The Ultimate Agency Project Management Checklist [Download]

DO YOU find your team consistently working late at night to deliver projects on time? Is it difficult to know the status of a project at any given time? Are delays at certain stages of the project causing you to miss deadlines? – With so many factors that need to be taken into consideration, agency project management is one of the most difficult aspects of delivering quality work.

Since the 1970s, a cynical take on the phases of project management has been making its way around the industry circles. Ephraim R. McLean, an American organizational theorist called it the “all-too-true life cycle of a typical EDP system”. The list has been reprinted in slightly different variations in a number of project management books as a cautionary tale, stating the phases as:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Disillusionment
  • Panic and hysteria
  • Search for the guilty
  • Punishment of the innocent
  • Praise and honor for the non-participants

An unspoken assumption about the tendency towards chaos is a cautionary tale that will bring a smile of recognition to many project managers out there.

Project planning is often ignored in favor of getting on with the work. Don’t fail to realize the value of a good project plan to save time and money – and eliminate problems before they arise.

Agency project management checklist is an essential resource for the productive Project Manager. This checklist will help you manage any creative project with the highest success rate – let’s get started!

□ Schedule a discovery meeting ?

The first opportunity to make a positive impression with a client is during the discovery meeting. This is a meeting to discuss and uncover client problems and position yourself as a valuable expert, skilled with solving these problems.

The initial meeting with a client sets the tone and establishes the value of the offering. This is a key part of establishing a relationship, so it’s important to invest time and effort into preparing and leading these meetings.

Read on: The Guide to Running a Client Discovery Process via HubSpot

Being prepared for the meeting will help you to look confident, determined, and also show your expertise. A list of questions will help you stay on topic and makes sure you’re not forgetting anything.

A successful meeting ends with a review of what has been talked about and an outline of the steps that will follow. The client needs to know what to expect from you and also what is expected of them. Before you wrap up the meeting, make sure you ask the important question: “Is there anything else?” Ensure all their concerns are addressed.

□ Follow up ?

After the meeting, be sure to send out an email to your client with the subject line: Discovery Meeting Notes – (date of meeting). In this email, send a list of bullet points of all the main topics that you discussed, including any action items and concrete deadlines. Don’t forget to re-iterate the next steps before signing off. This email should be sent off no later than 24 hours after the initial meeting.

Busy clients will appreciate your attention to detail and your ability to effectively lead a meeting. They are hiring you for your expertise, and they will expect you to take initiative and lead the project. But they also want to feel like their concerns are being met – that they are being heard. The discovery meeting is the best opportunity to establish your position as the leader for this project, show your confidence in being able to meet their needs, and set their minds at ease.

□ Research ?

Before taking on a project, you have to stop and make sure you know all the facts. Take a deep breath and dive into the project documentation, ask thoughtful questions, be informed and methodical.

Once you shake hands and say your farewells, you are not done. It’s important to review all the main points of your meeting once you’re back in your office. The sooner, the better because if you wait too long you might forget the context of some of your notes or miss out on some new ideas that pop up.

□ Understand your role ?

A project manager is a person who has the overall responsibility for the successful initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure of a project.

Having a clear understanding of your role in a project is an important pillar of the success of the project. Even if it isn’t documented on paper, it will help you ensure that all stakeholders are considered and that you’re aware of your responsibilities in case issues arise.

Read on: Top Creative Project Management Tips from 9 Agency Leaders

□ Identify the stakeholders ?

A project is successful when it has met the expectations of all stakeholders. A stakeholder can be anybody directly or indirectly impacted by the project.
It is not always easy to determine the project’s stakeholders, particularly those affected indirectly.

A stakeholder could be:

  • The client
  • The project manager
  • The project team
  • Consultants
  • The customer who receives the deliverables

□ Create the creative brief ?

A creative brief is a document that explains the ins and outs of a project for the creative team, agency, or designer who’ll be working on it. Think of it as a blueprint for your project that not only helps the creative team but also will help you as you shape the overall strategy and goals for the project.

Use this creative brief template to plan your marketing communications projects. The brief provides a roadmap that keeps your efforts strategically focused and helps set client expectations.

Download: Creative Brief

While it takes a bit of time to develop a solid creative brief, it’ll be well worth it to help ensure the deliverables you receive align with your expectations and business needs. Not to mention, it’ll also make the whole process smoother and more efficient, and most likely save you money in the long run.

Read on: Stop Making These Project Management Mistakes

□ Write a project plan ?

Now you’ve gathered enough information to start planning the project. Use whatever project planning tool that works for you, be it Trello, Basecamp, Scoro, or even a simple spreadsheet.

Some tools are more comprehensive than others, but a rock solid project plan can be achieved in any solution as long as it helps you to formalize your thoughts and keep consistency.

Read on: Project Management Tools For Marketing Agencies

Try to make your project plan as simple as possible – the more straightforward and easier it is to read, the better.

□ Set (measurable) goals ?

The first step in creating any project plan is setting achievable goals. Meet with the stakeholders, and discuss the possible outcomes. Turn the output into a comprehensive list, and prioritize the needs. A good technique for doing this is reviewing them against the SMART principle.

