly with the customer and deliver a version quickly.
You’ll then get feedback from the customer, implement improvements and continue with this feedback cycle.
With Waterfall you’d have much less involvement with customers and focus more on building the entire solution as opposed to pieces of a module.
The key differences between Agile and Waterfall are:
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Responding to change over following a structured plan
- Prototyping working solutions over comprehensive documentation
Eric Ries is well known as the guy that introduced MVP to software development. Instead of building a full product you’d build a minimum viable product. This is a product that fully works but has very limited functionality.
You can then get feedback from actual customers before you move to the next stage.
Using Agile for this is perfect.
SCRUM is a type of agile framework that helps teams deliver complex projects.
The following image outlines how SCRUM works:
Lets explain each section:
Product backlog – This is a list of the functionality you want to build.
Sprint backlog – This is the list of functionality you have decided to include in the ‘Sprint’.
Sprint – A time period of less than a month where something complete and usable is built.
Scrum Master – The Scrum Master is a Project Manager with a lighter touch! They make sure the project stays on track and makes sure consensus is achieved about direction of the project.
Sprint review – A review done at the end of each sprint.
PRINCE (Projects in controlled environments)
This is a very structured and process driven way of delivering projects and it is in no way Agile.
There is a controlled beginning, middle and end to projects and it is run by a Project Manager.
There is also a Project Board which oversees the project and includes representatives from the customer (internal or external), user and supplier.
The 7 main processes for PRINCE are:
- Starting up a project
- Directing a project
- Controlling a stage
- Managing stage boundaries
- Managing Product delivery
- Closing a Project
This is in an old school method of managing projects designed by the Project Management Institute.
In their PMBOK book, they outline industry accepted processes, best practices, and guidelines for project management.
The book highlights 5 stages of the project management process:
So, in a way, this is actually a systematized structure for managing projects through phases and can be applied to most projects, no matter the size and complexity.
I’m sure you’ve heard about Six Sigma methodology in the context of big manufacturing companies, such as Motorola and General Electric.
It was actually introduced by Motorola engineers in the mid-1980s as a way to identify and minimize fault in the manufacturing process.
The DMAIC Six Sigma methodology is uses a structured approach to solving business process issues through 5 stages:
Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.
So, how can you apply this framework to project management?
You can adapt it to the specific needs of your project and focus only on the principles that you think are applicable.
Note: Six Sigma requires certification and it works best in large organizations.
Project Management Tools
To manage the project correctly, you’ll need a tool that supports the main project management functions, a tool for managing and tracking all tasks, plus some supporting tools.
Core Project Management Tools
Excel and Word
The most basic tools you can use to manage projects are Excel and Microsoft Word. A good Project Manager can deliver successful projects even if they rely only on these tools!
Asana is one of the most popular tools out there for managing projects. The reason it became so popular is that it’s incredibly easy to use even for the more complex projects.
In Asana, you can create a project, add tasks and subtasks, assign those tasks to team members, and set due dates for everything.
It lets you organize projects in Kanban style boards and also gives you a calendar view of all your project, task, and subtasks.
The premium version of Asana also offers more advanced features, such as Dependencies, Milestones, Private teams and Projects, and more.
- There’s a free version that is good enough to meet the needs of most small businesses and startups.
- Offers integrations with a variety of apps, like Slack, Dropbox, Salesforce, GitHub, and more.
- Certain tasks will require more than one person to complete. In Asana, you can’t assign a task to more than one person.
Note: There is Gantt type functionality in Asana but it’s not particularly good. We prefer to use Instagantt which is a tool that integrates with Asana and provides much better Gantt charts.
Trello with Elegant Gantt Charts
Trello is a simple to use project management tool where you organize projects into boards. You can then assign cards (tasks) to team members and these cards can be easily moved between boards. Cards in Trello contain comments, attachments, due dates synced with calendar, and more.
Elegant is an add on to Trello that produces Gantt charts (thanks to Vincent Haywood for the shout out on this).
- Good price at $12.50 per month (starting price)
- Very simple to use
- Elegant provides the Gantt chart
- It’s a basic tool so if you need more complex functionality this is probably not the one to use.
- There’s an extra cost for Elegant. This functionality should be part of the product.
First introduced in 1986, Microsoft Project has been around for a long time and is one of the most used project management software in the world.
It helps project managers be more efficient at their core activities i.e. set budget, plan and schedule, assign tasks, manage resources, track progress of the project, and do the reporting.
- Ability to work on multiple projects on a single platform, combining different project plans into one Master Project Plan.
- Different project views available i.e. Gantt Chart, a resource usage chart, a calendar, etc.
- Extremely complex tool
- Focused on Waterfall methodology which naturally excludes project management for most Web or software projects.
- It’s a desktop application so you can’t use it anywhere!
Wrike is a fairly complex platform that lets you handle the complete project management process, everything from setting goals and tasks to managing resources and tracking progress in real time.
It features multiple project views so you can switch from List, to Board, to Table, or Gantt chart at any time.
What’s great about this tool is that it allows you to create workflow templates that you can use to quickly get moving on your next project or task.
