It's going to happen.
Whatever your project management process, whatever the organizational strengths of your marketing, sales and IT teammates and whatever collaboration software you've put in place, the dropped ball is inevitable.
There are heaps of articles, books, webinars and training courses out there to teach you how to "prevent" dropped balls in your marketing department. Don’t abandon them but don’t forget that none of these tools solve the underlying problem: We're human. We will make mistakes.
And because we must work ever faster as marketers in the digital realm, you can count not only on making mistakes, but on making more mistakes faster.
So, let's face what's right in front of us—the sad little ball laying on the turf of our office—and pick it up and quickly get things as right as we can, as often as we can.
Rule 1: If you see something, say something.
There's no arguing that, as marketers, we are just plain better at quality management today than we were five years ago. Collaboration systems such as Slack (not us, the SaaS), the professionalization of the project management discipline and the advent of advanced project management methodologies such as Agile have all contributed.
But paradoxically, our implicit trust in these systems and roles can cause any of us to either miss an error that is happening or has already happened or, even worse, fail to stop it or take action. Here’s a (very) condensed list of some things we’ve heard before:
- “The link needed to launch this afternoon should be live but isn’t.”
- “We can’t hit the deadline because the person with approval power isn’t available.”
- “The feature change that product emailed us about this morning isn’t reflected in our new sales brochure.”
If something seems amiss, take charge and check it out. Immediately. Personally.
Worst case: It's all good and you come off as a (slight) perfectionist.
Best case: You stop or mitigate damage and protect your team’s credibility.
Rule 2: No finger pointing allowed.
Don’t give in to the urge to discuss what went wrong or why. That’s just about the very worst thing you can do. Don't point fingers and don't allow others to. The entire team’s focus needs to be on getting the matter handled—full stop.
Rule 3: Determine the best play.
Gather the team in person or by phone. A group email chain is not a sufficient substitute. Do not email. Seriously—it will lead to violations of Rule 2 and no one wants that.
Once everyone is in the same room, talk about what went wrong and work toward finding the best solution possible. Don’t look for the “perfect-but-risky” solution. Don’t settle for the “safest-but-universally-unsatisfactory” solution either. The mucky middle is most likely where you need to land.
You’ll need to use your judgement, and good judgement relies on open discussion. What's a real deadline vs. a "my-manager-really-wants-us-to-hit-this” deadline? Which option costs the business actual money (or the most money)? Which option is worst for our most important customers vs. the low-value buyer?
Rule 4: Finish the game. Talk in the locker room later.
Once you have a plan in place, work on executing it without ever violating Rule 2. Make sure that you help the team stay focused on the plan and their roles in it. The last thing you want to do is compound the error through bickering and a corresponding loss of focus.
You can debrief once the project is finished, but for now, winning is recovering well.
Learning how to handle dropped balls isn’t admitting defeat and it’s not a sign of disorganization. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Marketing moves so quickly that perfection is simply unattainable. Knowing this and planning accordingly is the mark of a true marketing leader.