The 3 key secrets to extreme project management

Picture the scene.

You’re working on a number of complex projects, just about keeping on top of everything, and delivering on what your clients expect.

And then it happens.

Another project lands in your inbox – and no ordinary project – a monster! A project that spans over 70 countries, across 4 different regions. Multiple languages, multiple reviewers, multiple deliverables ranging from sales presentations and emails, to web banners and direct mail. Oh yes, and it’s urgent!


This is a fairly common situation for Emma Jackson and Carl Sutton – two of CWA’s most experienced account directors. They’ve handled these types of projects for some time now and have learned not to panic. Their world revolves around a constant flow of big and small projects. They ensure that they never alienate their clients with smaller projects either. There may be big projects, and small projects, but there are no unimportant projects. One thing that characterises Emma and Carl’s accounts is satisfied clients.

How do they keep their clients so happy?

“It’s simple really” says Emma, “we always deliver.”

It’s true, they do. They always deliver.

So, what’s the secret?

I caught up with Emma and Carl, who outlined their process. Or as we like to call it, Extreme Project Management.


It turns out I could never be an extreme project manager, because I can’t stand detail. Emma, on the other hand, absolutely loves it.

Emma says:

“The projects that we handle are often huge. A typical campaign could include over 30 language versions for each deliverable, different messages for each country, multiple reviewers for each country and multiple waves within each campaign – it’s vast. This means it’s not enough to simply stay on top of the detail, you have to learn to love it. You have to proactively look for the differences between each deliverable and learn to double and triple check that everything is correct before it leaves the door. One of the keys to the way we work are Grids. These are excel spreadsheets that everyone involved in the project uses every step of the way. Grids are crucial to the smooth running of a project. What we’ve learned is the time it takes to ensure something is correct is far less than the time it takes to change it if it comes back wrong! Accuracy matters in our business, and that starts and ends with embracing the detail.”

What to take from this:

Whether you love it or hate it, detail is important. Some of you will find this easy, and others impossible. Wherever you are on that spectrum, understand that embracing the detail will save you time and frustration in the future.



It’s crucial to consistently be proactive. But what does that actually mean?

Emma explains:

“We always keep the client updated at every stage. It’s our responsibility to deliver very complex projects in very tight deadlines. This means if a crucial stage of the project needs to be delivered, even if it’s not entirely our job to deliver that part, it’s still our responsibility to make sure it happens. This is where the Grids come into their own. As every project member has access to them, we can clearly point to them to show that an action needs to be completed by that specific date. If it’s not able to be done on the correct date, we adjust the grid to ensure everyone is on the same page. Sitting back and saying, ‘the ball’s in their court’ just doesn’t fly for us, it’s not how we work.”

What to take from this:

If you want to be an extreme project manager, you have to be proactive. Simply kicking back and saying, ‘well we haven’t received that yet, so we’re going to miss our deadline’ isn’t enough. Nobody wins in that situation. Keep on top of the project and hold everyone accountable for their side of the work – this is key to getting the job done.


This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but Carl has a unique take on teamwork…

Carl says:

“Because we have such complex projects to deliver in such a short time, our team needs to work together seamlessly. This means strong work ethic, a lot of patience and flexibility. We don’t have time for any of our team to drop the ball at any stage. We’ve worked really hard in the past few years to develop a team spirit that is geared around one thing – delivering an exceptional level of service for our clients. Ultimately, this is our passion. Delivering high intensity, and complex projects to lots of markets across the world. The ultimate reward for us is seeing that our hard work and team spirit paid off, and we have exceeded our client’s expectations. This makes everything worth it for us.

What to take from this:

Teamwork is one of those words that everyone uses, but how much time do people actually spend on developing a team that is all focussed on one thing? This is the approach Emma and Carl have taken, and it shows. The team works seamlessly together, and the atmosphere is calm but super professional!


Maybe your projects aren’t as vast and complex as these, maybe they are – this isn’t the important thing to mention here. The point is that the best project managers all have one thing in common. They lead.

Nothing about them is passive, they are all action. In every one of the above secrets, you see examples of people that proactively take the bull by the horns and create action and results. If you do anything to improve your project management today, make it answering this question:

What can I do better to make that project go even more smoothly?

Likelihood is you have an answer.

If you don’t… Well… You might just be an Extreme Project Manager.


Remember to say if you need anything from us during lockdown. Video production? PR? Or even just a virtual coffee, let us know!

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Written by
Emma Jackson
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