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Project Prioritization: Stay Sane When Working with Tech Teams

By: Guest | March 19, 2013 | 
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lucjan-pic2Today’s guest post is by Lucjan Zaborowski.

Project prioritization sucks.

This is a frustration shared by both technical and non-technical teams.

However, mastering prioritization is crucial to successfully working with your developers because it is vital to their workflow.

So if you’ve caught yourself saying, “Why won’t the tech team push my marketing campaign live?” while overhearing an equally frustrated tech team say, “Marketers do not understand the process!” – LISTEN UP!

Prioritization does not need to be painful – we CAN stay sane while working with our tech teams. The trick is embracing project prioritization and knowing how to effectively communicate with more analytical minds.

Below are tips for effectively working with your tech team.

Follow them and you may find your marketing projects finally getting prioritized and launched within a reasonable turnaround time.

Build Trust

The relatively new mantra in marketing is to build trust with your customers rather than simply try to convince them of the superiority of your products and brand. This strategy also applies to your internal company relations. If you want the tech team to “buy” your idea as a project they should prioritize, you should gain their trust first.

Here are a few ways you can build trust with your tech team:

  • Invite members of the tech team to marketing meetings. This keeps them feeling included and updated on your project plans. It also leads by example: Include them and it is likely they will start including you.
  • Send regular emails to the tech team with updates on marketing efforts. This encourages communication, and allows the tech team to prepare for potential questions or problems.
  • Learn and use the tech lingo. Consider asking a tech team member to give your marketing team a lesson on basic tech terms and jargon. Try to use tech terms when communicating with developers. This will help you avoid sounding ignorant and losing the ability to influence their work.
  • When something goes well, celebrate together. By celebrating successes together, you are communicating to them you value their participation in your projects.

Agree on Collaboration Best Practices

It is much less stressful for marketers to work with tech teams if they use the same tools and processes. Make sure your teams are on the same page.

Discuss the use of project management software: Web developers use project management tools that allow them to collaborate on code they create. GitHub and BitBucket are some of the most common. However, these tech-oriented tools can be difficult to follow by less tech-inclined members of marketing teams. If possible, propose both teams use a simple project management tool, such as Basecamp.

Propose putting all prioritization decisions in writing: It is easier to avoid frustration, if all decisions can be tracked back to a specific time and stakeholders. You can suggest putting everything into emails or shared files accessible online. For example, use Google documents.

Recommend designating a prioritization owner: In Agile, the product owner is the “go to” person for prioritizing development tasks and it is likely the tech team already has a person like this. However, product owners are limited in their scope to a specific product being developed by the tech team. A prioritization owner, who keeps tabs on all projects in the organization, is of great assistance to marketers, who depend on techies picking up their projects.

Prepare a Project Prioritization Brief

Outline your “selling points,” which in the end should show the exact requirements of your project and the value it will bring to the company.

A clear description of the campaign and the resources you are asking for will show your tech team exactly what you need to execute the project. To include that “how this adds value” portion to your brief, include the following criteria for prioritizing projects:

Return-on-investment: How much financial return will the project bring for the amount of investment made?

Budget: What will be the project cost be and how high are the risks of overrunning it?

Human resources: Are there enough people with the right skills available?

Technology: Will the new technology offer long-term value and will it be useful?

Organizational priorities: Is the proposed project consistent with short and/or long term goals of the business?

The above five themes address concerns management and tech teams will likely have in regards to your project. Beating them to the punch will show you think like them, which will be good for the working relationship.

These answers also help the tech team assess if it should classify your tasks as high-priority, as tech team members usually works closely with the company’s decision makers to determine overall business priorities.

Finally, a brief will ensure project items are properly organized for the tech team, which ensures nothing is lost in translation during the transition.

Show Project Collaboration Evidence

A brief isn’t enough. In order for your prioritization brief to be convincing, you need to back your declarations on ROI, resource requirements, and organizational priorities with data.

Hence, before sharing your brief with the tech team, decide if you have collected enough data to support your claims.

Answer the following questions:

  • Did I include data from Google Analytics, Omniture, or another marketing product that my company uses?
  • Did I find publicly available resources (data from organizations or educational institutions) that help build my case?
  • Does my organization have an internal database, which contains “lessons learned” from previous projects, and did I use that information?
  • Did I use sales data or the company financial statements?
  • Did I consult an expert in the particular field?

If you answer “no” to most of the above, you may need to conduct primary marketing research to support your propositions. Of course, primary research can take a lot of time and resources. Carefully review how much time and money you can spend on research and get an approval from higher ups before taking this route.

Despite an often less than perfect relationship, you can in fact stay sane while working with tech teams. Just remember the end goal is prioritization.

Just remember, if everything else fails and tensions are high, resort to humor. After all, it is the language we all understand.

Lucjan Zaborowski is a marketing consultant at Simply Business, advising the company on online optimization and user experience projects. He has worked with firms in the United States, Poland, and the United Kingdom on growing their online presence via lean strategy. Lucjan holds a master’s degree in International Marketing from Boston University and is also a certified project manager with extensive experience in supporting large scale IT deployments for companies such as Dell, IBM, and Microsoft. Follow him on Twitter @GOcontent.

