Project Management Checklist for the Modern Agency [download]

Delivering amazing, creative work is only a small part of the battle when it comes to running a successful agency. The emphasis on creative delivery is understandable–good work is what your clients came to you for, and good work is what gets you paid. But a lack of emphasis on the agency project management process can seriously derail your creative team’s best efforts. This is where a Project Management Checklist can help keep you on track. 

Without a strong agency project management process, even the most talented creatives suffer from poor time management, lack of project clarity and confusion, leaving agency leaders to risk missed deadlines, scope creep and refusal to pay. Mitigate these obstacles before they arise with a clearly defined agency project management process that helps agency leaders guide creatives from project onboarding through to completion.

Even the most organized project managers need to take time to regularly reevaluate processes for efficiencies. We’ve organized our own project management process into a downloadable agency project management checklist. We’ll review best practices for things like:

  • Coordinating discovery meetings
  • Identifying key project stakeholders
  • Writing through creative briefs
  • Budgeting
  • Outlining deliverables
  • Timeline setting
  • Risk management

Does your creative agency already have a clearly defined and documented project management process? We’d love to hear about it. Send us your project management tips for agencies or comments below.

Before the ink starts to dry on your project sign off, it’s time to begin managing your project for success.

Client Discovery Meeting

Your initial meeting with your client, also known as a discovery call, sets the tone for the rest of your relationship. You’ll get to know their brand, what problems they are facing, and begin planning how your agency can help. To gain a deep understanding of the client’s needs, discuss in detail with the client about their target audience, competitors, goals, and expectations.

Be prepared for the meeting with a list of guiding questions, and actively listen to the client’s feedback. Make sure you take notes since your creatives will refer to these notes later. 

Develop a Client Communication Plan

A clear communication plan is vital to stay in touch with the client and ensure all information is exchanged correctly and timely. You should set out communication guidelines for mutual success.

Here are some questions you should consider when building a communication plan:

  • How does your client want to be communicated with? Determine when a specific channel should be used among various communication channels like email, phone, and video conferencing. For example, when there’s a change in the project, the client should inform you quickly via phone, then write an email to confirm the information.
  • Will you be having regular calls or meetings? Set clear expectations for communication frequency and response time to avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Will members of your creative team liaise directly with the client, or do you have an account or project manager who will handle this? Remember that having a focal point will streamline the agency project management process and remove disparate pieces of information coming from multiple people. On the other hand, if a project consists of independent sections, you can appoint multiple team members to discuss directly with the client to save time and act promptly.

Write an Agency Creative Brief

good creative brief sets up both project management and creatives for success. This will be your creatives’ go-to document for guidelines and something you can refer back to throughout the project to ensure you stay within the scope and complete all your deliverables. 

A clear creative brief also helps stimulate creativity by providing a foundation for brainstorming and ideation. This clarity ensures that the agency’s team comprehensively understands the project and can create effective solutions that align with the client’s needs.

Looking for a creative brief template? Hey, we have a website creative brief template, branding creative brief template and some more.

Identify Key Project Stakeholders

A stakeholder is an individual, group, or organization that has a vested interest in the project’s outcome and is either affected by the project’s completion or failure. For smaller projects, this may be simple. But for larger-scale projects, you’ll want to create a hierarchy of people involved in project communications and success. Here’s how.

Start by creating a list of all potential stakeholders and analyzing their level of involvement, influence, and impact on the project’s result. This analysis will help you determine the key stakeholders who play important roles throughout the project’s lifecycle. 

You should also establish a stakeholder engagement strategy to ensure everyone is informed and engaged in the project’s success. Involve all stakeholders early in the project planning phase to get their buy-in and avoid potential risks.

Identify the Client and Creative Teams

Based on your agency’s capacity and resources, plan out which employees you’ll need to allocate to the project. This will be affected by your project timeline, budget, scope of work, goals, and objectives. 

The client team typically consists of designated individuals of the client, such as project managers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts. 

The creative team comprises members with diverse skill sets, such as designers, copywriters, art directors, and developers, who work together to develop innovative solutions to align with the project’s objectives. When choosing the creative team, you should consider the team’s workload, skill set, and expertise. Sometimes, your agency may need consultants or freelancers to augment the in-house team’s capacity and capabilities.

Outline Deliverables and Project Plan

You’ll likely have already included your list of high-level deliverables within your project signoff and creative brief, but project planning involves breaking it down into its smallest parts. 

