Digital Project Management & Communications

Tag: Planning

Jillian Kuhn Warren excels at planning all sorts of projects and events, stemming from her organized nature and backgrounds in producing and project management.

DIY Weekly Meal Planner


When you plan things for a living, it’s hard to turn it off at the end of the day! I decided to use my skills at home to coordinate the schedules of my busy family.

I was inspired by a few pins on Pinterest and decided to make a customized family meal planner. This one tracks not only our dinner plans, but also our evening social plans – since we’re always on the go!

Here is the list of supplies I needed for this project. I already had most of them around the house, but I picked up the rest at Michael’s:

  • Horizontal picture frame
  • Colored paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue or double-sided tape
  • Alphabet stickers
  • Dry erase markers

I cut out the different shapes of colored paper and assembled them with double-sided tape. Then, I added words and days of the week with stickers before framing the whole thing. Now, each Sunday night, I write out our weekly plans and meals with dry erase marker. All you need is a Kleenex to wipe it right off!

The Secret Talent of a Good Project Manager

City map

I challenge you to find me a project manager who could not have a successful side job as a travel agent.

From my experience, project managers are excellent trip planners. The PM mindset and skill set lend themselves nicely to the organizing and executing of a grand travel plan:

  • Research
  • Considering different personalities and preferences
  • Weighing different options before selecting the best course of action
  • Documenting decisions and purchases made
  • Setting a budget and sticking to it
  • Thinking through all possible issues, risks, and tiny details
  • Developing a detailed itinerary
  • Communicating the plan to all parties
  • Getting everyone on board

As a professional project manager, I planned several travel ventures for my project teams — and, let me tell you, planning a multi-person business trip is an extremely detailed process.

Perhaps this project management training is why I’ve been having so much fun planning an international vacation for later this year. A normal, non-PM-minded person’s head might spin when considering international train schedules, nonsensical museum hours and holiday closings, hotel prices and locations in alien cities, and a million different flight options … But not me! This is where I thrive.

Although, even I must admit that sometimes there just seem to be too many choices nowadays. Here are a few tools I’ve used to help make sense of it all:

  • TripIt: TripIt has been a godsend for planning this particular trip, though you can use it for much smaller travel plans, as well. You just forward your flight/hotel/etc. confirmation email to them, and it “automagically” creates an online itinerary. You can add maps, images, notes, contact numbers, and anything else you might need during your trip. They’ve got some great apps for your phone and iPad, for easy access while you’re on the road.
  • Expedia‘s multiple destinations flight booking: We plan on flying into one major metropolis and then flying back to the US from a completely different country, so a round-trip fare wasn’t an option. One-way tickets aren’t always cheaper — and, when they are, they’re often on low-cost carriers with crazy baggage restrictions and fees. We also plan on taking trains and cars, instead of a flight, to make our way from our original destination to our final destination. This unfortunately ruled out several flight aggregator sites, like Kayak and Orbitz, whose multiple destinations booking requires you to purchase a flight from your first city to your last. Never fear, though: Expedia to the rescue! Expedia was the only major aggregator I found that easily let you book two one-way trips (without also booking a flight between those two airports) and still get the discounted package rate. We got two one-way flights, 3 nights at a hotel in our first destination, and 5 nights in our final city … All for way cheaper than if we’d bought through a different site.
  • Google Maps: This one should go without saying. Google Maps (admittedly in conjunction with a host of other review sites and travel guides) helped us figure out ideal hotel locations. Google Street View even lets you check out the surrounding neighborhoods. In keeping with the Google family, I did a lot of preliminary comparison shopping, budget planning, and scheduling in a Google spreadsheet.
  • European travel sites: If you’re traveling to “the continent,” these sites are clutch — Via Michelin, Eurail, and Bahn (the German train site that has everything you need in English).
  • There are a million sites you can use to book hotel rooms — but for this particular voyage, seemed to have the lowest prices. I can’t vouch that this is always true for any type of trip, but it’s at least worth a look when you’re price shopping.

These are only a few of the hidden secrets of the project manager/travel agent. Let me know your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below!

Using Google Calendar to Manage Tasks

Google Calendar

As a Project Manager, people often ask me how I keep up with all of my various tasks. I’m traditionally a Post-It and To-Do List girl, but over the past few years I’ve migrated most of those paper lists into my Google Calendar.

