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What a great project team looks and feels like

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Why read this? : We look at how you set up and run a great project team for marketing. Learn the 3 key types of role you have to define, and what skills are needed for each. Read this to learn what a great project team looks and feels like. 

Most people know the 4Ps of marketing as product, price, place and promotion. But as per our alternative 4Ps of marketing article, there’s a whole bunch of other Ps you also have to worry about.

These are mostly about dealing with barriers to marketing and getting things done. They include :- 

  • Project management. 
  • Planning.
  • Politics.
  • Pain management.  

The alternative 4Ps of marketing

This week, we dive into the first of these, project management. A project usually runs separately from day to day activities. It has a start and end date, a specific outcome to deliver, and is usually done by a project team who come together to do the work. 

Typical marketing examples include :-

How do projects start?

Projects have 2 different start points.

First, there’s planned projects. These are part of the brand’s longer-term strategy to meet its goals.

For example, the annual marketing plan usually identifies a number of projects to be delivered across the brand’s marketing mix.

But often, projects are reactive. Something unforeseen happens outside the business. You’re forced to create a project team to deal with it.

Coffee mug with the word begin sitting on a wooden table with blurred chairs in the background

For example, changes in government regulations. Changes with your retail customers. Competitor activities. It’s some outside event you didn’t expect. 

There’s usually an initiator for each project. This is typically a marketing or brand manager, or someone in the leadership team. Their main role is to flag :- 

  • the need for the project.
  • the need for a project team to run the project.

What makes a good project team?

It’s also usually up to the initiator to start a list of who needs to be on the project team.

This initial list will often only cover broad functional areas e.g. we need someone from marketing, sales, finance, supply chain and IT.

This list should also outline the main expected tasks needed to complete the project. 

And the first specific task on that list should be appointing the project leader. 

Project leader

Though the skill behind it is often called project management, for us, project leadership is a much better term. 

Management usually focuses on process, systems and structures. These are all important in delivering a project. But they aren’t enough on their own to ensure proper delivery of a project. 

Leadership on the other hand can cover this management role, but also encompasses a wider range of skills. For example, people related skills like :-

Man on stage with a microphone talking to a large seated audience of what appear to be university students
  • inspiring team members with a compelling vision.
  • motivating them with clear and engaging goals.
  • understanding and dealing with the different dynamics of project team decisions. 

Calling someone a project “leader” also creates a different perception to calling them a project “manager”. It makes it clearer what their role / responsibility is, and also suggests more status and authority. Managers run processes. Leaders run people. That’s important because it’s people who do the project. And the project leader’s ultimately accountable for the delivery of the project. So the project leader needs the power and resources to deliver the project.

The project leader is responsible for the project plan summary. Overall, they’re responsible for ensuring the right people do the right things to deliver the outcomes, which will include :- 

  • organising meetings.
  • tracking actions.
  • managing team communications.

This role is vital to the project’s success. Project leaders must have the right people management and organisational skills to make sure required actions happen on time and meet expectations.

The project leader leads the project team

The project leader starts by scoping out what’s needed to deliver the project.

This high level plan articulates the goal, the strategy and key deliverables, the key financial measures and the initial timing and budget.

And of course this plan also identifies who’s going to do the project i.e. the project team. 

In a small business, it’s usually obvious who’ll be in the project team.

But in bigger businesses, you’ll have more options. It’s a harder decision to make. 

One page blank project summary - includes project leader, project team, a timeline, strategy / rationale, objective, project description, target audience and point of difference, success criteria / competitive advantage, financial data, budget, recent tasks completed, project and product risk assessment, next steps, and a traffic light on track / off track table for business deliverable, budget and time

The project leader has to identify who has the necessary skills and expertise to do the required tasks. But they also have to consider how the different personalities and styles of each team member will work together. 

Some functional experts may struggle to see other function’s point of view. You want to avoid people who dominate and disrupt the group. Or who are too quiet and don’t contribute enough. 

Plus, they also have to motivate and inspire people to want to be on the project team. People don’t generally sit around waiting to work on projects. They have day jobs. If they join a project, they need to arrange their priorities so they’ve got enough time to do the project.

Putting together a good project team

The best project leaders have a good understanding of the people in the business. They understand the different dynamics and how the culture of the business works. 

In bigger businesses, you may have to negotiate with functional heads of departments to get the best person for the job.

You’ll be taking each project team member away from other work. So you need to spell out why you need them, and the value the project will add. 

Five people's hands side by side on a wooden table

This is a critical stage of the project. Get the right people on the project team, and everything runs more smoothly. The right mix of people on a project team makes working on that project a joy. 

However, get it wrong and your project is much harder to deliver. It takes longer, costs more and drains everybody’s energy. Clearly, you want to avoid that.

Bringing different functional expertise together

Most projects need different areas of functional expertise. Which expertise areas you need depends on the nature of the project. 

The challenge comes from each function usually seeing the world through their own functional lens.

Supply chain people think about how changes will impact warehousing and delivery. Finance people think about the impact on the profit and loss. Marketing and sales people think about the impact on the customer and shopper. 

Man in a suit sitting at a desk holding a phone and angrily shouting into the mouthpiece

It’s part of the project leader’s role to align these different views into a single team view. They should guide the team to agree on the goal for the project. This covers what the end result will look like (a new product launch, a new website, a packaging refresh etc), and when it will be delivered by. 

Once those are agreed, the focus shifts to how the team deliver that. That’s all the tasks and activities needed to deliver the end result. When there’s disagreements, you refer back to the agreed goal. You decide based on which actions best help you deliver that goal.

