For the past few weeks, we’ve been getting to know how individual teamlancers working as content strategists, editors, digital marketers, and community managers support each other and their clients in a Teamlancing™ collaboration.
And as we Meet the Teamlancers, we learn about the ways they’ve perfected their team freelance dynamic, or at least the way they’ve been trying to. This time around, we’re going to touch on the idea of someone who manages or produces projects and keeps track of everyone else’s productivity, work and deadlines.
When it comes down to it, Teamlancing is a group effort but there also has to be someone accountable to both the team and the client. So while the parameters of the working relationship may seem more relaxed, there should always be one person ensuring things run smoothly internally and externally, which is the project manager (or producer).
What’s a scrum, and how does it apply to teamlancing?
About five years ago, a few quirky terms, including scrum and kanban, started making their way into modern business-speak. Let’s start with the latter. The kanban system, as explained on investopedia.com, “is an inventory control system used in just-in-time manufacturing,” with the idea being to reduce waste by ordering materials only as needed. On the other hand, scrum was often used to describe the software creation process, but for our purposes, it will be used to define the way different teams potentially interact.
In 2016, Harvard Business Review shared a fairly extensive article about agile innovation, an IT concept that extended to a wide array of industries. One of the concepts that carry over especially well to teamlancing is the idea that each organization forms small teams, which in the example, is described as being “cross-functional and includes all the skills necessary to complete its tasks. It manages itself and is strictly accountable for every aspect of the work.”
Deep in the scrum is the team’s initiative or product owner who both manages the team and is responsible for delivering value to the customers both internally and externally. What’s fascinating about the way HBR described it is that the initiative owner doesn’t act like a boss in any way, but rather the team works together and “creates a simple road map and plans in detail only those activities that won’t change before execution.” This leaves a lot of wiggle room for the deliverables to evolve along with the roles of those creating the end product, even if it’s a graphic or a presentation.
Follow the leader: understanding the project manager’s role
In most team and teamlancing settings, a leader manages the team, produces the event, or otherwise pulls all the moving parts together and ensures everything gets done.
Before COVID, Annette Gallagher, Red Tornado Communication owner, was hired to be a content marketing manager, working with the corporate head office and three of the six regions. She had a counterpart who handled the other three regions and corporate as well.
As Gallagher explains it, “Two years in, we had a change in vice presidents and then a shift in the department structure. So I was made content marketing manager and agency lead.”
And that’s when things moved from content to project management.
“The agency lead part is where project management was key. I lived in Basecamp; managing projects the internal agency created for all six regions and corporate, as well as still leading content creation and some strategy.”
3 reasons to consider borrowing management techniques from other industries:
- You’ll be able to see the forest and the trees. While concepts like scrum or kanban might sound alien to you or your team, they allow you to redirect attention from any potential internal stress and move onto the business of running your business.
- Whether you call it a coach, a supervisor, or a team leader, you should probably assign someone to be the point person between the team and your client.
- There’s a reason sports metaphors are so popular in the business arena; we understand the analogies. Even if teamlancing is new to you, you can create a sense of familiarity by adding recognizable hints throughout.
Who’s the teamlancing point person?
Since we all could use an inspirational quote from time to time, here’s a relevant one by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
When teamlancing, the best leaders don’t aggressively act like they’re running a team but rather gently guide, remind, or edit as needed. What they do, though, is keep things cohesive and running smoothly. And while project management apps like Asana allow most of us to have a semblance of unity, it’s almost inevitable that someone in the group will be the point person keeping track or gently nudging everyone to meet deadlines attend meetings.
Pro tip: If you’re the one who ends up managing things, you should talk to your client or supervisor before things get too deep. Try to negotiate a better pay rate, different titles, or some way your extra work will be recognized. And if the management aspect becomes overwhelming, consider requesting this become your sole contribution.
And in case you’re unsure about how to create a hierarchy in your team, first identify the responsibilities of a project manager and then figure out the gaps in your workflow. By definition, a project manager or a producer either plans a project or oversees it in some industries.
