Working in an agency environment, managing internal deadlines alongside client requests can get tricky. Each week, I would come out of my internal meetings on Mondays overwhelmed by the number of things that needed to be accomplished by the end of the day on Wednesday. With all of my tasks due for internal review Wednesday afternoon, there simply wasn’t enough time during the first half of the week to complete it all. I was overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure of what to do. Finally, I took a step back to try to determine why I felt this way and what I could do about it.
By determining the problem and questioning what wasn’t working about current methodologies, having open and honest conversations with team members, and making adjustments, I was able to begin to manage internal deadlines more effectively without compromising client relationships. It made a huge difference in alleviating stress and becoming a better project manager.
Step 1: Determine the Problem
The first step in determining what is and isn’t working for internal teams is to figure out the problem. In this case, I was feeling overwhelmed by my workload, but I didn’t believe that the workload itself was the main problem. I took a step back and realized a large part of my stress was coming from overlapping internal deadlines. I bucketed the problems I was noticing into three different groups, which mainly varied based on the account:
- On some accounts, I was completing work on time, but it was sitting waiting to be reviewed for days. That means time could have been used more effectively.
- Our team was delivering the work to the client on Friday afternoon only for it to be reviewed by the client the following week.
- The internal meeting times sometimes seemed to be the problem. I was meeting with all of my account managers on Mondays, feeling overwhelmed by the end of the day on Monday, and only had two days to complete all of my work for the week.
Solving these problems meant having candid conversations with my various account managers regarding why internal deadlines just weren’t working week after week.
Step 2: Have Open and Honest Conversations
After discussing the roadblocks above with my various account teams, I found there were a lot of problem areas that could be resolved depending on each unique instance.
Solving Problem #1 - When will this deliverable be reviewed internally?
In order to solve problem 1, I’ve learned to be more transparent about my workload and have my account managers do the same for me in return. We discuss roadblocks as well as when they’ll realistically be reviewing my work. Rather than framing the conversation around needing to push internal deadlines back and not sticking to deadlines that were thoughtfully put in place, the conversation should be around questioning whether deadlines were set in a meaningful way and whether or not they’re realistic for both parties.
While it’s important to ensure both account managers and team leads have ample time to review given busy schedules, deliverables shouldn’t be sitting in review all day on Thursday if realistically the account manager won’t be reviewing until Friday.
In order to solve this problem, it’s essential for account teams to communicate so that everyone better understands why deadlines are set the way they are. Is there a strict project plan in place? Will we miss client deadlines if we change things around? Is there an opportunity to be flexible? It’s hard to uncover things that aren’t working without honest conversations and an understanding of both sides.
Solving Problem #2 - When is the client going to review the deliverable?
It wasn’t until I had internal meetings to help determine how I could solve this problem that I realized that delivering items to clients on Friday afternoons should be done only if there’s a meaningful reason. Delivering items to clients on Friday afternoon just to say they were delivered by the end of the week is not a meaningful reason.
First of all, it’s unlikely that clients are reviewing deliverables on Friday afternoon. If you’re finding that your account team is constantly delivering items to clients at the end of the week, it may not be surprising that the client hasn’t reviewed the deliverable by your next call. If there’s no need for them to review it before the weekend, the client may be ensuring high priority items get wrapped up before the weekend rather than reviewing items that can wait until the following week. Additionally, if the client doesn’t have time to take a look before the weekend, the email may be buried in their inbox by the time they get back into the office on Monday morning.
So, instead of just setting end of week deadlines, ask yourself and your account team if this is really the most effective time to deliver the item to the client.
Solving Problem #3 - Revisit internal meeting times
Putting internal meetings on the calendar for Mondays seems to make sense. You’ve finished your work from last week and you can align on what needs to be done in the week ahead. However, when Mondays become a meeting filled day and internal deadlines feel stressful, this is one way to alleviate that stress.
On one of my accounts, my account manager and I decided that Mondays were too hectic. We were both overwhelmed by the number of meetings we already had on the calendar, and we decided to switch our internal meetings to Tuesdays. We’ve found that it not only gives us a day to get back into the week and gather our thoughts before connecting, but it also forces us to reevaluate our internal deadlines and look at the week from the perspective of our to-do list beginning on Tuesday. For tighter deadlines (like the following day), this means forcing us to plan further ahead. The best part is that with more staggered meetings, I feel less overwhelmed on Monday afternoons.
Step 3: Make Changes
Finding solutions won’t make an impact unless you actually make changes as a result. Every account is different, which means solutions will vary based on not only the account but the account team. Despite the solution you come up with, a few things that can help you get started include:
- Questioning why things are the way they are. This includes asking meaningful questions to ensure the whole team is on the same page
- Speaking up when something isn’t working and finding a way to fix it
- Revisiting the project plan to determine where pain points and roadblocks are stemming from