Swimming in the Right Lane: using project flow to keep surprises down, sanity up

Some time ago, I received an email from an overwhelmed credit union marketer that was having difficulty with the volume of promotions that were floating around her branches. She seemed overcome by the idea that something had to be done to simplify the message, but that it was a zero-sum game (one product is featured, another doesn’t get any face-time). It’s a valid concern. Without favoring one product or message over another, how do you keep all the balloons floating in the air, and keep from clouding your message or losing sanity?
For many credit union managers, the all-too-easy solution is “I think there’s a vendor that handles that”. So we all go beating the bushes to find new software packages, databases, or worse yet, hire an agency to take the driver’s seat completely. Effectively, this does nothing more than “muddy” the water and absorbs any budget funds that might have been available before. Don’t get me wrong; there are a few diamonds in the rough. Outlook and Google Calendar are awesome, and smallish credit unions absolutely must leverage the scale and resources of third-party relationships. Let's just keep it in check. More on that later on though. :-)

I think the answer is “swimlanes”. Those of you who took any management courses in college may remember the project flow diagrams that would be used for production environments. Essentially, a simple project will move from point A to point B to point C and so on. But what if point A takes two weeks? What do points B and C do during that time? Thus, the swimlanes. Lay everything down that needs to be accomplished promotionally on a flighted time schedule and isolate areas where your operation will reach a critical mass.
This is especially effective in credit union environments where one or two individuals coordinate all core function efforts. In the credit union marketing case, when a promotions swimlane schedule is created, the field of vision changes from 100 yards to 100 miles. The manager doesn’t need to ask, “What do I do now?” Refer to the swimlanes, and the answer is clear. Now, running an auto loan promotion concurrently with SEG visits and your student checking accounts is manageable, because your swimlane schedule dictates the media channel, the ad placements, the branch marketing, and the promotion parameters. Instead of half-heartedly promoting, your products are all receiving the attention they deserve and your messages across all platforms remain clear.
The point is efficiency – budget savings because you didn’t have to hire another new vendor, man-time waste reduction because your staff wasn’t standing around on day two of a promotion asking, “What next?” and you have your sanity, which I think we can all agree is the best savings of all.

Now towel off and get back to work.