23 comments
seonacruz
seonacruz

Another way to future proof your career is to always keep acquiring new skills and get certified. PMP Certification is grt if you're at a project management level or aspire to be in pmstudy.com has a great free test if you'd like to gauge your project management knowledge.

dbvickery
dbvickery

For project management software, we've definitely used Basecamp with success, and we are now using Redmine. Of course, Rally is exceptional...but the price tag may be steep on a per-seat basis even though I think the cost savings in efficiency are far more than the monthly price.

 

I definitely appreciate you bringing up Agile (I know Ric Dragon is a big fan of Agile based upon his book). When you look at deliverables with a sprint mentality, and you have daily standups to avoid issues getting lost in the shuffle from week to week, you are much more effective at delivery and course corrections.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

Hmm.  Well I applaud this well thought out & laid out post as well as your initiative & eagerness to work well with IT staff.  I am the sole marketing person in a tech team/development shop.  I am married to a developer.  A developer who for years was the only developer living in a marketing department of a large firm.  Our specialty is working hand in hand with marketing firms, etc. on a daily basis.

 

I actually read this post last night.  I debated commenting, because so many things struck me, and I don't want to come off as arguementative. I think that overall I would say developers/IT staff would have a very different view of what they would say would help them stay sane when working with marketing departments, as well as what they would  agree or disagree with your list above.  But, I digress, I think that is a blog post in and of it self, whether that be on our SYDCON blog or a guest post here.  

I would say one thing that really struck me as well as @sydcon (my hubby, developer & our President) is "inviting teams to marketing meetings". I can say without a doubt that is the last thing developers enjoy.  They want to code, they typically dont like meetings, let alone marketing meetings. They are typically workhorses who dont feel the need to feel "included".  Sure we go to meeting with our agency clients all the time, but meetings take away from coding...coders hate that!

 

Thats just a scratch of the service as a developer point of you.  Like I said, I think I will do a post from the developer point of view.

belllindsay
belllindsay

Great post Lucjan - my last job involved a lot of interaction with tech teams daily - dare I say it was a bit of a nightmare? :) 

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

Good stuff Lucjan. I, and my IT colleagues, have worked with our Marketing department for many years to get where we are now, which is not perfect, but far better than we were in 2003. We've used some of the criteria and suggestions from your post. When we took on other customers, thus causing Marketing to compete for my development resources even more, going Agile and allowing the product owners (the business) to discuss the priorities among themselves helped the process. Also, the years of working together, getting to know each other personally and professionally, and showing the value we all bring to the company has done much to move us along and trust each other when these prioritization issues come up. Listening and attempting to see things from the other department's perspective are also important. Not always easy to do, but it's what I attempt to practice and preach to my folks. So, yes, please stay sane when dealing with IT and we will do the same when working with the business. I see a campfire, guitar, and joyous singing in the future...OK, too soon?

LucjanZaborowski
LucjanZaborowski

 @sydcon_mktg  @sydcon  Hello. I really appreciate your feedback and any different views/first hand experiences that you have. Every tech or marketing team is unique and its members may have dissimilar approach to collaboration.

 

When I say "invite members of a tech team to marketing meetings" I do not suggest IT guys will necessarily be happy to attend them. I think what matters here is the intent; the fact you invite them in the first place. It should not be mandatory for techies to attend marketing meetings, but from my experience people like to know they are being considered rather than ignored.

 

I would be psyched to read your post on this!

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

 @belllindsay Whew! Bit of a nightmare is way better than a horrific, make-nightmare-on-elm-street-look-like-a-disney-movie nightmare. We're getting better in IT. 

LucjanZaborowski
LucjanZaborowski

 @KevinVandever  Kevin, marketing and IT campfire sounds awesome! I think we both come to the same conclusion - strong personal relationships are the best prescription for effective collaboration between technical and non-technical teams. But it does take time and plenty of patience!

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

 @belllindsay  @LucjanZaborowski We in IT need to do a better job at using English (or your native language of choice) when working with Marketing or anyone in the business. I agree with @belllindsay , each business unit has their own specific language, but IT sometimes...OK, often times...uses IT lingo to confuse or impress. I've made a living out translating IT-speak into English for the rest of the world who doesn't care how many buzzwords and acronyms we can use. Actually, I've extended that living into attempting to stamp out corporate speak in general, but that's a topic for another day. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @LucjanZaborowski  @KevinVandever I agree Lucjan, as much as I hate jargon and lingo, we all use specific language in our day to day work, and while I will *never* have the brain to work in IT, gaining some rudimentary knowledge of what they do and their 'language' is a fairly simple thing to do. :) 

LucjanZaborowski
LucjanZaborowski

 @belllindsay  @KevinVandever  I do think IT is seeing the bigger picture more and more. We, marketers need to aim for the same by learning Agile and grasping basic technical concepts. Maybe not the most fun thing to do for 'creative' minds, but super-amazingly-helpful in the long run.

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