Do you want to plan your projects better and complete them on time? The right project management determines whether your customers are satisfied with you. And whether they will work with you again. We show you which strategies and tools can help.
The coronavirus pandemic and the rise of working have shown us one thing above all: everyone can collaborate digitally with everyone else around the world. No project has to be limited to creative minds or clients from just one region. As long as you have a good internet connection and the necessary tools, there's no reason why your team members shouldn't work virtually.
However, the new normality has a side effect surely everyone has felt by now. It's getting harder and harder to organize everything. Are you wanting to implement a client project with WordPress? Then it's important to pay attention to the right workflows. If you don't, your development will quickly become inefficient. It doesn't matter whether you work in a large international WordPress agency or as a freelancer together with others, for example in development, design, SEO, etc.
There are some proven methods for goal-oriented project management that can make your daily work much easier. Together with new tools for online collaboration, they give you and your partners a real competitive advantage. And it's precisely these methods and tools that we'll introduce to you in this series of articles.
Workflows for WordPress
This series is aimed at project managers and WordPress agencies who want to optimize their team's efficiency and complete their projects as organized and as quickly as possible. Your customers will thank you for it! Not all agencies in the field of development and online marketing have the reputation of being structured and thus professional.
Your project management is not only a figurehead. It also determines whether you'll get enough orders in the future, from existing but also from new clients.
Client acquisition for WordPress agencies
Do you want to know how to win, expand and retain customer projects? And what success is possible with methods like inbound or affiliate marketing? To learn more on these topics, check out our e-book Customer Acquisition for WordPress Agencies and Freelancers.
Let's start with a brief overview of how you can optimize your project planning, workflows and management. As an expert for the world's most popular CMS, your work is in high demand – regardless of whether your focus is on development or design. But your customers will only be satisfied with you if you guide them step by step through the project. And if you ask them the right questions along the way.
We explain how to develop specific workflows and methods to structure your projects. We also show you how to serve the needs of your clients. By guiding them through the entire project, from the briefing phase to design, testing and successful acceptance of the final product. Moreover, we look at the most important tools for project management and agencies, including their advantages and disadvantages.
We at RAIDBOXES are pleased to be able to share our knowledge of WordPress project management with you. Because, of course, our goal is to make our product even more successful. And we do this with processes that are as user-friendly as possible. This makes not only our customers happy, but also our team. You'll soon see how an organized approach increases your enjoyment of your work considerably.
Project management discussion
Why project management is so important
When we speak about projects in the field of websites, in most cases we're also talking about WordPress. As the leading content management system, WordPress has driven the development of web projects to an astonishing degree. In 2021, WordPress websites accounted for about 42 per cent of the entire internet. If you only count those that are based on a content management system, this share rises to almost 65 percent.
The incredible popularity of WordPress means that more and more agencies, self-employed people and developers are jumping on the bandwagon, however. But you can still score points with good project management. Streamlined processes ensure more customer satisfaction – and that in turn leads to you being recommended to new customers.
So the competition is getting tougher. As a developer or designer, you can't afford to rest on your laurels. Or just continue with what has worked in the past in terms of functionality, design or technology. If you're reading this, you probably already have experience with projects for WordPress and/or WooCommerce. You know how to build websites that look good and work well and in a way that customers will come back to you. Because the websites address the right target groups and are easy to use (keyword usability).
At the same time, it becomes to understand that with high demand for high-quality, easy-to-navigate, user-friendly WordPress websites, you can't get bogged down by keeping your contacts waiting. You should be able to deliver a fully realized, clean product on time, despite performance pressure and multiple projects. Anything else will make your customers unhappy, and sooner or later word will get around.
It's not enough to be good at coding or fancy design. You don't just need to have your desk or your emails under control, but also your boards and tasks in your project management tool. Otherwise, the quality of your other tasks will suffer over time. In addition, you'll make more mistakes under stress and just get "bogged down".
This is where project planning comes in. A big part of this management task these days is knowing how to set up and use workflows. Although every project is different, there are some innovative processes that have become established. And they're also applicable to your systems –whether you're a lone wolf or work in a larger team. Let's start by defining some terms you should know for your project management.
What is a project management workflow?
It may sound trite or seem too simple, but we should start with the word "project". It's important to define this aspect. Because every project, even within a WordPress agency, can have very different parameters and thus very different needs on the client side.
