Tools, Processes & Remote Teams: 11 Tips to True Project Management Success in Production

When it comes to the world of Production, Project Managers are often the unsung heroes. Without them, there would be complete and costly chaos throughout the process. Great PMs have mastered the balance of logistical know-how and superb organization with their own unique form of creativity and compassion to ensure projects are brought to life.

But they don’t do it alone. They have the help of tech and resources that make putting these skills to work a lot more efficient and effective. So Assemble’s awesome PMs have shared their top tips that all Project Managers need to stay on their A-game in an ever-changing, fast-paced industry like ours.

Tools

  1. Finding the Fit For Your Team — Now & Later
    The best way to set you and your team up for success is not only focusing on your current needs, but also what those needs may look like in the future. There are a lot of great tools out there that have made all aspects of project management easier and more efficient, but that tool has to be able to evolve with you. Whether that means incorporating new employees and tasks as your team grows or being able to adjust as your services change or expand, make it a priority to pick the brain of your product rep as to how they adapt to industry changes and advancing integrations. Do your due diligence now so you don’t get stuck throwing band aids on the situation later.

  2. Make Sure You Can Customize
    Speaking of finding the right tools for your team — this will require some on-going work on your end! Every team works differently, so just because a tool is being used by agencies across the industry, doesn’t mean they’re all used the same way. Make sure the project management and communication tools you are considering, allow for the utmost customization — down to the individual project.

    “Having a tool that is flexible is so important to being able to adapt to both client and team member needs,” Fran Reyes, Senior Project Manager at Assemble, explains. “We use our tools in tandem; we create a new project in AirTable and then open a new Slack channel for all related discussions. We give every project a unique ID and then divide it into phases and then even further by specific capabilities required — which may be totally different to the way another agency works. But we make sure our tools can accommodate the work style we prefer and not the other way around.”

  3. Provide the Right Amount of Access
    While transparency throughout the process is super important (we’ll get into that more later), just because you can give someone access to something, doesn’t mean you should. With multiple projects on the plates of your developers and designers, the constant chatter from messages or distractions from notifications isn’t going to help them get things done any faster.

    “We schedule everything right up front, so that everyone on the project knows what to expect throughout each phase,” Fran added. “But then we create different “views” for each team member so they only see what’s relevant to them. They can access the full project scope at any time, but narrowing in on only what’s needed from them allows them to focus on their day-to-day tasks without distraction. The same goes for our communication tools. Every project will have an overarching channel where all important project updates are relayed, but then we also have individual messages set up for each department. That way, if the dev team is asking me a question in regard to their tasks, design doesn’t get bothered by unnecessary pings. We make sure everyone has a space to discuss and collaborate, while trying to minimize the chatter as much as possible.” 

Here are some of our top recs in PM tools:

  • For Project Management: Jira, Basecamp
  • For Resourcing: Float
  • For Communication/Collaboration: Slack, AirTable

Processes

  1. Make Prioritization a Priority
    Every project manager can relate to a daily to-do list that seems nearly infinite! And while it may be tempting to just check those simpler or less time-consuming tasks off your list, those little tasks add up. Structure that list in regard to the most pressing or urgent tasks. It may seem obvious, but keeping yourself in check is the best way to keep your team in check too.

    From there, categorize the complexity of those tasks and schedule them based on your work style. Are you most productive in the morning? Knock out the more complicated or difficult responsibilities when you’re most on your game. It may be as simple as having a tough conversation with a client. But if you keep yourself accountable by prioritizing the things that need to be prioritized, you’ll be a more effective leader for your team.

  2. Get the Full Scope
    Veteran PMs will view this one as a no-brainer. The more you know about the project, the better you can build and equip your team for success. Don’t let any questions go unanswered. And it may take some time and experience to learn what those questions should be — especially in regard to certain team members. Everything from what assets will be provided or will need to be created, to the budget and timeline of the campaigns will impact what team members you choose to best fulfill your clients’ needs.

    “Before any commitments can be made, you have to go above and beyond and beyond to get as many details of the project as possible,” Ricardo Chamberlain, General Manager, explained. “It not only helps you understand how much time your team needs to complete the work, but also the level of skill that it will take to get it done to the clients; expectations. This is what makes or breaks the success of a project; the expectations have to match the expertise.”

  3. Check All Assets ASAP
    It’s never a good look when you tell a client you have everything you need, but you’re stuck backtracking because you don’t. It also doesn’t do your project timeline or budget any favors. Anytime the client is providing assets to a campaign, check everything. Thoroughly. Making sure you have what you need is one thing; making sure it’s the quality you need is another, so simply counting assets won’t cut it.

