In the marketing game, sometimes you get sent backward, moved ahead, or forced to lose a turn. Unpredictability and chaos abound, often making work a game of chance despite efforts to strategize. You may have a set process but it can quickly devolve into a roll the dice.

There is a way to change the game of marketing. There are key strategies to eliminate work chaos and gain control of the board. Creativity and strategic execution are the keys to winning.

Attack of the work requests

Requests for work come from every direction—email, meetings, sticky notes, phone calls, and text messages. You make spreadsheets. You write lists. But in the constant barrage, you can’t keep track of it all.

How do we prioritize the work to achieve strategic objectives? By getting on top of the overflowing pipeline of requests with these best practices:

  • Centralize request management. Choose one place to manage requests. This becomes the single source of record for all marketing activities. The penalty for going around the system is that the new request won’t be heard.
  • Provide resource visibility. Before you consider any requests, you should be able to check your availability and that of others. Get access to resource skills and schedules to better target work availability.
  • Align to business goals. This weeds out ideas that are cool for the sake of being cool from ones that contribute to business goals directly.
  • Enforce business cases. Requesters should have any work requests, big or small, vetted to be sure they will realize ROI and meet strategic goals. This ensures prioritization from the top down.
  • Understand tradeoffs. Urgent, new requests can interrupt work in the pipeline causing unnecessary delays. It’s imperative to understand the tradeoffs and downstream work impacts of new requests.
  • Empower workers. Every team member needs to be able to say “no” when the request is not aligned with strategic objectives, won’t turn out acceptable ROI, or requires more resources than available.

Spinning plates mayhem

Marketing activities can generate more work than there are hours in a day. There are campaigns and creative briefs, research and advertising—the list goes on. There is always far more work to do than hours and people to do it all.

A 2012 survey by ComPsych shows that 63% of workers have high levels of stress, with extreme fatigue/feeling out of control and 36% of workers lose an hour or more per day at work due to stress.

The best way to excel here is to develop consistency. That means using a process that ensures every task and every resource is identified the same way every time. Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Achieve consistency. Take the extra time at the start to create a process. This will ensure that work gets done the right way every time. The added benefit is that everyone knows what is expected and can plan their own work more efficiently.
  • Develop standards. Create standard templates and timelines. Outlining the steps and resources needed will ensure that you haven’t missed critical tasks or done them in the wrong order. Once a template contains all the necessary steps, add timeline thresholds needed to complete each step.
  • Reap rewards. By requiring templates and timelines, you can save time by automating repetitive tasks. Additionally, you can more accurately forecast the time needed and be sure nothing gets missed. Be sure to consider holidays, vacations, and company events when planning. Then, roll up each request into a master calendar.

In 2013, organizations with successful work performance measures (on time, on budget, and goals met) are almost three times more likely than organizations with poor work performance to use standardized practices throughout the organization, and have better outcomes as a result.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send your best resource on over!

You need a resource, but you have no idea what everyone is doing or whether they have time to work on your request. In marketing, there are seemingly endless levels of company, team, and individual priorities. These may be based on direction from the top, project timelines, or even emergencies. Needless to say, everyone in marketing is busy!

It’s a fine balancing act to keep your resources happy and still get them to do what you need. If you’re not careful, deadlines and budgets will get missed and, pretty soon, you’ll have stressed out resources who won’t stick around for long. Research shows 66% of workers say they don’t have enough time to get their work done and 63% fighting high levels of stress and extreme fatigue.

Reduce stress and win resources

The way to win the hearts and time of your resources is to make sure they feel they can control their workload. The secret is to keep them stress-free so they can be productive. Here’s how:

  • Reduce the busy work. Start by establishing a streamlined request management process to ensure that work is initiated the right way. This will reduce the stress that comes from interruptions.
  • Provide visibility into commitments. Make sure you have a way to communicate to the team what everyone is working on and if they have any bandwidth.
  • Understand the urgency of every request. Know which requests can slip when last-minute, emergency requests come into the pipeline. That requires a solid understanding of priorities and deadlines for every existing deliverable.
  • Allow resources to be people too. Today, 30% of workers have no time at all for thought and reflection during their day. Build padding into all of your resource schedules to account for worker downtime.

