For a digital marketing agency, every project is important. Otherwise, how would you earn any money? But you know what they say — more money, more problems.
What if you have a sudden influx of clients? What happens if you take on multiple projects at the same time? Lots of money is incoming, but so are the problems if you don't manage the chaos effectively.
Unsurprisingly, a sudden influx of projects and contracts is not an unusual thing in the digital marketing business.
A 2021 project management report revealed that up to 60 percent of project managers work on between two and five projects at a time? Some even take on up to or more than ten projects simultaneously.
Are you thinking that's a potential disaster brewing? Because it totally is.
Handling multiple projects without any guide rails and systems in place will confuse team members, primarily if they're assigned to the same tasks. Then it's hello inefficiencies and mistakes, and goodbye to the project's overall success.
So, what can you do?
When handling multiple projects simultaneously, it's essential that all individuals involved — from the project manager to the team members — should have a clear understanding of each project.
Is involving everyone really important? you may ask.
Everyone needs to know their responsibilities, how to execute them, and when.
You can't just rely on the team members' skills or experience as a shortcut for guaranteeing efficiency. Project managers must ensure timely deliverables and that targets are achieved.
It's a lot of responsibility. But it's achievable with minimal growing pains if you use standardization practices.
Standardization ensures that processes, actions, and operations are done the same way each and every time. Standardized processes allow team members to react quickly and confidently to situations, helping project teams avoid deviation in processes and tasks.
When operations aren't standardized, digital agencies may face negative consequences, which can affect all levels of the digital marketing agency.
Below, we uncover how a standard operating procedure (SOP) can help digital marketing agencies steer clear of chaotic planning and project execution. We'll also explore the importance of SOPs in project management and how digital agencies can standardize them.
Understanding Project Workload Challenges: What are SOP's?
A standard operating procedure (commonly known by its acronym SOP) documents the various processes organizations, including digital marketing agencies, create to establish step-by-step instructions or guidelines for performing a specific task or activity with consistency. An SOP provides information on what to do in particular situations, allowing team members to work more productively without disregarding regulatory requirements and client or customer expectations.
The goal of an SOP is to ensure that every action your team members take will lead to proven business results.
What does that mean? It means that when followed by an SOP, the desired outputs meet the client's and agency's quality expectations.
What should we do to achieve such a goal?
Plenty! Such as:
- An SOP must thoroughly elaborate on the steps needed to complete a task or an activity. This means it must be in-depth, covering all the applicable rules and regulations that any team member must follow to complete the job.
- The SOP should also be clear— very little to no ambiguity should be left on the SOP so that team members can easily follow through. SOPs are applied to several business processes, from human resources to operations to even the legal aspects of a business. These guide members, especially new hires, on complex tasks that adhere to regulatory standards.
This prevents miscommunication between employees and management. It also allows members to make decisions independently while ensuring they align with the agency's goals and objectives.
In short, SOPs are critical in maintaining employee efficiency and productivity and producing consistent outcomes.
What a savior, right?
But, what makes SOPs particularly essential in efficient project management?
As we mentioned earlier, a standard operating procedure offers detailed instructions for employees to complete a task. When followed, it can optimize the execution of repetitive tasks without compromising the quality of deliverables. After all, handling multiple projects at a time can cause a heavy workload for employees!
When they have multiple tasks to complete and deliverables to accomplish, they become more prone to making mistakes and misunderstanding the task at hand, which can jeopardize the entire project timeline. Not only that, but overwhelming workloads can also affect employee health, leading to either absences or tardiness.
And we surely don't want that!
But with an effective SOP, project teams can prevent delays or issues with the project timeline and misunderstandings from unclear or complex processes.
The Role of SOPs in Project Management
In project management, a standard operating procedure (SOP) acts as a checklist for performing tasks and activities correctly. This provides all the necessary steps to ensure familiarity among employees regarding tasks and activities.
However, an SOP is not only essential to operations; it can affect the performance of the entire digital agency.
Below are the ways SOPs can help you with effective project management.
Guidelines for Task Execution
Consistency of outcome is essential in running a successful digital marketing agency. After all, providing quality output lead to successful projects and satisfied customers. For a digital agency to deliver consistent client outcomes, an SOP can greatly help project teams.
A standard operating procedure document provides detailed steps in completing a task or process, which guides both tenured and new employees in completing the assignment. When your employees follow the SOP, they reduce the risk of forgetting any key step in completing the task, thereby preventing mistakes that can cause delays in the project timeline.
With the detailed work instructions listed in an SOP, members gain clarity of the process. This means they do not make guesses regarding the task, often leading to misunderstandings and errors. When they fully understand the job, they can spot any room for improvement and apply it to the process, leading to more efficient standardized operations.
