Keeping Track in a Hyper-Paced World

By Bryan Bradley  |  Posted 2009-03-25

When Bryan Bradley became senior vice president of technology services, one of his primary goals was to bring a formal software development methodology to imc²’s technology practices. Project management is an important part of that methodology because it gives the agency a consistent way to keep track of its resources, accurately estimate project budgets and deliver exceptional work to clients on time and on budget.

The marketing world has always been fast-paced. However, interactive marketing is a hyper-paced industry, and our clients expect both rapid response and quality work. Established in 1995 by Doug Levy, imc came of age alongside the interactive marketing industry. As we’ve grown and matured over the years, we have continuously focused on ensuring that we provide the best strategy and quality creative services for our clients.

When I stepped into the role of senior vice president of technology services, one of my primary objectives was to bring a formal software development methodology to our technology practices. Formalizing our processes and methodology would enable us to scale and keep pace with our own success. An important part of that methodology is the project management discipline, which gives us a consistent way to keep track of our resources, accurately estimate project budgets and deliver exceptional client work—work that’s on time and on budget.

As imc grew, we needed to implement more robust systems to service our clients. In 2006, we began to explore ways to establish an integrated set of processes and systems to support every aspect of our work.

As part of our evolution in business process innovation, we established our program management office and tapped Erica Robertson to lead the department. Our PMO defined six business objectives to set up a process and technology infrastructure that would align with our company’s overall goals:

• Provide better visibility of staff resources and revenue.

• Permit a real-time view into our resources’ workloads.

• Allow multiple views for our staffing team to see different types of users, allowing for dashboard reporting for various groups.

• Offer insight into project “actuals” on a granular level.

• Integrate with our financial systems.

• Provide appropriate flexibility and scalability.

Supporting Our Clients’ Needs

Because our clients have varying needs, we must implement systems and processes that are extremely flexible. For some clients, we manage online projects in conjunction with large offline (print, television and radio) campaigns. We might launch a digital campaign for a client while a partner agency is launching an offline campaign. When a partner agency is involved, it’s especially critical that we plan, collaborate and communicate effectively with our partners, customers and internal teams.

We also needed greater visibility into all the work imc does each day. Because of the rapid pace of our work and the need to quickly shift staff resources from one project to another, we sought a real-time reporting and resource management solution. For example, if the Food and Drug Administration delays the release of a pharmaceutical product launch, then we must be able to shift and redirect that team to work on another project.

In addition, we have a number of partnerships and alliances to provide the best solutions for our clients’ needs, whether that is through leveraging alliance technologies (such as Microsoft or ATG), employing technologies we have developed ourselves, or forging partnerships to boost our delivery capability and solidify our internal infrastructure.

Our technology world is interdependent, so we must recognize and adopt best-of-breed solutions and identify how they can help us. It’s also important to know the areas in which we may have to do more work internally to integrate these solutions.

Finding a Collaborative Solution

Given that our clients have differing requirements and that production schedules have become so compressed, we needed a collaborative project management solution that would adapt to the way we work. Our overall approach is centered on frameworks, and those frameworks grow and change based on our clients’ industries. So we needed a tool that could grow and change with us.

Because the majority of our revenue is based on billable client projects and professional services, we rely on our project management processes to help us deliver projects on time and on budget. A significant part of this is resource allocation. We not only have to manage our staff resources effectively and efficiently, but all our team members also have to track their time to the minute.

This meant that part of our overall solution had to include a flexible Web-based project management system that was powerful enough to meet the needs of our senior project managers, but simple enough so that everyone involved with a project—whether in-house or across partner agencies—would adopt it.

Time entry had to be straightforward enough that it would take only a couple of minutes to complete. And, perhaps most importantly, the software had to be accessible to team members from client sites and remote locations in order to support and present real-time data updates.

To find the ideal solution, I assembled a team of key stakeholders throughout the company who represented our key disciplines. Together, we researched potential solutions and leveraged some research from analysts like Forrester and Gartner. We soon came up with a short list of about 10 Web-based project management software systems, and we conducted a thorough evaluation of each.

Implementation and Integration

After an exhaustive review, in January 2007 we went live with a pilot project for the Enterprise Accessible Server Edition of Project Insight Web-based project management software from Metafuse. The pilot was so successful that, by the end of February 2007, we rolled Project Insight out across our entire company.

Metafuse worked with our Great Plains (MS Dynamics) partner to integrate Project Insight’s budgeting and costing data with our accounting software and with our expenses, which are stored in an in-house program. These integrations were performed with Project Insight’s Web Services APIs.

Since the implementation, our resource allocation has improved. We operate in an extremely fast-paced environment, so our staff requirements can change daily. One of the most significant benefits of this program is that it gives us the ability to staff in real time. At any given moment, I can see which resources are available and sort them by skill set. Then, our resource managers can put our team members to the best, most productive use.

In the past, resource visibility was always a week behind because we were using a manual process to compile the project plans in our portfolio. Now, we have a real-time view of everything in our portfolio at the click of a button, and we have visibility of 60 to 90 days—instead of only the week we had previously. That makes it much easier to adapt to our clients’ changing needs.

Our continuously evolving methods, processes and technology solutions provide key supports in helping us achieve our long-term vision of scale, while improving our transparency to customers as part of producing excellent creative and strategic work.

With offices in Dallas, New York and Philadelphia, imc² is a full-service digital agency that helps its clients use interactive marketing to communicate with their own customers. Those clients include Pizza Hut, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.