It’s a bright Monday morning, coffee in hand, you’re strolling into the office feeling good about your to-do list. You’ve finally been able to cross off those three items that have been lingering there for weeks and move on to the next set of to-do’s. But little do you know, there’s an email waiting in your inbox from your executive: “We are considering migrating Marketing Automation systems. I would like you to lead this project, so let’s chat.” Quite a few thoughts (AKA worries) immediately pop into your mind! (We’ll get to those in a bit.) We’ve come up with a great structure for how to attack a project of this size and I wanted to share it.
For those who may be new to this area, MA Ops are typically responsible for large, tactical projects of major importance that span multiple divisions of a company: Marketing, Data, Systems, Web Development, Design, and others. You may think that large projects can only be handled internally due to their complexity, but collaboration with outside partners IS possible with the right framework and processes in place — regardless of your company size or available resources.
This subject is top of mind for me because I’ve just gone through two “mega” projects of this nature with a client. My role as Senior Account Director was a mix of Project Manager, Consultant, Strategist, and most importantly – the extension of the MA Ops team who had to figure out WHAT needed to get done, HOW all of this was going to get done, WHO was going to do it, and HOW LONG it would take. (While my examples are about migration projects, these tactics can apply to any large project.)
Now, those thoughts and worries start swarming into your mind. . .
“How the heck am I going to attack this thing?! I’m not sure what to think of first. . .”
There’s just no way to be successful with a big project without taking the time up front to think about how you are going to structure it. “Taking the time up front” sounds obvious, right? Of course a meticulous planning exercise will kick off the project, but make sure that your own team and your executive leadership truly understand the importance of up-front planning and how long it may take. You don’t have to go to battle yourself. Having a trustworthy partner by your side – one who has gone through projects of this magnitude before – makes all the difference.
Establish your task force: This is the core group of leaders that are going to be responsible for this project:
- Executive Owner: the executive champion at your company
- Owner, client (company)
- Owner, service partner (like DemandGen!)
- Owner, technology company provider
“Does my Executive team understand how BIG this thing really is? This is going to consume a lot of my day and I still have my day job, too!”
It’s important to make sure you are on the same page with the Executive Owner of the project regarding how much budget you have to throw at the project, how much time you can expect other team members to spend on it, and when the Executive team expects to see results.
Understand budget, resources, and timeline:
- Budget: How much budget is my Executive Owner going to be able to secure for this project every quarter and in total?
- Resources: Do I have the right people with the right skills on my team to take on this project? How much should I lean on a partner?
- Timeline: How much time do I have to finish the project?(so I can begin to formulate an aggressive, median, and conservative timeline)
“There is so much that goes into a project of this size. Am I thinking of all the areas of the business this project might affect? How do I know that I am securing the right resources to complete the project?”
Everybody has a different interpretation of what a “big” project might be. It’s important to dig in and determine the details and requirements that make up the backbone of the project.
Break down the project into a hierarchal structure that will allow you to think and talk about the project using a clear taxonomy. Through multiple planning conversations and white-boarding sessions, this exercise allows you to boil down the project and figure out what it really consists of. You’ll be surprised how many layers of the onion there are once you peeling the project apart (and heads up, some of them can get pretty stinky). Here are examples of the taxonomy we used:
- Milestones & Milestone Owners: The highest level of the project “hierarchy.” Milestones could include areas such as Data, Systems, Measurement & Reporting, Lead Scoring, Nurture Design, Testing & QA, etc.. The Milestone Owner plays the Project Manager role for the Milestone.
- Tasks & Task Owners: All Milestones have a set of Tasks that roll up to the Milestone level. Tasks represent the stages of each Milestone that need to be completed in order to satisfy the requirements of the Milestone. Task Owners should be assigned based on knowledge, skill set, availability, and other factors. Task Owners serves as the Lead SME (Subject Matter Expert) and “report” to the Milestone Owner.
SME Team: To get the tasks done, the Task Owners need resources. These resources are the SMEs who have the special knowledge of business areas needed for your project. Make sure SMEs understand their roles and deliverables so you can make the most of their time.
Using project management software such as Podio (a Citrix product) as the central repository for your project hierarchy will make your life MUCH easier. This repository is where all Milestones and Tasks exist, including roll-up reporting on project status and completeness. Your Milestone and Tasks Owners will be able to collaborate with other Owners and SME team members in one central location.
“How do I make sure the multiple departments of my company are working together effectively? Which Milestones need to happen first? Which can wait until the end? How are all of these new pieces and processes going to affect the Marketing Automation infrastructure as whole?”
This is where the rubber really meets the road. You’ve broken down the project into 8-10 Milestones, your Tasks within each Milestone are outlined, you’ve identified the Owners and SMEs of each task – you’re feeling good! Now you have to figure out how all of this stuff plays together. It’s not easy, but it is vital as you continue to solidify the project timeline.
Identify dependencies across Milestones & Tasks: Don’t underestimate the time it takes to coordinate among multiple Milestone Owners around Milestone and Task dependencies. We started off with a whiteboard session filled with numbers, letters, and squiggly lines that eventually graduated to a PowerPoint slide. We took it to the next level of detail and moved the project plan and dependencies into an Excel GANTT chart, which then made its way to its final state in Podio and another project management tool
- One of the main goals of going through this detailed process to identify dependencies is to put substance behind the original timeline you proposed at the very beginning of the project. This goes back to my point earlier around developing three versions of the timeline/project plan – aggressive, median, and conservative.
Planning beats worrying every time!
Hopefully this quick peek at some “thought themes” gives you a few hints and helpful tactics to help you plan your mega-project. As we all know, any complex project will present unforeseen obstacles and unavoidable hiccups. You will be able to forge past those obstacles and minimize those hiccups with an ironclad project structure and a well thought out plan of attack.
I would be happy to answer any questions you have or go into more detail around the planning process we went through, so please leave a comment below or email me.
Interested in knowing more about successful MA projects? We’d love to talk with you; to schedule a call, just drop a note to our Business Development team.
As a Senior Account Director, Ron Scrafano helps DemandGen clients adopt and optimize marketing technologies across their organizations. Ron was an early pioneer in the Marketing Automation industry starting in 2007 when he became an Eloqua certified expert and began to enable success for hundreds of B2C and B2B organizations.