The acronym SMART has several slightly different variations, which you can modify depending on your project:

S – specific, significant
M – measurable, motivational
A – agreed upon, attainable, action-oriented
R – realistic, relevant, rewarding, results-oriented
T – time-bound, tangible, trackable

Remember: Every goal has to be measurable. Depending on your project’s objectives, you can track various Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Monitoring KPIs helps to evaluate the project’s performance and make data-driven decisions.

Read on: 16 Essential Project KPIs That Benefit the Entire Team

□ Develop the budget ?

A project budget is a detailed, time-based estimate of all the costs for your project. You typically develop a budget in phases – from an initial estimate to a detailed version to the final approved project budget.

When starting a project, it is difficult to know how much it will eventually cost – and with so much uncertainty in projects, it can be one of the project manager’s greatest challenges.

Your project budget will be made up of different direct and indirect costs, with a small amount assigned for contingency reserve.

Once you have an idea how long a project is going to take and how many resources you need (coming right up in the checklist!), you can calculate the approximate total for the direct and indirect costs.

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□ Determine the direct costs

These costs are directly attributed to the project and charged on an item-by-item basis.

  • Labor (people) costs
  • Consultant fees
  • Software license
  • Travel costs

□ Determine the indirect costs

These costs signify resources that benefit more than one project, and only a proportion of their total cost is charged to the project.

  • Telephone charges
  • Office space rent
  • Office equipment costs
  • General administration costs
  • Company insurance costs

□ Add the contingency reserve

Don’t forget to reserve a buffer for your project to cover risks – the contingency reserve. Usually, it’s a percentage, such as 5% – 10%, of the estimated cost of the total project cost and time.

For example, a project manager may estimate the project cost to be $100,000. Assuming a 10% contingency reserve, the project manager would estimate the contingency reserve to be $10,000 (i.e., $100,000 x 10%). The project manager would add the contingency reserve to the project estimate resulting in a cost baseline of $110,000.

Read on: Review Your Agency’s Workflow in 6 Steps

□ Create a resource allocation plan ?

An organization’s resources include people, equipment, materials, knowledge, and time.
Find out what resources are available for the project, now and in the future. A resource allocation plan is an important tool in the effective management of scarce resources.

Describe the type of resources needed and the timing of that need. As the project schedule changes, the resource plan must be flexible enough to adjust as these alterations occur.

A Resource Plan will help you to:

  • Identify the amount of resources required per project activity
  • Plan the timeline for using or consuming these resources
  • Create a detailed resource utilization schedule

Read on: The Complete Guide to Winning Project Management Sprints

□ Establish the deliverables ?

Using the previously defined goals, create a list of things the project needs to deliver to meet those goals. Simply put – tasks and subtasks. Specify when and how to deliver each item.

Add notes to tasks that might seem confusing or need an explanation. It never hurts to add detail!

□ Create a timeline ?

Create a list of tasks that need to be carried out for each identified deliverable. For each task, determine the following:

  • The amount of effort (hours, days, etc.) required for completing the task
  • The responsible person who will carry out the task

Once you have established the amount of time needed for each task, you can work out the effort required for each deliverable, and a delivery date.

At this point in the planning, you can use project planning software such as Scoro, Wrike, MS Project or any of your choosing, to create your project schedule. Alternatively, use one of the many free templates available.

Read on: 21 Best Wrike Alternatives

□ (Re-)assess the deadline ?

A common problem discovered at this point is that you have an imposed delivery deadline from the client, that, based on your estimates, is unrealistic.

If you discover that you can’t deliver the project on time, you must contact the client immediately.

The options you have:

  • Renegotiate the deadline (project delay)
  • Employ additional resources (increased cost)
  • Reduce the scope of the project (fewer deliverables)

Use the previously created project schedule to justify pursuing one of these options.

□ Create a communications plan ?

A project must begin with clear communication of the project goals and the effort required to meet them.

Create a document showing:

  • Who should be informed about the project
  • How often and when should they be informed
  • How will they receive the information

The most common reporting tool is the weekly or monthly status report, describing how the project is performing, milestones achieved, and the work you’ve planned for the next period.

Read on: Top 21 Must-Read Blogs For Creative Agencies

□ Create a risk management plan ?

Although often overlooked, risk management is an important part of project management. It is important to identify as many risks to your project as possible and be prepared if something bad happens.

Here are some examples of common project risks:

  • Unclear roles and responsibilities
  • Poor communication resulting in misunderstandings, quality problems and rework
  • Stakeholders adding or changing requirements after the project has started
  • Lack of resource commitment
  • Misunderstanding stakeholder needs
  • No stakeholder input obtained
  • Too optimistic time and cost estimates

Remember: Ignoring risks doesn’t make them go away

□ Manage the documentation ?

To keep the project transparent and everyone on the same page, keep your project plan attached to other project-related documents such as the proposal, time logs, work reports, meeting notes, or anything else that might come in handy.

□ Track the progress ⏱

Congratulations, you made it! Don’t forget to update your plan as the project makes progress, and continually measure progress against the plan.

Project managers often use a project KPI dashboard that provides a quick overview of the project’s performance and updates. Having a real-time overview of the KPIs helps to make informed decisions and achieve long-term goals.

Read on: What is a KPI Tracking Dashboard? The Complete Guide

Good luck! ?