Here are a few of the benefits of using Google Calendar:

Access: Since your calendars are in the cloud, you can access them anytime, anywhere. I always have them pulled up on my smartphone or in an app.

Price: Google is free… And an excellent value for the money.

Alerts: You can set up email or pop-up reminders for events, and you can customize when to receive them.

Sharing: You can share access to your calendar with others, so they can easily check your schedule.

Multiple Calendars: Google lets you create multiple calendars that can all be viewed simultaneously, and you can color-code them to help differentiate. Here are some examples of my different calendars:

  1. Personal: This is my default view for all my personal life events, from doctor’s appointments to girls’ nights out.
  2. Work: This keeps track of my professional meetings.
  3. Family: My husband and I share this calendar as a way to record all our joint plans, including the all-important Date Night.
  4. Personal To-Do List: Need to return that phone call, write an email, or pay a bill? Need to remind yourself to run an errand next Tuesday? I add these to my calendar, along with an email reminder, so I can forget about them until the moment they pop up in my email inbox (which usually ends up serving as my more immediate to-do list).
  5. Work To-Do List: I keep a separate calendar to remind me of deadlines and tasks. I often have to share my main Work calendar with coworkers, so they can see my availability during business hours and more easily schedule meetings. Having this second, private calendar separates out the non-time-sensitive items without clogging my Work calendar.
  6. Exercise, food, special events, etc.: I don’t always use these, but in the past I’ve had unique calendars to help keep track of my exercise routine, track my eating habits, and even outline the event calendar for my wedding.

Using Google Calendar may not be the ultimate solution to everyone’s planning and tracking needs, but it’s worked well for me! What tools do you use?

The Key to Starting a Project Off Right

Web Project Team

October 4, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

You’ve put together the proposal, made the pitch, and sold the project. Great! Now, it’s time for the kick-off meeting.

Kick-off meetings can be intimidating. In some cases, it’s the first time you’ll meet the client, and it’s always a key moment in determining the course and tone of the project. A great kick-off can lead to smooth sailing, while a not-so-great one can initiate months of misery. Make sure you don’t go into this meeting unprepared.

Here at Viget, to prepare for kick-off, we start each project with an internal kick-off meeting. That’s right; we kick off our kick-offs. A few days before the real, client-facing meeting, we gather the whole internal team together to get everyone on the same page.

This is crucial. Going into a kick-off with an informed team and a deliberate plan helps you get the most out of your discussion — learning as much as possible and making important project decisions without wasting valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time. In my experience, project kick-offs without internal preparation often feel disjointed. There is no clear team vision or cohesion, and the kick-off becomes more about about educating the internal team than about laying the foundation for a successful project and relationship.

My internal kick-off agendas typically include:

  • Information on the internal team. We’ll be spending the next several weeks or months working together, so we set expectations early about who is on the team and each individual’s role. We also discuss internal communications methods, like which systems we’ll use to share deliverables or outline details of specific tasks or tickets.
  • A basic introduction to the client and the project. We review the history of our relationship with this client, the client’s main stakeholders, and the “10,000-foot” overview of the project — including high-level goals and motivation. I also provide links to any relevant documents or research: contracts, notes from the sales process, analytics, client-provided documents, etc.
  • Scope details. Although the PM will largely be the only one concerned with money, schedule, and contractual obligations throughout the project, it certainly helps if the whole team is aware of the constraints from day one. We discuss the budget, timeline, process, and deliverables. Everyone knows what is expected of them — both individually and as a team. This also gives us a great opportunity to discuss anything we might want to change about the project process or any new approach we might want to try.
  • A discussion of next steps. Now that we’re familiar with the nitty-gritty, we decide how to actually kick off the project. We not only figure out the logistics of the kick-off meeting — like meeting location, transportation, dress code, and technological requirements — but we also start to set the agenda. While many kick-off agendas cover the same basic topics, we deviate from the standard and customize our discussions for each project. We make sure to touch on any red flags or important questions that came up during our internal discussions, and we suggest any exercises or “games” we want to run with the client.

After the internal kick-off, there is still more preparation to be done. The team does research, reviews project documents and analytics, and prepares any visuals, slideshows, data, or exercises needed for the kick-off meeting. We also ask our clients to fill out an introductory survey about their business, users, goals, and preferences — so we review those responses, too.

