Today we’re going to take everything I said about formal project management methodologies and throw it out the window. Let’s simplify to the 5 key project stages. As a professional that’s not a project manager by trade, what do you actually need to know (and do!) in order to complete a project?
Extra tip of the day: Do the basics well and you’ll be a rockstar. A surprising number of people don’t do the basics well.
Also, don’t overcomplicate it. Really, don’t. A project has a beginning, middle, and end. If you want to go totally crazy, there’s also the getting ready before a project actually starts and the recapping after it’s over. Translated into stages, that breaks down to:
5 Key Project Stages
- Plan the project
- Plan the work
- Do the work
- Hand off the work
- Review and assess the project
Plan the project
The primary objective here is to decide that you’re going to do a project, what the scope of the project is, and ensure that the right resources are prepared to do the project. In this instance, resources includes people, tools and budget. People includes both those within your team and any agency or freelancer that you may engage to conduct the work.
If you’re the client (ie, the person/company who wants the project done), key questions to consider include:
- Do you really need to do this project? Is there another way that the same outcome can be achieved?
- What all is included in the project?
- Who are all the stakeholders involved? What are their roles?
- Will you work with any outside resources (agency, freelancer, etc) to complete the project?
- What approvals are needed to start the project?
- What is the project budget?
If you’re the agency or freelancer, key questions to consider include:
- Do you have the time and bandwidth to take on this project?
- Is this project within your skill set?
- Have you worked with this client before? How are they to work with?
- Does the client’s budget cover your rates?
Plan the work
Once you’ve gotten approval to move forward with a project, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty on exactly what needs to be done in the project.
If you’re the client of the project, it’s time to:
- Create a detailed Project Brief. This will include a final list of deliverables (which should line up with what you scoped in the Project Planning phase), as well as all of the information that the agency or freelancer needs to complete the work. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Your strategy
- Your target market
- Your must-haves (and don’t do’s) for each element
- Any relevant technical specifications
- Share the Project Brief with those doing the work. This includes those working within your organization as well as the agency/freelancer.
The goal is to include all relevant information in the Project Brief document, but it is always recommended to meet and discuss the Brief to ensure all parties understand what is documented.
If you’re the agency or freelancer, consider:
- Did the client deliver a clear project brief? If so, do you you fully understand the brief or have additional questions?
- If you didn’t receive a brief, have the client complete a Client Intake Form where you lead them by providing questions for them to answer.
- Are you able to fully deliver on what the client is requesting? Are there are any pieces of the project that need to be re-negotiated? Now is the time to do those.
Note: For small projects with few stakeholders, the project stages of planning the project and planning the work often blur together.
Do the work
This sounds rather obvious: It’s the part where you do the work. It’s also the part where the project can get lost in the weeds.
Hopefully, during the Plan the Project phase, your Scope of Work identified how many rounds of creative you would have, who the stakeholders in each round are, how feedback will be provided, and what the timeline for each step is.
Hand off the work
So simple, yet so much potential for error. Now is not the time to slack off! By this point, many of us are already looking ahead to the next thing, and it’s entirely too easy to miss little details.
Time to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
As the agency/freelancer:
- Review the Project Brief and ensure that every deliverable is included in your hand off.
- Ensure the file types requested are all sent.
- Ensure there are no spelling errors, color errors, or any other type of errors.
- Follow up with the client to ensure that they received everything and that it meet their needs.
As the client:
- Review what’s received against the Project Brief. Did the agency deliver everything promised?
- Review all the files. Are they all accurate? Do this in a timely manner so any last-minute edits can be made before the project teams have moved on.
- Confirm with the agency/freelancer that you have received all the files, and thank them for their work.
Review and assess the project
Now is the time to conduct a post-mortem. And, if you’re the agency/freelancer, send your final invoice and follow up on payment.
Key questions to ask on the client side:
- What went well?
- What didn’t?
- What would you do differently next time internally with your team?
- What would you expect an agency/partner to do differently on a next project?
Key questions to ask on the agency side:
- What went well?
- What didn’t?
- What would you do differently next time?
- What would you expect a client to do differently on a next project?
- Is this a client that you would like to work with again in the future?
- Is this a type of client that you would like to work with in the future?
Want more detail on how and when to conduct a post-mortem? You’re in luck! Learn more.
After that, it’s time to use your knowledge of project stages to plan your next project! At least, in a dream world. In reality, you may be working on multiple projects in different stages at the same time – which makes managing projects well that much more important!
Learn more about project management for creatives.
What stage of managing a project do you do well? Are there any project stages you need to work on?