    “If you’re going to be working with banners, emails, or on a website, you can take all the elements from a slice PSD or a creative file, which is easy,” Ricardo added. “But if they’re provided as flat/static images, you’re going to have to really review what is needed to achieve the clients’ goals for the campaign. For example, you’re not going to be able to use background gradients on an email, so if that’s what the client is expecting, you have to catch these things early. Otherwise, you’re going to get caught with your tail between your legs and lost time to make up for.”

  4. Be as Vocal as Possible
    Communication. We don’t have to tell you how important this is, but we will anyway.  The best way to keep everyone on your and your clients’ teams on the same page is constantly conveying expectations and providing updates. PMs are the glue that keep all the parts moving together, so if you go silent whenever there’s a roadblock, or even when there’s not, you create an opportunity for thread to unravel.

    Project management tools are designed to make communication easy, so make sure you’re using them to create an environment where everyone is connected and confident in the workflow. This goes for client-facing too.

    “Communication truly is the key to success or failure,” Ricardo Chamberlain, Manager, explained. “We always try to be as honest as we possibly can with our clients from the very start. They’re relying on us to bring their visions to life, but that also means helping manage expectations as to what that will ultimately mean when all is said and done. It’s our job to let them know what’s feasible within their timeframes and the platforms they choose and reassure them throughout the process that we’re doing what we said we would. Internally, that means hosting multiple stand ups where we discuss status updates, potential issues, and any pivots that need to be made so we can eliminate any surprises along the way.”

 

Teams

  1. Remember to Respect Work Life Balance
    As more teams went remote, the concept of work life balance was completely redefined. Developers logging on at 8pm after dinner with their families, project managers sending 6am emails before the kids get up for school… you get the gist. But regardless of when and how people work best in a remote world, the boundaries of the 8-5 workday should still apply when managing your teams. Just because sending an email at 6pm on a Friday night “before you forget” is best for your process, doesn’t mean Cindy is ready and able to respond.

    “Even if I find myself adding tasks to the queue or looking into projects after hours, I am still mindful of the 8-5 schedule my team is on,” Braulio Romero, Senior Project Manager, explained. “I try to be as respectful to this balance as I can, and so while it may mean checking things off my to-do list, I still need to be managing my teams’ time within the confines of our official workday. If they choose to work ahead, that’s awesome, but it’s my job to coordinate the hours and make a plan based on the schedule we’re given. When you’re spreading people too thin, neither you nor the client benefits.”

  2. Get to Know Your Teams’ Style
    While you shouldn’t be expected to know how your team members like to spend their free time, you should know how they like to work. Everyone will respond to certain management tactics better than others. While one developer may rely on the structure of daily check-ins and status updates, another may find it slows them down. Or one designer may work best with a specific tech lead over another. Get to know your team members’ workstyles and what motivates them to produce the best work.

    For teams that cross borders, this also means understanding how their language and culture impacts their workday. “Having regular stand ups with your team is important in not only understanding their skills and preferences, but also their environment,” Ricardo shared. “Having an understanding of their geography, political situation, cultural expectations, and more, will help you be more effective in how you lead them.  This level of recognition shows you value them as a team member and allows them to feel more connected and respected. It also just makes the whole process a lot more efficient when you can take into consideration how these experiences influence their perspective and the ways in which they benefit the whole team.”
  1. Build Out Your Resources
    Having a quality core team is the foundation to a successful company. But having a strong resource department opens up more opportunity and room to grow. This group should understand the current resources and the upcoming pipeline and be prepared for any situation. Whether it’s being short staffed on a large project or filling in the gaps to meet your clients’ needs, you should have constant surveillance on your resources and always be planning ahead.

    That means making an effort to understand your clients’ pipeline as well. Are they expecting a batch of new campaigns that will require some extra manpower? Are they partnering with a client in a new industry, which could benefit from niche expertise outside your own? Keep a pulse on what’s going on internally and externally, so you’re always a step ahead.

    The bonus here is the better you manage your resources, the better you can ensure #8 (that work life balance). A well-equipped team means no one gets overbooked or is stuck working overtime. Everyone wins. 

  2. Master the Art of Time Management

    In many cases, this really just means being open and flexible. Anyone in this industry knows it’s not uncommon for things to change on a moment’s notice requiring you to make quick pivots and new gameplans. The less willing and able you are to adapt, the less likely you’ll be able to deliver for your client regardless of the hurdles.

    As a PM, multi-tasking is the name of the game, so create a system that gives yourself time and facility to accommodate changes that come your way. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but this is where we again emphasize knowing your priorities. Understand your team’s capabilities and limits. “Go into every project knowing there will be a constant disruption of pings and emails throughout your day, and plan accordingly,” Fran Reyes advises. “You can always shift things around; there will always be a solution — it’s just a matter of finding it.”

    A great PM knows how to roll with the punches, but they also set themselves up for success before the first swing.

    If you’re interested in chatting with one of our fantastic PMs or learning more about how Assemble can help guide your project to success, contact us today. We’d love to work with you!

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