Meanwhile, the project manager uses the internal kick-off conversation as a guide to create the kick-off agenda. The whole team will review and approve the agenda before it gets finalized and sent to the client. Also, here’s a nifty PM trick: create two versions of the kick-off agenda. The client-facing version is the “official” version, and the internal version includes additional questions, notes, and info on who will be leading each point of discussion.

I’m sure every project manager starts his projects differently. Even Viget PMs have their subtle differences! How do you start your projects? Do you kick off your kick-offs, and what do you discuss?

The 7 P’s of Web Projects … And 7 Reasons Why They Work

June 10, 2010
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Think back to your school days, when you were tasked with writing the longest research paper of your life. Chances are, you pulled an all-nighter before the deadline and miraculously cranked out an acceptable essay (double-spaced, of course). Looking back, do you think this was your finest work? Would you want the rest of the world to look at this hastily thrown-together effort as the ultimate representation of your abilities?

No, I didn’t think so.

It surprises me how often companies take this “all-nighter” approach for their websites. They want their new site to do X, Y, and Z … and they want it NOW. A website, like a research paper, isn’t something that should be pieced together as quickly as possible without proper preparation. A research paper without research is often a disorganized jumble with no coherent vision or purpose; a website without strategy will reach the same fate.

This is where the 7 P’s come in.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (please pardon my French!). A former coworker loved to quote this phrase, and though he wasn’t talking about web development, the philosophy fits our field perfectly. In any web effort, a great deal of thought goes into the project before a developer even dreams up the first line of code.

The Viget process builds in plenty of Proper Prior Planning, and we’re always working on ways to add even more creative and strategic collaboration at the onset of an engagement. Additional critical thinking up-front achieves several important objectives and starts the project on a positive trajectory.

However, the benefits of this strategic Prior Planning portion of the project are often less obvious than the more tangible benefits delivered at later stages (new site maps or designs, for instance) and therefore need a little extra explanation. So, without further ado, here are 7 major reasons why the 7 P’s will improve your web project:

  1. Better knowledge of your business. You wouldn’t give a stranger the keys to your house, so don’t give them the keys to your website, either. Strategic planning gives us the opportunity to really get to know a client’s brand, goals, audience, and industry. Once we can “think like the client,” we can make the best possible decisions to guide the project.
  2. Collaboration. Because of the nature of development and design, a lot of our work is done solo. Getting everyone together, especially at the start of an engagement, solidifies the team, puts everyone on the same page, and encourages open communication — which undoubtedly leads to a better project experience.
  3. Customization. Since every project is different, why should they all follow the same standard process? Prior Planning gives us the flexibility to tailor the process to meet the client’s specific needs — instead of locking in a definitive course of action before we’re even familiar with the project. Maybe the initial proposal suggests a site map, but as we get to know the project better we’ll realize that a concept model would be more effective.
  4. Innovation. Rome wasn’t built in a day; awesome web ideas take a little more effort, as well. Getting our best and brightest together to brainstorm on a project before production starts gets the creative juices flowing and leads to new and original concepts that take a site to the next level.
  5. Minimizing complications. Inevitably, during a project, something will go wrong. If you don’t ask all the important questions and identify potential obstacles now, you’ll be unprepared when complications pop up later (which will undoubtedly cost more time and money). Advanced awareness will help you avoid these pitfalls throughout the project.
  6. Problem-solving. “All-nighter” websites usually bear an eerie resemblance to the old site, and you’ll find yourself dealing with the same old problems. Strategy sessions let us think these through and propose effective solutions. If the Contact form wasn’t getting conversions on the old site, rest assured we’ll find a way to improve the new one.
  7. A straighter, speedier project. If you carefully plan your route before embarking on a road trip, you’re less likely to get lost, and you’ll make better time. Prior Planning increases efficiency. The rest of the project will go faster and easier, getting you directly to your end goal without the costly need to stop and ask for directions at each turn.

These 7 reasons alone are enough to justify more strategic activity up-front, and I’m sure there are even more benefits (which I’d love to hear — please comment with your thoughts!). Of course, there are always issues of time and budget, but it is unquestionably worthwhile to make room for Proper Prior Planning if your scope will allow. When you think first and develop a strategy before launching into the production phase of an engagement, you’re more likely to achieve the final 4 P’s: Preventing Piss Poor Performance.

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