Where it gets tricky is when the project impacts on some other part of the business. It disrupts products going down the line in the factory, for example. Or an advertising campaign for a new product clashes with a planned campaign for an existing one. In those sorts of cases, you usually need to call in the project sponsor / stakeholders to help make a decision. We’ll come on to those roles shortly. 

Project team dynamics

In an ideal world, everyone on the project team gets on, and there’s no disagreements. But we don’t live in an ideal world. On most projects, you run into issues. There’ll be some level of conflict. 

This can be constructive conflict, where people build on each other’s ideas to find a better solution. Or, it can be destructive conflict, where petty grievances, politics and stubbornness grind projects to a halt. 

The project leader sets the standards and takes the lead on making sure discussions stay constructive. 

Account Management

But, each project team member has to agree to commit to this too. It’s part of their commitment to stay constructive and support the overall delivery of the goal.  

Example project team - new product launch

New product launches can be complex projects to manage through a business. They usually involve many different functions. Each function will have its own view on how best to launch the product.

A typical new product launch project team would include :-

  • Operations and Supply ChainTo manage the manufacture and delivery requirements of the new product.
  • FinanceTo create and manage the project profit and loss, costings and sales forecasts.
Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues
  • Sales and MarketingTo make sure the project fits with customer and retailer expectations. And to make sure it’s consistent with the brand identity and channel plans.
  • Research and developmentIf the new product needs new capabilities, processes or ingredients, you need R&D involvement.
  • IT to provide any required IT skills and technical support. 

Of course, If you don’t have all the skills you need in-house, you have to source help from outside. From a supplier or marketing agency, for example. Printing and graphic design experience if it’s a packaging project. Coding and UX expertise on a new website. If your business doesn’t have these skills, you pull in external people to become part of the project team. 

Solving project team issues - project sponsor / stakeholder

The project project team do the work which delivers the goal of the project.

But that project usually needs to align with other projects and activities in the business.

Plus, as we said earlier, sometimes there are issues and disputes which the project team can’t resolve themselves. 

This is where the roles of project sponsor, and project stakeholder come in. 

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

Project Sponsor

The project sponsor acts as a kind of mentor / troubleshooter for the project. They represent the project to the wider business, and help resolve disputes about the project direction. Their role is to help the project team make the best decisions based on the latest information and context.

Sponsors are usually very senior in the business. They have the contacts, negotiating skills and authority to help get projects past internal barriers. They’re the first point of contact for the project leader if any issues crop up. 

For example, if one function holds up all the other functions, they can speak directly to the head of that function to try to resolve the issue. If there’s a dispute between 2 different functions, the sponsor can step in to mediate and help find a way forward everyone can agree on. 

Project Stakeholders

Project stakeholders have a “stake” in the project. They’ll be affected by what the project delivers, and need to be consulted or advised on the progress of the project. For example, the legal team, or functional leaders with people on the project team. 

If you need to consult a stakeholder, it’s usually to get their advice and buy-in on a decision the team have taken about a project. The consulted stakeholder has some influence on the decision.

But, if it’s to advise them, that’s about telling them what’s going to happen. So, not necessarily giving them influence on the decision. 

Close up of a hand with thumb up

The project leader should identify stakeholders early on in the process, and what their “stake” is. This is often an area where projects go wrong. Senior stakeholders often feel they can comment on areas outside their “stake”. I don’t like that advertising idea, says the finance or supply chain director, for example. These sorts of inexpert interventions hold up project delivery. It’s up to the sponsor and project leader to manage this. 

So they should make clear early, how decisions about the project and its impact on the business will be made. This often means some sort of approval committee who are regularly updated about the project’s progress. This can work well on bigger, more traditional projects, but can slow down and disempower the team on smaller, more agile projects. 

Project stakeholder example - Brains Trust

One stakeholder approach we really like is how Pixar do it. They have a stakeholder team they call the “Brains Trust”. This is a small, expert team who review all creative work. They give constructive feedback to help make each project better. 

But importantly, they can’t veto a project. In most businesses, senior leaders have this power to kill projects. Not so at Pixar. The senior veto disempowers and demotivates the project team.

If a project is going off track, it should be up to the project team to recommend how to fix or kill it.

Toy doll Woody from Toy Story lying on the floor

Conclusion - The joy of organising project teams

Projects drive most types of brand activation.

But they only work when you can put together the right project team to deliver them. With the right people, your project runs smoothly, the team work well together and the outcomes lands on time, on budget, and to the right quality. 

However, there are often unforeseen issues and challenges along the way.

Getting the right project team on board makes it easier to handle these and keep the project on track. 

Man sitting in a kitchen typing on a Surface laptop and looking happy

You do this by allocating people to 3 key roles in the team – project leader, functional expert and project sponsor / stakeholder

The project leader runs the project and is accountable for making sure the outcomes are delivered. They must have the right authority, resources and people skills to run the project smoothly. 

Functional experts bring the right skills to do the tasks required. They have to manage their normal day to day workloads alongside the extra time requirement of being on the project team. They have to work constructively with the other team members and support delivery of the project’s goal.

Finally, most projects have a sponsor and stakeholders. The sponsor supports the project leader in decision-making and issue resolution as well as selling the project to the rest of the business. Stakeholders need to be involved in the project as the outcomes of the project affect them. However, this is usually only in a consultative or advisory role. They shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt or derail the project. 

Getting all the right people in these roles is how you deliver great projects with great results. 

See our innovation and brand activation guides for more on projects. Or contact us, if you need expert advice on putting together a great project team. 

Photo credits

Happy Man with a Surface laptop : Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Three people pointing at laptop : Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Coffee Cup : Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Man giving speech : Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

Hands : Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Man shouting at phone : Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Two people working together : Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

 Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Toy Story Woody doll : Photo by Melanie THESE on Unsplash

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