Project Management

Tight Deadline? Use These Project Management Tips

Here at WebDevStudios (WDS), we build websites for countless number of reasons. Each project is unique in its own requirements and goals.One thing remains the same, though: the hopes and dreams of having plenty of time to complete the desired website build. Unfortunately, we all know that isn’t always the case. Did inspiration suddenly strike? Is the website project you have been working on suddenly pivoting? Do you have a last-minute marketing campaign to launch requiring a new website or a new landing page on your current one? Below are some effective project management (PM) tips to help successfully meet a tight deadline.

Campbell’s Snow Day Campaign

As a project manager at WDS, I have the opportunity to work with a variety of amazing clients. One of our longtime partners is the Campbell Soup Company. Late last year, they came to us with an exciting campaign they were launching. In light of the recent turn to virtual learning due to the ongoing pandemic, they wanted to launch a campaign to bring back the snow day! We thought it was a great idea full of potential, but there was one caveat—the timeline to launch was quick and included a tight deadline. 

As the end of the year was quickly approaching and winter was falling upon many regions, there was an urgent push to get the Save the Snow Day campaign launched. With this campaign, users come to the site to pledge to help save the snow day. They are asked to to enter their zip code, which then shows up on an interactive map to see where others who have pledged are also located. In addition, users have the option to share on Instagram, download coloring page PDFs, and at the beginning of the launch, could even sign up to receive a free snow day kit.

What were we building?

As with any project, the first step is understanding what the goal and requirements are of the project. This is even more crucial with a tight deadline because you don’t want to waste any time focusing on something not critical to the build. In this case, our strategy team worked closely and quickly with the client to determine this project needed:

  • A teaser page
  • A landing page on a new domain
  • Integration with a form and Salesforce API
  • The ability to map pinpoints on a map
  • Instagram plugin
  • Ability to download PDFs

How much time did we have?

Once we knew what we were building, we needed to understand if those requirements aligned with timeline and budget. In this case, the teaser page needed to be up within a week of kicking off strategy. The full landing page would launch a few weeks after that. All in all, it ended up being about a seven-week timeline from first learning about the project to launching the full landing page.

Assembling the Team

Who had the bandwidth to take this on? What skills did the team need to possess? 

Knowing we had to move quickly, we understood there would be some crossover amongst teams as well. It was important that as our strategy team was working with the client to understand the deliverables, they were also in constant communication with our engineering team. Allowing the engineers to give their input up front on the way to handle some of the requirements allowed for them to move a bit quicker when it came time for actual development. We assembled a small but nimble team who had the bandwidth and skills ready to take on the project challenges.

Gathering the Materials

A photograph of a desk with a pencil holder, filled with black pencils, a stack of white paper with a camera on top of the stack.In a perfect world, you have everything you need to get started on a project before diving in. However, with tight timelines, sometimes you need to start early with whatever you have. We ensured that the engineers had the access they needed as soon as possible to get the site stood-up and that we had a finalized version of the mock-ups. Like most projects, we understood things may need to be adjusted slightly, but we didn’t want that to hold us up from getting started.

The first part of this build was a teaser page. We knew we could stand that up quickly once we had necessary site access. This bought a bit of time on both sides to get the remaining assets and approvals needed for the full landing page build. Whenever it’s possible to work in phases or stages, it’s a great route to go, especially in tight time situations.

Site Build and PM’ing the Process

The most crucial element once we entered the development process was continued communication with both the internal and client teams. We couldn’t just go heads down and pop out on the other side with a finished product. We had to ensure everyone was on the same page the whole time since there wasn’t a lot of room for error here. 

As a project manager, it was my job to ensure all tasks were outlined clearly with their deliverables. Don’t make your team go hunting for requirements. I ensured each task had an objective, user stories, technical requirements, screen shot, and links to any other applicable documents. The sooner an engineer can dive into the work, the sooner things are going to get done. At the same time, if there are questions that arise, it’s my job to be available as needed and work between my internal teams and the client teams to help remove any blockers or barriers.

As we were developing, if we ran into any issues we alerted the Campbells team as soon as possible. They would then work to respond quickly with answers. Likewise, if a change came up from the Campbells side, we had to ensure we were agile enough that we could address the change.

Working within a small team allowed us to quickly adapt and provide visibility to what everyone was working on. It allowed for constant communication between myself as a PM with my team, as well as amongst engineers. It’s crucial when working with a tight deadline that you have everyone’s buy-in from the beginning—both from an internal and client side.