Streamlining Project Workflows
- Defining standardized procedures for project initiation, planning, execution, and closure
- Ensuring consistent deliverables and outcomes across projects
SOPs are essential for promoting efficiency across multiple levels of the organization. They provide crucial information about the digital agency's tasks and how to do them. Some SOPs also provide a diagram to visualize processes in the project, from the initiation phase until the closing phase.
When there's a standardized process in the project life cycle, the project manager and the team become fully aware of what is needed at each project phase. You can see how a standard operating procedure streamlines each stage below:
- Initiation phase. In this phase, the project manager defines the project charter and the stakeholder register. An SOP can help streamline these processes by providing guidelines on determining the goals and objectives of the project and the stakeholders for the entire project.
We write an SOP document that can identify critical questions, such as what the project aims to accomplish or whether the project intends to impact the client's business and how.
- Planning phase. The best way to ensure success is through extensively planning the project. Project managers and their team members should collaborate on the planning phase of the project life cycle.
We can use an SOP to determine the terminologies we need to define and elaborate such as the constraints in the project, the budget, the timeline, the resources required for the entire project, and even all the possible outcomes when the project is complete. We can also use an SOP in generating the project plan and provide detailed steps to create one.
- Execution phase. With all the estimates, budgets, and timelines defined, it is now time to execute the project. Writing an SOP can help streamline the process by visualizing the steps needed to complete each deliverable.
We can also design a process flowchart to identify which tasks have dependencies and which are standalone. Using process documentation, tasks can be accomplished on time, and the project goes according to the timeline and budget.
- Closure phase. In this project life cycle phase, all deliverables have passed quality control and are delivered to the client.
So, where do SOPs come into the picture?
SOP writing in this phase describes how to properly close an entire project— creating retrospectives and the impact report to stakeholders, communicating the project to its new owners, and generating the project closeout report.
After the project plan is finished and approved, the team moves into the next life cycle phase — execution. This is where time management becomes an integral part of the process, as the entire team will have to complete tasks and accomplish deliverables within a specified period in the project timeline.
Remember that even a minor mishap or mistake can heavily affect the entire project, so the team should consider the availability and skills of resources and the complexity of tasks when designating tasks.
However, creating an SOP is an effective tool for senior managers through the following ways:
- Helps prioritize tasks and set realistic deadlines. Some tasks in a project are interdependent. This means some deliverables cannot be accomplished before the former task is completed. Project tasks also vary in priority and complexity, so time management is crucial for protecting the flow of the project execution phase.
- Promotes effective time and resource allocation. As you define the duration of each task in the SOP, you also become aware of the skills needed to complete such a task. This allows project managers to find the right available member to perform each task, optimizing the allocation of limited resources.
- Balances workload. An SOP template will help the entire project team to balance their workload, especially if they are taking on multiple projects simultaneously. With their work categorized according to urgency, team members can start working on prioritized tasks and continue with less urgent matters as their bandwidth increases. They can also perform task sequencing with the SOP as a guide and accomplish tasks with one-way dependencies.
When there's an SOP, the entire project team becomes aware of which tasks should be prioritized and which are interdependent through the process flowchart. The instruction in an SOP template ensures that tasks are categorized, with the complex and urgent ones prioritized.
Additionally, an SOP flowchart also estimates the time it takes to complete a task which allows project managers to set realistic deadlines for each task and deliverable.
Communication & Collaboration
Projects are a team effort, and each team member possesses unique and particular talents. So, we need to define how our team will communicate with each other throughout the entire life cycle.
How can SOPs help here?
Through the SOP, we can avoid miscommunication, especially when team members are handling multiple projects at the same time. Standard operating procedures clearly outline what needs to be done, when, and how. As a result, employees have little to no room for guesswork and crucial information won't fall through the cracks.
SOPs can also describe which communication channels to use and prioritize, whether through email or Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, etc.
Talk about convenience to the max.
The planning phase of the project life cycle involves risk and conflict management. This describes the risks associated with the project and the possible conflict that may arise from those risks. Planning also affects how we can effectively prevent these risks and conflicts from happening and what to do should they happen.
But how can we use SOPs in risk and conflict management?
Project risk management
We can use standardized procedures in risk assessment and mitigation.
For example, we can make researching previous similar projects a step in identifying what risks may be involved in our project. This way, we can determine possible ways to address them without wasting too much time. We can also outline how to implement strategies across multiple projects in the SOP.
Is implementation going to be from top-to-bottom or the other way around? Is implementation the same for multiple projects?
With an SOP, we can describe our risk mitigation plan for implementation.
No matter how different projects can be, conflicts usually take common forms.
We can standardize conflict management by creating protocols for spotting conflicts in all stages of the project life cycle. We can also design rules on how employees can report conflicts during the project.
Start by asking questions such as:
- What are the most common conflicts from previous similar projects?
- How did the management find out about such conflicts?
- What did managers do to resolve said conflict?
From this, we can devise an SOP to describe simple steps to identify, escalate, and resolve project issues.