The Analytics in Wrike shows you a snapshot of the project’s tasks and milestones, as well as the charts relating to the progress of the project.
I recently wrote an article about managing marketing projects in Wrike, you can check it out for a more detailed overview of the tool.
- Apps available for Android and iOS so project managers can stay connected even while on the go.
- The tool is quite complex and if you are not familiar with it, it may take some time to get everything set up.
Workfront is a powerful web-based project management tool that helps you prioritize and manage your projects.
Project managers use this tool because it has all the features they’d need to efficiently manage projects, including: resource and task management, workflow automation, capacity planning, time tracking, advanced reporting, and more.
- Advanced resource management and scheduling features
- Integration with popular business tools like SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Box.
- Takes time to set-up your workspace and onboard new users.
This web-based project management tool has been around since 2004, and it’s definitely one of the most popular PM tools available on the market.
Unlike some of the tools we mentioned, Basecamp is really simple to use and it’s great for managing small projects.
Basecamp includes different tools, such as a message board, schedule and calendar, files library, automatic check-ins, etc., and it focuses equally on enabling easy collaboration and task management.
- Easy to set up
- Great communication (built in chat) and collaboration tools available.
- There is no way track time and there are no reporting features available.
Podio is a web-based project management tool that you can customize for your specific project needs.
In this tool, your workflow will be organized into: Organization, Workspaces, Apps, and Items.
An Organization will contain different Workspaces for different departments within your company and each Workspace will contain different apps.
Apps give you an overview of the work and help you organize different Items. These items can be anything you want them to be – a task, a meeting, a checklist, etc.
- Supports integration with a variety of apps, including Google Calendar, Dropbox, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, etc.
- Podio is a customizable tool so it can be complicated to set up and maintain.
- Time tracking is dependent on third-party integrations.
Zoho Projects is a comprehensive online project management tool that many businesses use to plan, track, and collaborate on projects.
Zoho uses Gantt charts to visualize projects as they move through the stages, while tasks are tracked with Kanban boards.
Projects can be divided into tasks, subtasks, and milestones. There are also great team collaboration features, such as activity streams, forums, and chats.
- Automated task workflows based on the criteria you set.
- Integration with 3rd party apps, including Slack, Zapier, GitHub, and Google apps.
- Time tracking with Timesheets.
- Complex functionality means there is more of a learning curve compared to simpler PM tools like Basecamp.
Teamwork is a suite of projects and the big advantage of using it is that you could end up using more than just the project functionality (they have chat, helpdesk and a document management solution).
- You can add on more products from Teamwork if you need to
- Starting at $9 per month it’s a good price but there’s a minimum of 5 users for that price
- Simple to use and nicely designed.
- No Gantt chart functionality where you can see a clear overview of the project time line, milestones, and task dependencies.
Setting up a Digital Project
When starting a new digital project, you’ll need to have a plan that will help you get from A to B and ensure successful delivery.
Working with an external vendor typically means that they will need to answer questions like:
- What is the project timeline
- What are the key milestones
- How much will it cost to deliver
- What exactly will the vendor deliver
- How will it be delivered
However, in order to effectively monitor and control project progress, you’ll need to create a detailed plan that clearly communicates your expectations.
And, you’ve guessed it, for any digital/software project this is a job for a Technical Project Manager.
Let’s take a look at what a typical project plan should entail.
The first step to creating a Project Plan is setting specific project goals, the benefits you hope to achieve, and the metrics to help you track success.
This section of the project plan shows the planned budget for the entire project as well as how these resources will be allocated.
For a project that has external vendor(s), the project manager ensures deliverables are completed according to contract terms and within the set budget.
Provide details of vendor representatives on the team as well as the internal team members assigned to provide support for the project.
We talked about various Project Management methodologies earlier in this guide and you’ll pick the one that can provide the strongest framework for your organization and the scope and requirements of the project at hand.
What are the specific outputs the vendor is expected to produce? Which method will you use to check the quality of each deliverable?
As a project manager, you also need to estimate due dates for each of the deliverables.
Write down the individual tasks that project team members need to carry out together with tasks timeframes and any additional resources needed for these tasks.
Milestones represent important events (e.g. design approval) or stages in project development (e.g. testing phase) and setting them up will help you track the progress of your project.
Using project milestones makes scheduling and reporting easier and helps keep everyone on track.
Create a high-level overview of the project timeline. You can create a visual representation of the timeline using a Gantt Chart.
Tools for Project Management
Its important to choose the right project management tool so you can keep track of the work being done and enable smooth communication and collaboration between team members.
The type of tool you select will depend on the needs of your project, but there are some general questions you’ll want to ask:
- Is the tool robust enough to support your workflow?
- Does it integrate with other tools you use?
- Does it provide good monitoring capability?
- Does it provide time tracking and project scheduling features?
If you’re not familiar with available options, we’ve highlighted some good ones in the previous chapter on Project Management Tools.
Monitoring & Reporting
Provide a summary of the monitoring and reporting mechanisms and tools for the project and how they will be implemented.
In the increasingly technical world of marketing it’s important to have a technical person on your side so you can keep everyone honest. It’s also important to manage projects effectively so they come in on time and budget.