While high-level deliverables are the outcomes the project aims to achieve, detailed tasks are the specific steps needed to complete the deliverables. By breaking down the project into manageable chunks, team members can focus on specific tasks and ensure timely delivery while preventing risks such as delays, budget overruns, and scope creep.

Once your deliverables are in order, set up tasks and subtasks within your project management software and assign them accordingly. Mapping everything out early allows you, your creatives and your clients to have a visual understanding of project progress.

Access Ready-to-Use Project Management Checklists

Use the project management checklists to ensure your creative projects run smoothly from start to finish.

Establish Project Timelines

Once your deliverables are determined, you’ll need to map out the amount of effort (hours, days, etc) to allocate for each task. After determining how long each task takes, map out delivery dates. Here, you’ll need to consider both your clients’ expectations for project completion and the amount of work your agency can reasonably complete within that time. Avoid setting unrealistic timelines since it can lead to stress and burnout for your team, compromise the quality of work, and result in missed deadlines. 

To manage timelines effectively, you must communicate clearly with the team and stakeholders about the project’s scope and timeline. If any unexpected delays or scope changes happen, adjust the timeline by redistributing resources, prioritizing tasks, or renegotiating the scope with your client. Effective timeline management requires constant monitoring and communication to keep the project on track to meet its objectives within the agreed timeframe.

Determine Budgets

Once you’ve determined the deliverables and timeline of the project, you’ll need to map out your budget. Proper budget forecasting reflects the necessary resources to complete a project successfully. It provides insights into the project’s financial health, allowing you to identify potential cost overruns early and take preventive measures. 

However, determining the budget can be one of the hardest parts of agency project management because every project is unique and has uncertainties. Because of this, it’s important to factor in a contingency buffer (usually a percentage such as 5-10% of the total project cost). Two main categories make up your budget: direct and indirect costs.

Direct Costs

  • Staff, consultant and freelance salaries
  • Disbursements such as print costs, software licensing, etc.
  • Travel costs

Indirect Costs

  • Office space rental
  • Office equipment and hardware (computers, telephones, wifi, etc)
  • General administrative costs

When you negotiate project budgets with clients, keep in mind these tips:

  • Understand their expectations, goals, and budget constraints to set realistic expectations.
  • Provide clear project deliverables and establish a payment schedule that aligns with the project’s milestones. 
  • Be transparent about any unforeseen costs and make the client aware of any potential changes in the budget.

Consider a Risk Management Plan

Risk management is a significant but often overlooked portion of agency project management. Consider all possible risks to your project, such as:

  • Unclear deliverables and responsibilities
  • Communication breakdowns and misunderstandings
  • Scope creep (when your client begins changing requirements after the project has already started)
  • Poor resource management
  • Lack of client feedback
  • Time and budget misallocation

You can apply risk management techniques like risk transfer, avoidance, and reduction to identify and mitigate project risks.

  • Risk transfer refers to transferring the risk to a 3rd party, for example, an insurance company.
  • Risk avoidance means completely eliminating a certain risk by not engaging in the activity that may create that risk. 
  • Risk reduction involves minimizing the possibility and impact of risk via proactive measures such as contingency planning, regular testing, and quality assurance.

Make sure to monitor and review the risk management plan regularly throughout the project. Hence, you can ensure that the plan remains aligned with the project goals and that your team is well-equipped to deal with potential risks.

Document Everything

Keep all client communication and reports documented in one place. Save everything, from meeting notes to time tracking reports, it’s better safe than sorry. This not only can prevent issues if a disagreement with the client arises, but will also help you better plan your next project.

To organize project documentation effectively, establish a clear naming system for files and folders, keep a centralized repository, and create access permissions levels for different stakeholders.

Furthermore, maintain a complete and accurate record for all projects. It can provide valuable insights for future projects and support project evaluation and audits. Properly storing project documentation helps you mitigate the risk of data loss and transfer lessons learned among project teams.

Schedule a Post-Project Follow-up

As project managers, you’re always looking for a better, more efficient way of doing things. Gather feedback from agency leaders, creatives, and your clients.

Tips for conducting these reviews include asking open-ended questions, creating a safe and non-judgmental environment for feedback, and summarizing key takeaways. These reviews help you analyze the project outcomes and assess the effectiveness of the advertising agency project management process.

After getting the post-project reviews, incorporate these findings into your agency’s project management processes to drive continuous improvement. This involves updating policies and workflows to reflect the experience of past projects, adopting new tools and technologies, and providing training for project team members. By continuously honing your skills, you can make mistakes a learning opportunity and achieve greater success in future projects.

The Ultimate Agency Project Management Checklist

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