Time for Launch

A photograph of four white clocks with black numbers and black hands hanging on a white wall. Each clock is set to a different time zone: London, New York, Tokyo, and Moscow.As development was finishing up, we had to ensure it went through the proper channels for approval. This included client reviews, legal reviews, and security reviews. Although no major issues arose, we needed to make sure we had availability to jump on any last minute changes before going live. Because this was a larger campaign that was getting launched in conjunction with multiple press releases and such, we needed to ensure the landing page would be ready to go as soon as we got the approval.

On December 2, 2020, the landing page officially went live receiving rave reviews from multiple national sources. We couldn’t have been more proud to be a part of it! Even after launch, the team didn’t hesitate to make a few adjustments to improve user experience.  For example, due to the overwhelming response, the number of zip code points quickly overtook the whole map. Our team refined that function by grouping zip codes together that would expand only upon zoom to improve the visual experience.

So what did we learn about project management and tight deadlines?

1. Ensure everyone understands the overall project goal.

It’s important everyone on the project has an understanding of the ultimate goal. It’s not enough to just create a list of tasks and have a team blindly build a site and be done with it. For this project, there were a lot of “why” questions asked in the beginning to help our team understand what the end goal was. In understanding the bigger picture, it helps with problem solving and prioritization of tasks.

In this example, the main element was collecting user data to illustrate zip codes on a map. This was to help bring awareness to the number of individuals pledging to save the snow day. With that understanding we were able to focus on the user experience of the form and the map functionality. It doesn’t mean that other elements of the build don’t get the same attention to detail, but it ensures everyone has a shared vision of what the larger focus should be.

Once we had an understanding of what we were trying to achieve with the map, we comprehended the complexities of integrating a map with a form. Having a clear understanding helped the team pinpoint the exact functionality of what was needed so we could work together to find the best solutions possible.

2. Keep clear and constant communication amongst all teams.

A photograph of an open Mac Book set atop a black desktop.I can’t stress enough how important communication is. It’s important on any project, but with tight deadlines, it’s extremely essential. From the very beginning, you need to ensure that both the client and internal teams understand this is going to take commitment from both sides to meet the deadline. If there are delays on either end, it could put the project in jeopardy.

Internally, the team must be in constant communication with one another to ensure transparency. This can be done by setting up daily scrums, ensuring progress reports are left on tasks, and encouraging team members to ask questions if they get stuck.  If they are unclear on something, it’s important they feel comfortable reaching out to the team to avoid going down the wrong path. You don’t want to hinder productivity by pinging someone or checking in with them every two seconds, but it’s important as a project manager to have an understanding where everyone is on a daily basis for progress tracking.

With the client, communication is just as important. From the very beginning, it needs to be clear what the requirements are and any deliverables they’ll be responsible for. As the project progresses, you want to ensure you’re in constant communication of status updates. 

It’s recommended to set up ongoing status meetings, provide demos to confirm alignment on features, and set expectations on response times needed. You want to ensure the client understands if blockers come up we’ll need to work together to find a solution so that progress isn’t delayed. Having a strong relationship from the onset with the client, where you know you can rely on them and they can rely on you in a timely manner, is crucial to these types of projects.

3. Set clear expectations from the beginning and stick to them.

From the onset of a project, it’s important to be clear about the requirements, deliverables, and expectations. With a tight deadline, there will be little room to readjust, so you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the beginning. This starts with outlining a clear timeline, with deadlines for deliverables, and getting everyone’s buy-in and approval.

You also want to ensure requirements are clearly stated within a project plan and when building out tasks. This will help alleviate any confusion as you work throughout the build so that everyone is aware of exactly what was agreed upon for this time and budget.

Aside from the actual requirements, you also want to make it clear what the expectations will be from both sides. From a WDS side, we ensure clients know they can expect daily updates from us, demos of the work, and timely communication. In response, it’s important clients understand their expectations such as providing timely feedback, sticking to the agreed-upon requirements, and providing any needed deliverables.

The sooner you can set expectations the better, and ensure you stick to them throughout the project. This will ensure the project stays on track from a timing, budget, and deliverable perspective.

Looking toward your next project?

This is a photograph of two hourglasses filled with sand, one white, one black. They are framed by a black frame.Working with a tight deadline certainly has its challenges. Making use of effective project management strategies can help ensure the success of any last-minute marketing campaigns.

As illustrated above, the Campbell’s Save the Snow Day campaign is the perfect example of those practices.  By ensuring everyone understands the project goal, encouraging constant communication, and providing a clear set of expectations we were able to help Campbells launch an incredibly successful campaign.   

Need a team with an excellent project management team to help build your next website? Contact us!

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