When I used to work at a marketing agency, we did projects for a wide variety of clients from different industries. Each had its own messages and campaigns, but they all boiled down to the same media websites, animated videos, whitepapers, brochures, and the like. They were all different, of course: some videos had a particular style, or some websites needed a specific functionality. But because we did so many of them, we were able to streamline the project creation process and get it out of the door fast (while still making it look good). And one of the key factors was creating project templates.
Smoother and Faster
We templatized a lot of things: project request documents, planning flowcharts, email aliases for involved teams, and even the file folder structure on our server. By creating all of these elements beforehand, we were able to focus on the most important variable: getting the client’s message right.
The benefits were felt all throughout the process. The developers and designers knew where to save their files. QA knew where to get them and how to identify and flag the latest revisions. Project managers knew exactly where we were in a project and what the next steps would be. As a result, the client knew roughly how long the project would take and could plan around those dates. It all added up to a smoother, faster process than just email and Excel.
Project templates don’t just help during production; they help before production, too. Having a list of questions makes discovery much easier and more effective. A discovery document encourages short, useful answers that can be expounded upon if necessary (though they rarely were, once the client and the agency had a relationship going). That makes for more accurate project scope and more effective planning.
Practice Makes Perfect
It’s harder to become good at something if you change your approach every time, and this includes working as a unit. Having both templates and a fixed and repeatable process made it much easier for the team to get into a groove, and allowed new employees to settle in faster. This also gave us time to train our creatives and expand our team’s capabilities.
We didn’t just wake up one day and decide this is the template that will follow from now on. It took weeks of trial and error to create templates that worked. And even then, we go back once in a while and tweak them. Every so often, we encounter projects that didn’t fit the template at all. We would either treat it as a one-off or create another template in case we ever did that kind of project again.
It takes a lot of effort to set up and a bit of maintenance (by that I mean reviewing templates to see if they’re still relevant to current projects), but I believe it’s worth it. Done right, project templates let your team work smoothly with each other and the client, and will in turn increase your project’s quality, speed, and bottom line.
Image credit, Flickr, Emilian Robert Vicol