I was talking with a business owner recently and the subject of hiring a project manager came up. This growing business does professional videos. He is a bit overwhelmed by the many deadlines he is facing and wondering if hiring a project manager might solve the problem. The conversation made me think about the differences between the kinds of complex projects that I more typically manage and the need for him to better manage a growing batch of repeatable processes. And, at the end of the day, each video production effort is a set of repeatable processes.
I won’t elaborate on his method for creating videos. Suffice it to say that most of us can imagine a series of steps, starting, perhaps, with the contract signing. Many of these involve some form of communication between the client and the production company.
Treating each video as a separate project, with a charter and a full-blown project plan seems like a lot of work to a startup. And, the company needs to look at a calendar for all of its project deadlines, of which there could be many – as the company grows.
This situation is not too different from other kinds of smaller companies that do small projects for clients. Consider a technology company that creates software features for clients. In that case, the client could submit a feature request, a request for a larger group of features, or a simple bug-fix request. What does the software company do? Work with the client to define the requirements, much like a video production company does. Then, develop the feature or the video. Then, review with the client, test and tweak. And release. It’s pretty similar; repeatable processes.
So, what project management considerations should guide these two companies, and many others like them?
Develop clear requirements
It doesn’t matter whether you are looking at a video production project or a software development project, understanding what the client is looking for is critical. Ask lots of questions. Peel back the onion, as they say. Document the requirements, or have the client document them. Try to get clarity on the big details before you begin.
You may find that the client keeps changing his or her mind. This is not unusual. Make sure that the client understands that time spent finalizing requirements before work begins can save re-work. But understand that sometimes the client will learn things that will result in a change. And that is unavoidable.
While you are developing client requirements, make sure you understand what is most important to your client. Is it scope, schedule, or costs? Have you clarified how much quality the client is willing to pay for? Said differently, is the client planning to test the software or is it expecting you to do serious testing? And for video production, knowing the end goal of the client and a budget range may tell you how much quality they can afford.
As regular readers know, I’m a big proponent of having a compelling why. But sometimes, the why is as simple as the client asked me to do X and is planning to pay me for the work.
But that may not help your client. And if the client’s why is not compelling and urgent, you may find that the client is often unresponsive when you need its help. If you can help the client verbalize its why statement, you may be able to improve your client responsiveness – reducing the overall time to complete the project.
Schedule regular client check-ins
Every client is different. Some prefer emailed updates. Some prefer phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
I find it helpful, with many clients, to have a set meeting time – every week, two, or four. That allows everyone to plan the amount that can be delivered by the next meeting and aim for that. You and your client will both understand what your next steps are after the meeting.
And, it pretty much eliminates the problem of invoices going out without the client feeling like he or she has received some value during the last billing cycle.
Understand your communications strategy
How do your clients want to communicate with you? It’s hard to change your client. If they want to use email, you may find it easier to just allow that, rather than forcing them to use a particular tool.
How do you need to communicate with the client? Are there routine communications that can be automated, or are the communications more customized and responses to specific requests?
Develop a plan for managing deadlines
Even with repeatable processes, when a really small company is working for multiple clients, there are simply going to be days when the company is juggling competing needs. This is particularly true if you are a software company, and you service the software that you have built.
For years, I have advocated using fewer deadlines and designating those that just cannot be missed as fixed deadlines. You can use target deadlines as a way to manage the schedule, without cluttering your calendar with so many deadlines.
What I don’t advise is getting so many deadlines on your calendar that you miss the forest for the trees, and don’t take the important deadlines seriously.
If your company routinely manages repeatable processes for other clients, what kind of software are you using, and how does it make your life easier? Does that software address the considerations that I have outlined? Share the answer in the comments section.