Implementation & Measuring Impact
Many managers think that standardizing processes only relates to operations.
That's not untrue, but standard operating procedures apply to all aspects of the business. Yes, including measuring performance.
We've mentioned before how we can use SOPs to streamline processes at each phase of the project to increase productivity and efficiency of performance. But how can we ensure that the SOP we create can apply to all aspects and levels of the organization?
Here are some best practices on how to write an SOP, and what to remember when implementing and measuring your it impact.
Develop comprehensive and user-friendly SOPs
To gain the most advantage of an SOP, we should make sure that our target audience can easily understand the SOP we are creating. An SOP must be comprehensive and able to clarify to its readers, mainly if it targets new employees or a specific process.
For example, new processes are often a source of mistakes for employees regardless of their experience. Employees who have not yet mastered the process often leave room for error. If there is a comprehensive SOP, we can significantly reduce the risk of lapses in processing. Technical SOP examples are job aids and cheat sheets.
On the other hand, when we build an SOP for new hires, it must be user-friendly. They are new to the company and may not be knowledgeable yet about the ins and outs of the business. By using an SOP, they can easily adjust in the workplace, allowing your team to grow.
Update and revise regularly through encouraged feedback
SOPs are generally top-to-bottom, meaning management often creates and communicates the guidelines to the employees. However, as employees perform their tasks according to the SOP, they may find areas of improvement that can lead to maximum efficiency.
This is why feedback is always encouraged regarding processes — to allow continuous improvement of performance and operations.
Evaluate workload reduction for measuring effectiveness
In addition to employee feedback, managers should assess whether the SOP has helped employees manage their workload. Examine whether the SOP has improved employee productivity and reduced error rates. We can determine the SOP through employee satisfaction and improved customer service metrics.
We can also check the SOP's regulatory compliance — does the SOP adhere to all related regulations, both internal and external?
Project Monitoring and Tracking
Managers often use tracking tools to ensure the project's progress is controlled. Specific key performance indicators signify project progress, such as the number of deliverables finished and the duration of completion for each task.
And do you know what? We can include these performance metrics in the SOP so that the manager can easily perform progress tracking at any point in the project!
SOPs also guide how we can report the project's progress to the client and stakeholders. We can determine milestones through these metrics and inform stakeholders of such milestones.
Managing Multiple Projects
Just like business growth, you can determine the success of any project with metrics and performance indicators.
As we mentioned in the previous section, we can use standard operating procedures to assess the performance and progress of projects. That also applies when we take on multiple projects at a time.
We can measure and evaluate each project to determine whether we're still aligned with each project's goals and objectives and whether we can still keep up with client requests.
When managing multiple projects, here are some essential reminders regarding our SOPs.
The SOP should be comprehensive and scalable
SOPs usually follow a uniform template throughout the organization, no matter the project or process it is related to.
We mentioned in the previous sections that an SOP must be comprehensive so that all intended readers can fully understand its message. However, we should also remember that SOPs must also be scalable.
This means that SOPs should be able to adjust to the growing complexity (and even number) of projects we take on more clients. This way, we can ensure that our processes and operations meet clients' growing demands.
Provide training and educate project teams on SOP usage
When employees know the purpose of an SOP, they can easily follow through with it for their tasks and activities, ensuring quality assurance for their outputs. This also promotes an educative work environment as team members continue to learn more complex projects and SOPs as the digital agency continues to scale.
Review and update SOPs based on project dynamics
Projects have varying required outputs and outcomes. An SOP for a previous project may not always apply to your current work. This is why we must regularly review SOPs to ensure all project aspects are included in the documentation. If you spot any room for adjustments, do so as necessary.
Create SOPs For Your Agency Today!
Many digital agencies strive to maximize efficiency in their operations. We continuously find ways to optimize tasks and streamline processes. However, we may not notice it at all, but the answer might be right in front of us already through a standard operating procedure.
Here's recap so you can get started creating your SOP:
- An SOP is a detailed document providing step-by-step guide on completing a task or activity. Many organizations use SOPs in the different departments of their business, from HR to legal and procurement, and not just in operations.
- SOPs ensure there is no miscommunication between management and employees regarding operations, significantly reducing errors and delays. So, an SOP should be comprehensive yet still contain all the necessary information an employee will require to complete a task or produce an output.
- SOPs must also be easy to understand. Clearly define new terminologies to ensure reduced error rates. You can follow any SOP templates to ensure the SOP is comprehensive and easy to understand.
- Standard operating procedures are essential in project management. It can streamline operations and help in several aspects of the project, including risk management, time management, conflict management, and progress tracking and reporting.
- We can use an SOP during all phases of the project life cycle. It can help managers and team members accurately generate estimates, create a project plan, allocate resources to tasks, and pass audit checks for deliverables.
- SOPs are commonly used for repetitive tasks. So, they can stand as a starting point for planning and execution when digital agencies take on multiple projects simultaneously.