Why read this? : We dive into how you set up and run a great marketing project team. Learn which skills drive the 3 key roles you need to assign. 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.
- Pain management.
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 to grow the brand.
But some projects are more reactive. Something unexpected happens. And you’re forced to create a project team to deal with it.
For example, government regulations change. Retail customers change their approach. Competitors do something surprising. It’s some outside event you didn’t expect.
Either way, 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 listing who should 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 tasks needed to complete the project.
And the first task is usually appointing someone to run the project. A project leader.
Though the skill’s often called project management, in fact, project leadership is a much better term.
Management usually focuses on process, systems and structures. These are all important in project work. But they aren’t enough on their own to ensure great project delivery.
Leadership, on the other hand, can cover this management role, but also encompasses a wider range of skills. For example, people related skills like :-
- inspiring team members with a compelling vision.
- motivating them with clear and engaging goals.
- understanding and dealing with the dynamics of project team decisions.
The title project “leader” also creates a different perception being 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 its delivery. So the project leader needs the power and resources to succeed.
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 right 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 not always so obvious.
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 have to arrange their priorities so they’ve got enough time for 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 have to spell out why you need them, and the value the project will add.
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 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.
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 project’s goal. This covers what the end result will look like (a new product launch, a new website, a packaging refresh etc), and when it’ll be delivered by.
Once agreed, the focus shifts to how the team deliver the goal. That’s all the tasks and activities needed to deliver the end result. When there’s disagreements, you refer back to the goal. You decide based on which actions best help you deliver the goal.
Where it gets tricky is when the project impacts on another 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. 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.
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 :-
Of course, If you don’t have all the skills 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 join the project team.
Solving project team issues - project sponsor / stakeholder
The project team do the work which delivers the project’s overall goal.
But that project usually has 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.
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 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 when issues arise.
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 have a “stake” in the project. They’re affected by what the project delivers, and should 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 want to make. The consulted stakeholder has some influence on the decision.
But, if it’s to advise them, it’s more telling them what’s going to happen. They won’t be able to have much influence on the decision.
The project leader should identify stakeholders early in the process, and what their “stake” is. This is often an area where projects go wrong. Some stakeholders 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 updating some sort of approval committee about the project’s progress. This can work well on bigger, more traditional projects, but may slow down and disempower the team on smaller, more agile projects.
Project stakeholder example - Brains Trust
One stakeholder approach we like is how Pixar do it. They’ve 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 ideas. 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.
Conclusion - Great 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 team, your project runs smoothly 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.
You do this by assigning 3 key roles – project leader, functional expert and project sponsor / stakeholder.
The project leader runs the project and is accountable for delivering the outcomes. They must have the right authority, resources and people skills to run the project smoothly.
Functional experts bring the skills to do the required tasks. 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.