How often are you asked to jump in and lend some brain power to a project or to help execute someone’s vision with limited understanding of the content or goal? Regardless of your position, these 10 quick-hit rules will help you engage your stakeholder, and put you at the epicenter of their strategic vision.
1. Identify the project in “their” language.
Is your requestor looking for a PowerPoint presentation, a flyer, or an email? Do they expect a 10-page document or a high-level overview? While this might sound elementary, this is an important and often missed step. By doing this properly, you’ll save invaluable time during that fuzzy front-end “ideation” stage, and you’ll have more time available to pre-plan content and accommodate research.
2. Understand the desired business-related outcomes.
To what extent is this project expected to deliver a hard, measurable outcome? Pinpoint a metric or benchmark, and understand if your goal is to increase sales, decrease turnover, or grow top line revenue. However, once your requestor articulates his or her goal, ensure you know what need you are fulfilling.
3. Outline project objectives.
While this can be simply stated (i.e., “introduce a process”), there are likely “Five Why’s” behind the simple statement. Ask deeper questions, and learn what levers and lead metrics will help you create success.
4. Validate the primary audience you are targeting.
When you know whom you are communicating to, your ability to make insightful suggestions regarding tone, medium, and frequency are heightened. Citing successful examples and industry trends also creates credibility and elevates you from simply executing orders to a strategic partner in the process.
5. Learn the communication objectives.
This could entail educating your audience, training on a topic, motivating someone to action, or providing information on critical data. Knowing that messaging needs to dictate execution style will hone your strategy earlier in the process.
6. Dive into research insights.
While this topic is often answered by blank stares, it’s essential to any project. Whether you are provided with concrete data or simply anecdotal evidence of “what didn’t work last time,” understanding the background and applicable nuances can help you avoid pitfalls.
More specifically, what’s the deadline? Ensure you use this time to not only understand final deliverable dates, but also to outline timeline considerations on your side — project outline, assembly, final opportunity for edits on the presentation, build time, etc. Build in a “buffer” so you can account for “Murphy’s Law.”
When you are doing work for someone else, there is the likely event that you are spending someone else’s money; understanding their budget tolerance is essential to executing a stellar project. One tip I recommend is to do your research in advance and provide the project requester with the 80-to-20 spectrum of what it could cost. Explain that it could be anywhere in between the high of your 80 and the low of your 20 — with extreme possibilities that could fall outside that spectrum. Cover your bases, and be a resource. With a budget defined, do everything in your power to control that cost.
This is a great catch-all way to allow the requester to let you know what’s really important to them. While you may have covered some of this already, their opportunity to lay out critical points of execution again provides you with a clear indication of what’s at the top of their list. Moreover, it’s also a saving grace, allowing you to ask very open-ended questions about project needs, which puts the weight on the project requestor to provide you with as much detail as necessary. Don’t let that be your crutch though; continue to think critically about the project, and provide value to the requestor by pulling ideas and examples from your past experiences. After all, that’s likely why they engaged you in the process.
10. Engage a fresh set of eyes.
At 10%, 40%, and 100% of project completion, engage another set of eyes who can balance your strengths. If you are great with detail, find a partner with a strategic mindset. If you are artistic, find an analytical mind. Regardless of the method you choose, the benefits of a few perspectives will help you create a well thought out project with balance and ingenuity.
Formulated strategy can be easily forgotten when the fire gets hot. To ensure you don’t lose sight during quick turnarounds, take these 10 easy-to-follow steps, and make a quick-hit checklist. Over time, continue to evolve it to your needs and add details that make it your own.
Chartré is director of marketing at Faith Technologies, Menasha, Wis.