Nothing feels better than completing a content marketing project, especially completing it on time.
When it comes to finishing a content marketing project on schedule, the whole must always be greater than the sum of its parts. This holistic view can be achieved with a documented project timeline that will help you manage the whole project by keeping the individual parts in line.
Still not sold? I’ve created hundreds of project timelines and have found that each one ensures the following:
- All team players are on the same page, collaborating and creating effective content marketing.
- Everyone understands when each task is scheduled to start (and end).
- All parties keep the projected end date in mind.
- No one misses tasks. When teams are aware of how their individual tasks contribute to the larger picture, it creates something I like to call the “no excuse” effect.
Breaking Down the Timeline
Before you begin a project timeline, make sure you’ve got at least some general information like a general publish date, creative concepts or just the amount of content you want to publish.
If you’ve got at least some of that information, then we can get started on a project timeline:
1. Create a one-page description
A project timeline might imply that dates should be included up front, but that can only happen once you have all of your stages laid out.
Much like a logline or call sheet in video, you first need to thoroughly yet succinctly describe the important pieces of the project. Be sure to list:
- Stakeholders and key players involved with the project (including internal and external team members).
- Important contact information.
- Project description in 1-2 sentences.
- Creative concepts, reminders and necessary details.
- Key dates.
2. Determine action items and levels of review
Now build out the actions and all content deliverables. For example, if you’re creating a spring cleaning article, make sure you include photos and social media visuals as part of your deliverables.
Next you’ll need to consider the necessary time requirements and various levels of review for each stage of the project. Consider questions such as: How much time do you need for visual design? Does legal have to weigh in? Does your design team need time to create a mood board before heading into the production stage?
Now’s the time to take a step back and share the above project description and action items with your fellow team members. Many of them will be experts on their particular task and can let you know if you overlooked a key step.
I’ll also say this again: You should confirm all of this before adding due dates. Otherwise, you’ll have to revise the timeline a lot more than necessary.
4. Build in dates
Finally it’s time to write in dates for each action item. Be sure to allot extra time for fleshing out unfamiliar tasks such as new content formats, since many unexpected factors can affect timing or add additional steps. Remember: it never hurts to add in more time upfront.
On particularly time-sensitive projects with a hard end date, I like to start with the drop dead date and work backwards. This also helps when working on seasonal content. For example, if you know you have to publish your campaign before the December holiday season, aim for completion in early October.
5. Review (again)
Once you’ve got deadlines in place, send the timeline around for a second review. You don’t want to learn that your lead editor has a two-week vacation scheduled the day before she’s supposed to begin her portion of the project.
This is also the point at which you should get a final sign-off from all stakeholders, including those who don’t have action items or tasks. Remember, everyone has the same end goal so each person should approve both their individual tasks and overall timing.
After everyone has given approval, save the timeline in an accessible location so that others can easily refer to it.
Now it’s time for the reality of your perfectly-crafted timeline: It’s going to change. Yep, no matter how many reviews and careful revisions you make, you are going to have to make an adjustment sooner or later.
To decrease the number of times you have to do this, however, review your timeline on a daily or weekly basis (depending on how high-touch the project is). Just remember that any time you update the timeline, you should share it with your stakeholders and key players.