For example, the position of project leader or manager can change depending on the client project. Just like the processes in the briefing or in any other phase. Depending on what your clients want. Or depending on the industry they come from. Of course, you should use your wealth of experience. But the ability to accept and adapt to your clients' needs is often more important. Sometimes it's of little use if you already have a prefabricated process template in your head of how things should be done. So define for yourself the cornerstones of what constitutes a project. And bring this into line with the requirements on the client side.
While we're at it, we might as well define management. To properly manage a project – such as building an online shop with WooCommerce – you usually have to work on it yourself, take on the role of moderator, ensure goal-oriented communication between the various teams and departments, communicate the results to the customers in understandable language, and so on and so forth.
Another analogy for what project managers do when they fully engage in this kind of workflow management is cartography. You understand the project every step of the way and never lose track of it because you've mapped it out. This way, as a project manager, you're prepared to enter every phase of the project's development. But you can also delegate the necessary tasks at any time. To do this, you must be able to rely on who does what in the team. And where their personal strengths lie.
A workflow is arguably the most important component, and at the same time the most misunderstood. A well-designed workflow is by no means a simple static flowchart showing who is working on what and who reports to whom. Rather, it includes many dynamic aspects. These help your team to be engaged, focused and know at all times what is expected of them in the current phase of the project.
Workflows build on each other
Workflows are defined sequences of tasks needed to complete those tasks. It is a precise sequence of steps that are necessary to obtain a certain end product. For example, a part of the services you sell to your customers.
A stable workflow eliminates irritations and delays in the team. Gone are the days when you have to ask around to see if someone is working on that one thing you need before you can move on to the next task. You'll ideally no longer run into a wall or limit a team member's productivity just because certain dependencies cannot be resolved.
The advantages of a dynamic, coherent workflow set up before the start of a product include:
A single workflow system that the whole team works with and to which everyone has transparent access eliminates countless manual arrangements and agreements on paper. At the same time, it saves a lot of time finding out who is working on what at any given point. And what the project status is at a particular moment.
Reporting and analysis
With a solid workflow setup, project managers can oversee and control every single aspect of the project down to the most granular level. Team members report on their progress at the intervals you specify, directly through the workflow tool. You no longer have to chase statuses, in the worst case in different sources and formats.
You can see at a glance if there's a problem somewhere in the project or in the team. Then you can offer help and suggestions, control prioritization, reassign tasks or even adjust responsibilities when appropriate.
A good workflow should be divided into milestones that show the progress of the project. Milestones, together with the appropriate benchmarks, make for a constructive working atmosphere. This is because they help to focus the team's work on small steps to ultimately achieve the overall goal.
In website projects, careful planning of milestones and their subtasks is particularly important. After all, there can quickly be dependencies or blockers between the individual work steps. For example, if milestones 1 and 2 run in parallel, but 3 can only be started when 1 and 2 have been completed. Or if your customers have to provide input or data that's not yet available. Sophisticated project management becomes indispensable when individual employees are working on several projects at the same time.
In addition, you can use milestones to inform your clients at any time about the progress of a project. Then they not only feel informed, they also have confidence in your work. And they know that if necessary, countermeasures can be taken in time if unexpected problems were to arise. As already mentioned, customer satisfaction has a lot to do with how professional your project management is. Especially in comparison to the negative experiences that almost all clients have already had with other agencies or freelancers.
With a coherent and well-planned workflow, your team can stay in touch at all times. They are informed about all aspects of the project's progress, whether they are working on-site or remotely. In addition, most modern workflow tools are available as mobile applications or apps, which makes their use even more flexible.
Support for your team
There are many tools for working in distributed teams. Such tools can improve the quality of work of each team member by enabling everyone involved to work on different components of the overall project in the most efficient way. Here are some of the most important tools and their basic functions:
- Asana: Asana is a popular online collaboration tool that provides great flexibility in project management and task monitoring.
- Trello: Trello's card-based system takes advantage of our visual familiarity with notepads by using a very similar principle. This allows each team member to keep track of all tasks and communicate easily with each other.
- Microsoft Project and Microsoft Teams: These widely used collaboration tools integrate various other MS products such as Outlook or file sharing. If your agency already works with a Microsoft system, you can keep all chats and meetings in one place.
- Slack : Slack is a channel-based platform to structure the exchange of messages between team members and individual circles. This way, you can receive only the information and tasks that are actually relevant to you.
