Project Management Tips from Someone Who Learned on The Job

My name is Laura, and up until I started working at EVG, I was strictly an SEO (search engine optimization) Specialist. A big part of my job was being up to the minute on health and wellness search trends and being sure our content covered all those topics. If suddenly thousands of people rushed to to the internet to search for swine flu or the Cabbage Soup Diet (it happened!), I was the one who rushed to be sure we either had or created quality, accurate content about it. I made sure the content was linked to appropriately across the site, was optimized for organic search, and was performing well. Meanwhile, I was also neck-deep in data and analytics, managing a content calendar and several internal SEO tools, working on internal content projects and strategies, and learning a bit of DQL too. It was fun.

Then I found myself in project manager world. Other than a bit of freelance work I’d done, I had never really had clients or managed teams. I managed tools. Tools are not people. Long story short: It’s been two and a half years, and I’ve learned so much! Let me share some of those tips with you.

 

  1. Get it in writing!

I know this sounds very lawyer-y, but it’s good advice. It’s not just to protect yourself, but to be completely certain everyone is on the same page. As a rule of thumb, I always email someone (even after a phone call or face-to-face meeting) to recap what we decided and ask them to verify one more time.

“So, Bruce, to recap: we’re going to write five blogs for your Batman website. We’ll deliver these blogs to you via Google Drive on January 20. Does that sound good to you?”

“Yes, Alfred, that’s correct! Thank you!”

See how easy that was? On to the next tip.

 

  1. Create and maintain a shared calendar.

When is that article due? I thought we postponed it a month! Well, the client wants it Friday.

Does that give you anxiety? Me too. Prevent those scenarios by keeping an up-to-date calendar that’s shared with everyone who needs to know the details. You might use Excel or Google Sheets or maybe a third-party software program, but whatever you use, maintain it well. Peace of mind is your reward.

 

  1. Say yes! (But…)

When you’ve planned and prepared for a project just to have someone decide they’d like to make significant changes to the plan, you might be tempted to say “No!” Maybe even with some attitude.

giphy

batmanWhat I’ve learned is that, while sometimes it’s appropriate to push back, often you can actually say “yes” without throwing all your plans out the window. I call it the “yes, but…” response. Here’s what it looks like:

Batman: I’ve decided I like a different website design more. Can we change the design to include the Bat Signal logo on the homepage?

Me: Well, the design is already in preview mode. We can change the design, but we won’t be able to launch by our original deadline. Would you like me to put together a new timeline and proposal for redesign costs?

carBatman: I got the blog you wrote about the history of the Batmobile. I like it, but I’d rather go with a different angle after all. Can your team rewrite it?

Me: Yes we can. However, in order to do new research, we’d need a bit more time and money to compensate the team. Let me get back to you later today after I confirm how soon we could turn that around.

See? Simple! You don’t have to say a firm “yes” or “no.” Often, people just want to hear their options.

 

  1. Be relatable to your team.

I’m not a people-person at all, but if you’re going to manage a team, you really do need to be relatable. I don’t mean you need to be best friends or even Facebook friends. But do be personable. Ask a team member how her weekend was, send emails thanking your team members for their individual contributions to a project, grab a cup of coffee together, or share a cute animal video. We all like to be appreciated and acknowledged.

Recently, one of my project managers said, “Laura is the best employer I’ve ever had. She answers all of my questions, checks in with me regularly, and responds to emails very quickly. She is also very attentive to the needs of a contractor. Her rare insight and friendly demeanor make it a pleasure to work with.”

I was floored! How kind. But I am willing to bet money that most of that praise simply comes from being relatable. It does make a difference!

 

  1. Do not panic. I repeat, do not panic.

Early on, when things would go wrong (even little things), my first response was to panic. Even shut down. You can’t do that when you have a team depending on you! With a couple more years of experience under my belt, I’ve learned that mistakes and even minor crises are not the end of the world. So here’s my advice: Take a deep breath. Email those involved to let them know you’re working on a solution and will get back to them within a specific amount of time. Preferably soon. They need to know you’re working on something.

Then, rather than reacting to the situation, try to pinpoint the catalyst. What happened here that caused everything to go awry? Now, decide how to fix it. Write out the steps needed, who will handle them, and when they should do those things. Decide if any more significant decisions need to be made to prevent the issue from happening again. Let everyone know what the plan is, the specific tasks each person needs to do, and when the deadline is. Follow up to be sure the plan is being executed, and let everyone know when the issue’s resolved.

And if you need help, ask! That’s probably the number one reason people get overwhelmed and freak out. Always admit when you need help and be humble enough to accept it.

 

Laura Lee – Account Manager, SEO Specialist

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