In the teamlancing setup, you’ll more often have a client brief that’s been shared with every team member. If that’s not the case, you’ll find that you receive the part of the project you’re responsible for on a need-to-know basis. All well and good until gaps in the system or last-minute rush jobs mean that all isn’t running as smoothly as anticipated. Then, there’s the part where someone from the team has to liaise with clients, or at least the project manager on the client end.
The project life cycle
Over the course of an ongoing project, a project manager or producer might find that the project’s ebb and flow means that there will be different priorities throughout. While Gallagher managed several teams overall, she didn’t have direct management over every region. The way her work was structured, work was sent to her, and it was her responsibility “to make sure that all the needs were met, on time, or to shift timelines, deadlines, etc., based on priorities and work already in the queue.”
For Gallagher, “Basecamp and Outlook were key to being able to see the big picture and make sure that deadlines were met and big projects were continuing on the right track.”
And while managing so many constantly moving pieces was a challenge, she found that the hardest part “was working in the company-wide group review sessions, finding time on the calendars of roughly 20 people across 4 time zones and meeting our review schedule while doing so.” And planning projects of that scope requires extensive time-management skills as well. “Even working 6 months out, people were unavailable,” Gallagher said.
The three stages of project management:
- Initiate/plan. Get things going and plan the workflow and responsibilities.
- Execute. Get things done. Monitor your teamlancers to make sure they can meet or beat deadlines.
- Close/sign off. Was the project a success? Hurrah! Let your client know in detail, and then wish them well.
Restructure as necessary
Many people hate to make waves professionally, but if your team-managed project doesn’t work, it’s critical to repair it before the entire project tanks. That also means that if the system being used is outdated, you might want to suggest major upgrades or at least the ones that make it work better on all ends.
I volunteer with senior citizens and was recently attempting to help someone wade through the archaic customer service portal that required extensive input from Caremark tech support. The support we received was ultimately so exceptional that I won’t tech shame CVS for having a woefully inadequate way of updating insurance information online.
However, I have to wonder what prompts a $150 billion company to offer a system that is so counter-intuitive that it makes people who have been using them for years want to change pharmacies rather than spend hours trying to update their accounts.
Make it a group effort
While editing by committee is always a terrible idea, updating by committee can often benefit everyone. Besides, if something isn’t working, change it rather than trying to encourage others to work on a broken system along with you.
Gallagher admits that she’s retooled nearly every project she’s worked on.
“Almost every job I’ve had has resulted in me setting up a new organization system — or two.” She’s also walked into offices where she “threw away 15 years of paper and set up new management systems.” For Gallagher, this process creates a better project overall and gives her the feeling that she’s “straightening out chaos.”
Before you decide to restructure a project you’re managing, Gallagher advises taking a look at the end goal. And then ask yourself some tough questions. “Do you need your team to work together more efficiently? Are deadlines your problem? Accountability? Keeping files grouped?”
When you’ve figured that part out, she suggests you “make a list of the outcome you want, the weaknesses you need to address, and then find the system that will work for you.”
And here’s where the team part in teamlancing is crucial. Even as you do over whatever system you’re using, Gallagher says to “Keep everyone’s personalities and tech skills in mind.”
She recently helped a client pick a new project management system and focused on “tools that allowed bigger picture, higher-level project planning.” Gallagher’s client needed more of an insight into what everyone was doing “and reminders of deadlines than a place to track the minutiae of every single job.”
Manage your own expectations
While it might feel exhilarating to tackle a system-wide makeover for every teamlancing project you work on, you might want to reconsider.
“If the system you choose is too complex, or doesn’t have an appealing interface to the people who use it, or is missing a critical feature like reminders, your team will balk at using it, and then you’ve wasted your money and time,” Gallagher cautions.
Like most aspects of teamlancing, the key is to create a system that works easily and consistently for all team members.
Before you volunteer to manage or produce the next project…
- Ask your client their definition of a successful collaboration. If they’re unsure of what to do, you’ll probably have an easy time pulling things together. However, if they have a view of collaboration that doesn’t align with yours, find a project manager who will be a better fit.
- Find out how rigid their deadlines are. And if team members chronically miss deadlines, consider telling them elements are due way earlier than they actually are.
- Ask for feedback every step of the way. If some of your teamlancers are simmering about a requirement, they might end up sabotaging the rest of the team’s success.