Employees who report being happiest at work stay twice as long in their jobs, spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do, and take 10 times less sick leave.

Get a clue about your work status

Everyone in marketing is busy. Often, what they’re working on is a mystery. Solving the mystery requires communicating who’s doing what, where, and when. It’s not easy to do when communication and collaboration systems aren’t working.

On average, two in five projects do not meet their original goals and business intent, and one-half of those unsuccessful projects are related to ineffective communications.

To win at managing work, you need to know what different resources are doing and what tasks are behind schedule in order to take appropriate actions. Here’s some things to do to start:

  • Reduce the resistance. Create a centralized system that lets users collaborate in a single location. This reduces the disparate communication, eliminating information overload. Standardize what you need to communicate and to whom. Minimize updates and base them on the criteria, frequency, and content already established.
  • Make status a value-add. Allow team members to quickly update their task status, review the status of other tasks, and respond easily with feedback in one agreed upon place. When the members of the organization can easily update and access information, they are more likely to do it.
  • Provide customized communication. Different stakeholders have different things they need to know at different times. Take the time to learn what your stakeholders’ needs are and make sure the information you give them is in the context of their role.

Mother may I … get your approval?

Working on marketing initiatives can be a series of starts and stops. Because the accuracy of the message is so critical, there are several approval steps along the way. That means having to hunt down and tie up approvers to try to meet deadlines.

Getting approvals takes time, which can translate into high internal costs. The alternative of skipping approvals can create legal and financial risks.

Effective approvals follow timely, structured reviews throughout the marketing workflow, from concept to production. Make getting approvals quick and efficient by standardizing and automating the process. You can also:

  • Identify approvers. When the initiative begins, identify who will be approving at each stage. Make sure each approver is aware of their role in the process and knows the steps that need to be taken and who to notify.
  • Establish approval timeframes. Look at each area requiring approvals and develop an acceptable timeframe. Typically, providing 48 hours for approvals is enough, but double-check with the approvers so that everyone is in agreement.
  • Automate the approval process. Making the process available online can provide a single location that allows approvers to be notified, take action, and provide feedback. Create approval templates you can repeat and use as an audit trail for tracking and legal purposes.
  • Define done. Defining done, including standard filenames and locations for final versions will help eliminate having 10 “final” versions of a marketing asset. Make sure there is a matching approval for the final versions.

The justification game

Budgets seem tighter than ever. How can you justify adding to your team without any data? Marketing budgets are still not what they used to be, but expectations for deliverables haven’t changed. The pipeline for marketing deliverables is non-stop.

Playing this game requires continuous justification for dollars, time, and resources. It’s nearly impossible to support your request without hard metrics to back it up.

The keys to success are hidden in your data. Start tracking and analyzing your marketing activities, including budget and hours, and you’ll unlock the secrets to the justification game. You can:

  • Uncover productivity improvements. Compare the hours spent on deliverables and tasks and see where your team is spending the most time. Look at campaign turn-around time and review planned versus actual hours worked to identify best practices and discover opportunities for improvement.
  • Improve resource allocation. By knowing where resources are allocated, you can present a capacity snapshot to management. Also, understanding how many hours are spent on a given task allows you to better plan the allocation of resources in future deliverables.
  • Provide cost reporting. Transparent budgets—showing both planned and actual cost—gives leadership confidence in your ability to manage initiatives. Track all costs including the overall costs of a campaign, resource costs per hour, agency costs, and charge-backs then create a report you can share easily.

When you change marketing from a game of chance to a game of strategy, you will win every time. The best strategy is enterprise work management—a unified process that manages all work activities, with full visibility and two-way collaboration for everyone. Enterprise work management is your game changer.