- Zapier: Zapier is a tool that allows you to automate certain parts of your workflow. So you can concentrate on the parts of your project that are really important.
We'll go into more detail about these tools, their functions and their respective advantages and disadvantages in the following parts of the series. Let's first look at some figures on how efficient project management with WordPress can be in practice. And why workflows are so important:
- Team focus: Multitasking is a term that originally referred purely to computers. People usually can't multitask, even if many claim otherwise. And when they do try, their work quickly becomes inefficient. Estimates suggest that up to 40 per cent of lost productivity is due to constantly switching between different tasks.
- Project documentation in one place: On average, it takes a professional about 18 minutes to find a document manually. Murphy's law: You always find it in the last place you look...
- Automation instead of hard work: According to a McKinsey study, CEOs spend 20 percent of their time on tasks that could be automated. Some cheeky people claim the other 80 percent could be spent on the golf course. Either way, manual tasks are often a huge waste of time. And they lead to frustration.
- Increasing productivity: According to the market research company IDC, companies lose 20 to 30 percent of their turnover every year due to inefficient processes. And in some cases, this figure is probably still far too low.
- Time saving: 60 percent of professions could save 30 percent of their time with automation, says another analysis. That certainly includes WordPress agencies and software development.
Even if you think such figures are exaggerated or not well-founded: as soon as you take a closer look, you'll find a lot of potential for improvement in your daily work or in your team.
Planning WordPress projects
You should always be clear about what you want to achieve in and with a particular project. Before you even get to the workflows, you need to define the goal and have a complete understanding of all the sub-tasks that go into the project. You don't have to have a full technical understanding of every single subtask, however. Especially with complex projects, it would be almost impossible. But you should know who in the team you can turn to with questions if individual subtasks are unclear.
Another key question you should answer is: What do your clients actually want to achieve with their project? What do they need from you? And does their idea of the end result match what they're commissioning from you? The last question in particular should not be underestimated: It's not uncommon for clients to realize only at the end of the project that they actually wanted to achieve something completely different. Or that building blocks are missing from the output. This is where your careful support in the planning phase is needed, but also your tact.
Question and secure the project goal
So what does targeted project planning look like? At first glance, the goal may often be clear. But if you look more closely at the client's wishes, additional or higher-level meta-goals very often emerge that are really what they are wanting to achieve.
You have a project, you plan, set a few deadlines and milestones, bring in external experts or other freelancers, roughly distribute the tasks and everything is up and running. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Every project plan, especially in creative teams, must be divided into very concrete, very thoroughly thought-out steps. Otherwise the whole thing will quickly end in chaos and you'll break one deadline after the other. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Work out the goals
You can think of a project plan as a script for your project. What kind of story do you want to tell? Make sure it's an Oscar-worthy film, but anchored in reality. And not a fantasy where you exaggerate or create false expectations just to win the job.
The first step is to figure out what exactly you need to build. You need to sit down with the other main characters of the film – the relevant people in your client's team, of course, but also your own people, external forces and any other stakeholders that might play a role. The more perspectives and requirements you know about the project, the more likely you are to avoid unpleasant surprises at the end. The scope and direction of what the stakeholders want in total is your top priority. For this, you sometimes need more skills in coaching or even psychology than expertise in development and design.
At this stage, your project plan should answer the following key questions:
- What are the current challenges/problems ("pain points")?
- What specifically must be achieved with the project so that the project end is reached ("Definition of Done")?
- What are the most important results of your planning so far?
- What results from this and which contradictory requirements have to be resolved? What does this mean for your time planning and deadlines?
- Who should work on the project to ensure that the goals are achievable? Define the roles of your different team members in advance to avoid confusion later.
- How do you define milestones on the way to reaching the deadlines? Who will review the work and define the milestones as completed? How exactly should clients be involved and when? Who will manage communication with them?
If your initial plan answers these questions about the goals of the project – and if you can say with conviction the answers are realistic – then you're well on your way to writing a script. One that neither underplays nor exaggerates.
2. Ask the right questions
You want to be thorough when it comes to researching the background of the project before presenting an initial proposal to your clients. Start by reviewing all documents related to the project, including emails and notes from sales meetings with your client's team. Ask as many questions as possible, including details. As a project manager, you need to understand every aspect of the project before you tackle it. This takes a lot of time. But you would be saving on the wrong end if you move too fast in your research.
