Managing projects that are contracted to an outsourced staff, especially those across time zones, can be challenging. The reasons for this could range from difficultyÂ in keepingÂ track of your project status real time to inabilityÂ of the team to meet deadlines.
Add to the fact that you canâ€™t really walk over to their desk and pull them aside for a chat, it can make for a lot of constraints.
But what if you could build robust systems and implement processes that would keep you abreast with your freelancers?
What if you could keep track of project progress and status from a distance with no real need for physical proximity?
What if the physical distance could become irrelevant to executing projects with great success?
The answer lies in constructing a well-choreographed project management system.
Remember, agencies that deliver projects successfullyÂ spend a lot of time building good systems. They understand that systems are the holy grail of built-to-scale businesses.
Here are nineÂ tips that will ensure your project delivery is always on-time and on budget by using these project management systems in the most efficient ways:
1. Stop Using E-Mail to Discuss Projects and Statuses Immediately
Using e-mails to track the progress of projects or as tools of project management is a recipe for disaster. You surely have noticed how threads pile up one on top of the other, making it impossible to track project-related communication.
You may lose track of your own instructions in the process of going back and forth between emails. For your remote team it is too difficult to scan e-mail threadsÂ for instructions and feedback, not to mention extremely inefficient.
Moreover, when you have to loop someone else in from your team to the project, e-mails do not have a conducive ecosystem. The added memberÂ will miss out on the previous threads and never be on the same page as the rest of the team.
Instead, using project management tools like Asana, Basecamp or Trello can take care of all of these problems and really come to your rescue. Each of these tools are designed to help businesses track project statuses, set milestones and meet deadlines effectively.
2. Create Proper Subtasks in Your Project Management System
Project Management tools like Basecamp, Asana and Trello give a 1,000 foot view of theÂ project and you can always zoom in to see and learn more. These systems allow for constant collaboration and allow clients to have more control over their projects becauseÂ they always have a good understanding of where their project stands.
Keep in mind that purchasing and downloading a project management tool is not enough. The key to managing your projects well using these tools is by breaking down your big tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Most importantly, listing out the subtasks briefly and being specific with your instructions.
Specificity is the key to successful project management.Â
We follow the rule of eight. This means whenever we find the conversation under a particular task goingÂ to more than eight messages, we reevaluate the task and look for ways to further break it down.
Take a moment to imagine that you had to tell your content writer to write a blog post about project management. What would be an effective way to instruct?
I would say:
“I need you to write a stellar blog post on Project Management for my website and hereâ€™s what I would like included:
- Go to keywordtool.io and search for relevant keywordsÂ to this topic
- Outline the structure of the post
- Prepare the first draft
- Send to Editor, checking for proper grammar and punctuation
- Finalize & send back to me”
This approach works, here’s why:
- Notice how each of the sub-tasks began with a verb denoting an action that needs to be taken.
- Breaking tasks into smaller subtasks, also called the baby-step approach, divides the bigger project into smaller, more manageable chunks.
- By dividing bigger tasks into subtasks, you have the opportunity to assign them to different people to get them done faster. For example, a content researcher can be assigned research, the writer can start putting their thoughts to paper and the copy-editor can proofread, and make the necessary edits to the final piece.
Similarly for your project, you can have multiple people viewing the same dashboard, andÂ have different subtasks assigned to them.
Here’s how you can manage your projects like a pro on Trello board:
3. Always Assign a Due Date For Each Task
For every task alwaysÂ assign the expected due date so that your remote teamÂ knows when itâ€™s completion is expected. This also means that if the subtask is not completedÂ by the due date,Â you can find out where and why the progress was lacking.
Moreover, you can analyze the impact of each delay on the overall delivery of the project.Â
Here’s how Basecamp lets you assign due dates:
Here’s how Trello lets you assign tasks with due dates:
While assigning tasks if you come across a dependent task, don’t assign it to anyone.
In the previous example of the blog post, the copy editor cannot edit the post until the writer writes and submits the work; therefore, there is no point assigning it to them until the article is actually written.
Once it is written, you may then assign the subtask to the editor including the due date. However, make sure you document the task in the system first and keep it unassigned.
4. Align Tasks in Logical Sequence
Set your tasks according to the priority in which they are needed. Setting priorities ensures that you are getting the urgent, or more important, tasks done first.
Ideally, you would want to have a word with your client first to better understand their priorities. Naturally, this will provide you with a specific flow on how to chart out the projectâ€™s progression within your project management system.
In addition, it is also very important to map out these requirements with timelines.
Prioritizing tasks not only helps you get importantÂ work done first, but it also gives a lot of clarity to the team member executing the tasks.
Here’s how you can simply drag and drop tasks to align them in proper sequence in Asana:
5. Add Milestones
After you’ve set your tasks in order of priority, create milestones.
Milestones denote completion of a group of tasks. They are aligned with the final deadline and ensure everyone is motivated right up to the very end of the project.
Milestones can be set up on the specific tool’s calendar and help you determine what’s next and what’s falling behind. Setting milestones on the projectÂ ensures that you never miss the deadline.
6. Close the Open Conversations
One of the most important rules of Project Management is: the one who opens the task must close it. Assume that you opened a task and assigned it to someone, they finished the task and assigned it back to you.
Now as the assigner of the task, you need to give feedback and assign it back to the team member or close it, if satisfied.
This is a basic hygiene practice that must be followed when using a project management system to maintain clarity within team members.
7. Keep All Project-Related Resources in One Place
The resource section keeps all your project related files readily accessible to everyone. These files could be PDFs, Word Docs, Images, Wireframes, PSDs, etc. This is valuable because the team will not have to switch back and forth between DropBox, e-mails and other file sharing avenues just to locate or upload a file.
Again, the structure is extremely conducive to provide effective team collaborations as it rarely requires you to go elsewhere.
Here’s how Basecamp lets you drag and drop all your project related files with ease:
8. Keep All Project-Related Conversations in One Place
Despite the project management systems already in place, e-mail can still be used to communicate within the team. When clients send you emails for a project,Â forward those emails into your project management system. This is particularly helpfulÂ when you areÂ not at your desk and arenâ€™t able toÂ read emails and pick out instructions/feedback.
All the project management tools that we recommendedÂ allow for easy integration with e-mail. They create a new task out of the e-mailâ€™s subject line and turn the e-mail body into the task notes.
9. Be an Active Project Manager Yourself or Appoint Someone From the Team
While the developers and/or creative freelancers are busy doing what theyâ€™re good at, a Project Manager or key Account Manager ensures it’s all done according to schedule. Most agencies undermine the role of a Project Manager, but they can be instrumental in pulling off projects successfully and on time.
Keep in mind that he is not the guy to up-sell, or cross-sell your offers to clients. He’s just the guy who gets stuff done.
Our Project Manager keeps complete track of the project and irons out any creases that might arise from time to time to avoid project delays.
Most importantly, the key role of the Project Manager is to ensure that the client has up-to-the-minute updates regarding the projectâ€™s status and that milestones are never missed. He’s in charge of the smiles!
Managing business projects remotely is a skill that you can learn. It may need a bit of back and forth especially in the beginning but with the right tools deployed, you’ll have a winner there.
So make sure you do you due diligence correctly before you embark on the project execution journey. And if you haven’t guessed it already, don’t leave anything to imagination. Write down everything about the project before you start.