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How Collaboration Can Cure Most Marketing Project Ills

man writing on post-it notes on planning board

A project is a project. While everyone seems to think their projects are different, this simply isn’t true. After training thousands of project leaders over more than 20 years, we’ve found that each group faces the same Top 10 problems, regardless of industry.


That said, the problems faced when creating something concrete, like a building, do differ from those encountered when executing something more intangible, like a marketing campaign.

Common Marketing Challenges

Following are a few of the typical problems we’ve helped marketing organizations overcome. See if any of these situations sound familiar.

  1. The project scope keeps changing. Changes in scope can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes the marketing team thinks they know what the customer wants, only to find out later that they were mistaken. Or maybe the customer doesn’t know what they want, but “they’ll know it when they see it.” Another variation occurs when the customer thinks they know what they want, but then changes their mind halfway through the project. Or the customer leaves mid-project and a new person with a new vision takes over that position. There could also be a major strategic shift within the organization that changes the scope. The list can go on and on.
  2. The project team jumps into action. Marketing people tend to be doers; they like action and don’t inherently see the value of planning. We once worked with a sports organization that forbade us from using the “P” word—planning—when working with their teams. (How can you possibly optimize projects without addressing planning?) This client simply wanted to get on with executing the project, and that’s a natural response for people who prefer doing to planning.
  3. Everyone works independently, in silos. Marketing spans a whole array of specialties: campaigns, social media, product marketing, global marketing, etc. Often, marketing projects have each of the groups involved working independently, creating their own plans and then executing against them. This approach, however, usually results in no master plan, no common schedule that shows all the interdependencies. Another problem comes from the fact that projects are cross-functional by nature. Most marketing projects have non-marketing stakeholders, and these people—in sales, IT or customer service, for example—are typically not included on the project team. Consequently, key voices are not being heard until it’s too late—when the stakeholders are unhappy with the marketing deliverables. 

Practical Solutions

Let’s look at how you solve these three critical challenges the marketing projects face. 

Scope changes. If you’re facing any of the scope problems discussed above, then you’re probably experiencing “scope creep,” which can be as dramatic as an all-out “about face,” where the customer wants something else entirely. Constantly revising scope creates rampant rework and wastes valuable resources.

One of the first critical tasks is to clarify what problem the customer is trying to solve. When the customer presents their idea of the solution, the marketing team needs to validate that the requested solution will actually solve the underlying problem. Conduct a “Solution Definition” session with the customer and map out the solution, using both images and words, in a way that the customer can understand and relate to. Use this opportunity to drill down into what’s really important to the customer, including the must-have features and functions, as well as a prioritized list of nice-to-have elements.  

As much as possible, create mock-ups that translate the customer’s verbal requests into pictures. Customers may not understand your marketing lingo, even if they are nodding their heads. Plus, most people are visual thinkers. Drawing pictures or diagrams and creating mock-ups will help avoid a disconnect between what the customer thinks you are doing and what you actually are doing. 

Even the best planning efforts can’t address all contingencies. For this reason, it’s important to have a change management process. Large changes often require re-planning the project from the beginning. So plan for this circumstance, while following the above steps to minimize how often you have to resort to this one.

Premature action. Teams that skip the planning phase usually haven’t learned effective planning tools and techniques, which involve true collaboration—not to be confused with the directive approach where a leader solicits team input but makes all the decisions. Too often, it’s the project manager that does the planning, and team members don’t have a real connection to the overall project.

By switching to a collaborative project leadership approach, the team engages in the planning process, and through that engagement, they develop ownership in the project solution. Collaborative planning adds value to marketing projects, and when done properly, it makes the execution phase—the longest and most costly of the project phases—go more smoothly. 

Silo syndrome. This situation results from lack of awareness of the need to involve stakeholders in projects that cross functions. Too often, leaders become isolated in their vertical silos and pursue goals that are functionally driven—often to the detriment of the larger organization. But because projects cross functional boundaries and need to be led differently. Leaders really need to learn how to lead collaborative projects. In fact, this one competency forms the basis of the leadership skills required in today’s organizations

All of these problems can be solved by developing real capability in leading cross-functional projects, using a collaborative project leadership approach. If you want to know more, take our free crash course on project leadership, and then look for our virtual training in project leadership. 

Paula Martin

Paula Martin is a Master Level Certified Matrix Management Consultant™ (CMMC™—MOL), and the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute. She is the developer of the MM 2.0™ Operating System, and the author of the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, the Matrix Management Reinvented book series, and more than 10 other books on topics related to Matrix Management and Managing Projects in a Matrix.