In our zeal to win and start new client projects, we quickly forget to proceed in a structured way. This is a typical mistake in project management. We recommend that you proceed methodically and analytically in the planning phase. Many creative people find this difficult. But if you become imprecise now, it can haunt you throughout the project and beyond.
Here are some you should be very clear on:
- The desired end result – what exactly do you want and, above all, should you build?
- The main point here is to work out all the expectations and needs of your customers.
- Who will you work with on the client side? Is the choice a good fit professionally, but also for you personally? Do you have any influence on the selection? Who makes the final decision on this? Is there a difference between technical contacts and those who approve individual milestones?
- Are there other stakeholders you'll be working with? Or where it would make sense to involve them? For example, experts for the client's product, for SEO, data protection, legal security or security? What does your team need to know about these people?
We'll go into more detail about how to align a project with your client's needs later on. But answering the questions above is a good start to create a draft project plan. And to establish at least the general parameters. After that, it can go into the detail work.
3. Outline your project plan
Once you've gathered the information described above, you should take some time. Time to go through the input you've received from your team and clients step by step. It makes sense to sleep on the input before you start. Of course, time is usually of the essence when you've accepted a client project. But some existential questions about the project only emerge at second glance, as do certain dependencies or pitfalls.
If you feel unsure about this, look again at the four key questions from the section "Develop the objectives". The structure of these questions is a good way to create the project plan. Alternatively, work with those parts of the puzzle you're already familiar with: Which members of your team have a reputation for handling which aspects of the project well? What have they successfully tackled in the past? Start by making a first sketch and match your team members to their strengths.
At this stage, it's only a matter of roughly drafting a project plan. You don't need a polished and perfect plan yet. The most important thing is that you have a calendar at hand and know when each deadline is in order to stay on track. You should also have an idea of how long each stage of the project might take. This will help you to put the milestones in a reasonable order.
Tools for agencies
Ideally, of course, you use a project management tool for all this. It shows you at a glance any dependencies or time bottlenecks so you can reschedule the available resources. For some tips here, check out our article The 19 most important tools for agencies.
Make sure your sketch includes the following:
- All subtasks necessary to complete the final result.
- The approval process agreed with the client: Who is to review the work? Who has how long to request corrections? What is the maximum number of correction loops? And how does this change the implementation schedule?
- This results in maximum time frames for each task and/or for each segment.
- What resources is your team likely to need to complete each of these tasks? Including resources on your side, those on the client side, but also for tasks such as documentation etc.
- A list of guidelines you need to follow, including the project budget and key deadlines.
4. Coordination with your team
A well-functioning team is in constant exchange with each other. You should discuss all your ideas with the most important key people and get their input. Here it's particularly advantageous that your project plan is only an outline so far. But an outline that lives. To get your team's buy-in, you need to be willing to listen to feedback and incorporate new ideas. In this way, the plan will gradually become more concrete but also more realistic.
In this step, you should carefully review and adapt your project outline together with your team. This includes both internal and external experts. This way, you avoid having to explain why there are still unanswered questions and responsibilities during the client presentation.
Here everyone can give input on what is feasible in what time frame, what people can work on at the same time, what knowledge is needed for what steps or what questions need to be clarified in advance. At the same time, your design team can start working on visual concepts for different parts of the final product.
5. Create the project plan
You've gathered all the information, made adjustments to your initial plan outline and got all the members of your team on board? Then you can start drafting the full project plan. There are several tools to help you with this. We'll discuss these later on. No matter what type of drafting you decide to do, make sure that the following points are taken into account:
- Represent milestones and achievements visually by plotting them along a timeline rather than just listing them.
- Make sure that the project objectives or milestones are clear and measurable.
- Also define what the milestones specifically entail and when they can be considered completed.
- Identify the team or person responsible for a particular task.
- Show the maximum time each task should take to avoid delays.
- Go into detail in the notes to record key points for all to see, such as technological requirements.
- Check possible dependencies: Indicate which internal and external milestones each part of the project depends on before it can be completed.
You should review your plan with your team before presenting it to your clients. This is the only way to ensure that all factors have been taken into account.
In the next parts of our series, we'll explain how to find the right workflows, how to increase your efficiency in the team and which tools are worthwhile. We will link to the new parts here as soon as they're published.