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How Managers Can Deliver Better Projects on Tighter Deadlines

Sarah Fruy
at Pantheon
Aug 16, 2018

An urgent project still requires special care to get the best results and avoid burnout.

A website redesign is a huge endeavor for any business, and such a decision usually occurs during marketing meetings or companywide business reviews. However, for me, this process began in an unusual place: during my job interview. Impressed by my background in launching and rebranding websites, my to-be manager created a new “director of online marketing” role for me, and my first project was to relaunch our company’s website.

The demands of the digital world change fast, which meant we had only four months to turn our underperforming website into a powerful driver of leads and revenue. My core team consisted of a graphic designer, a front-end developer and myself. But to meet our deadlines, we needed more players. As a result, we looped in an editor to ensure voice consistency, hired some agency help, and relied on other internal team members from marketing, developer relations and the executive team to ensure the project met needs across the board.

However, if we had tried to execute this website redesign on such an aggressive timeline without scaling our team, we would have certainly flopped. To avoid this pitfall, we set clear expectations on deliverables and focused on a core group of webpages that would provide the biggest impact. It definitely wasn’t an easy project, but I learned lessons along the way that I believe you and other business leaders should take to heart when faced with your next big opportunity.

Obstacles in the making

Before taking a swing at the next business venture that comes your way, it’s important to understand that the bigger the project and the tighter the deadline, the more difficult execution becomes. My team was not immune to these challenges.

Not only did we redesign the appearance of the website, but we also changed the pricing and packaging of our product, updated the company branding, and adjusted our go-to-market strategy. As part of that process, we introduced a new persona to our target audience and cleaned up the legacy code and technical debt that was slowing down the original site.

Our introduction of so many new concepts led to many content creation detours. New sections of the site required updated deliverables, each of which had to remain consistent with a point of view that was – like so many other pieces of the project – still in flux. In addition, our team was spread thin as we focused on creating a high-impact, bespoke user experience on an extremely demanding development schedule.

Fortunately, strong communication empowered our diverse team to accomplish impressive goals, with clear and direct feedback playing a crucial role. According to research, workers are far more comfortable raising issues with their bosses when they receive frequent feedback. With this in mind, consistently providing feedback helped our team feel more confident in working together.

Looking back, we had a lot thrown at us, but with the right team and clear strategies in place, rebuilding an entire website went from a daunting challenge to an enriching success. 

3 steps to lead teams to big results

This massive project taught me several lessons about leadership that all managers and business leaders can use to drive their teams to new heights:

1. Create a strategic team.

Delegate the planning and management of individual areas to people who know them best. If you, like me, specialize in editorial processes, work with a project manager to define tasks and deadlines for developers and a creative director to manage the designers. Build a team you can trust so you never take on more than you can handle.

Start any big undertaking with a team kickoff event. Research shows that kickoffs improve performance by up to 30 percent. Get everyone familiar with one another so no one hesitates when the time comes to step up for a teammate.

2. Prioritize work-life balance.

Workload management can quickly become overwhelming. When you are juggling too many duties with no relief in sight, you are bound to let a few things drop. Protect yourself and your team during stressful times by keeping the big picture in mind. Take a walk for some fresh air if the project starts to feel stifling. In addition, pursue exercise and personal hobbies during off time, and lean on friends and family for some mental escape.

Work-life balance matters to your team too. In fact, team dynamics influence 92 percent of office stress, so take the time to recognize team members for their long hours and bright ideas in order to keep spirits high. On the tech side, you can use tools such as Slack and Google Docs to maintain communication within the group. Remember, a huge project isn’t an excuse not to take care of yourself or not to acknowledge burnout in your team.

3. Embrace open communication.

Hold regular Scrum-style check-ins with all teams, as well as longer reviews with executive stakeholders for high-profile decisions and deliverables. Plan these sessions carefully so you can show off high-quality work while simultaneously staying open to potential changes.

Executive assessments can easily derail projects, so be as specific as possible when soliciting feedback. Schedule the biggest check-in session during the middle of the project so you still have time to make changes as needed.

Even if you aren’t facing a huge overhaul of a website, these tips can still help you grow as a leader and deliver high-quality projects across various situations. By creating a strategic team, prioritizing work-life balance and embracing open communication, you can keep yourself on track while solidifying relationships with your co-workers. Plan ahead, delegate where possible, and take some time for yourself when you can. With the right mindset, your projects will be destined for success before you even start.

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Sarah Fruy
As the director of online marketing, Sarah Fruy leads the strategy, goals, and road map for Pantheon's public-facing website and all paid online programs. Fruy is a Certified ScrumMaster® and joins Pantheon with over 10 years of experience in the marketing, digital publishing, and online advertising industries, along with marketing strategy and digital marketing certifications from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management. Previously, she worked at emerging media companies, such as Say Media, as well as heritage brands like the San Francisco Chronicle.