Which project management method is best for digital campaigns?

The iron triangle - showing how scope, cost and schedule constrain digital campaign delivery

We live in a digitally-saturated world where an amazing web page, event, online product or service is no guarantee of success. Ventures live or die on the strength of the surrounding activities which drive users, visitors, customers and supporters to take action. Enter the Campaign.

Digital campaigns mostly involve Search (Organic and Paid), Display ads and Social channels driving traffic to a web page. How should we go about executing digital campaigns, from a project management perspective? It turns out that the common project management techniques used for digital delivery can easily translate to a 360° campaign (with both online and offline content).

Digital campaigns and the iron triangle

What makes campaigns different from any other digital project? All projects have different movable parts, yet campaigns tend to have fixed immovable deadlines. For example, a Christmas campaign just won’t be as effective when launched on the 30th of December. Similarly, a product launch might involve multiple organisations investing large amounts of capital to ensure a single day, series of events or period maximises PR and visibility.

Let’s look at the iron triangle (pictured above – not be confused with the iron throne). This dictum of project management contends that the success of a project is constrained by three variables: scope, cost and schedule. If all three elements are fixed, it creates an almost impossible challenge. Therefore at least one of these elements needs to be variable. We could say that for campaigns, more often than not, time is the element that isn’t variable.

Different project management techniques lend themselves to projects where scope, cost and schedule vary. Let’s look at the two most popular frameworks.

Using Scrum (an agile framework) for campaigns

We’ve covered Scrum pretty comprehensively on the Manifesto blog but, in a nutshell, here’s how I’d define it:

Scrum is an iterative approach that focuses on delivering small units of value and allows requirements to change throughout the project’s lifecycle

If we were using the agile framework Scrum, then its principles would argue that, in addition to time being fixed, cost would also be fixed. Thus, the variable element would be scope. This would be ideal for a campaign with a cost ceiling that cannot be crossed.

Of course, multiple stakeholders, or a client, would want what we all want: everything. The key is to borrow a rule of thumb from the lean philosophy: that 60% of the budget should be attributed to the MVP (minimal viable product) and 40% to bells and whistles. Thus, from the very beginning ensure that an MVP is clearly defined.

A practical way to do this would be to identify tasks (e.g. user stories) and, for each one, determine whether they truly add value, i.e. help to achieve the goal of the campaign. Prioritise the 60% of work that is necessary to achieve the goal. If that’s not possible, reduce the scope of the MVP to ensure timely delivery. Best case scenario: you deliver your MVP campaign dressed in bells and whistles. Worst case scenario: you deliver a fully functional campaign that achieves its goals.

Using Waterfall for campaigns

Jim has written an in-depth comparison of Agile and Waterfall project management methods, but again, in a nutshell, I’d define Waterfall like this:

Waterfall is a step by step approach where all requirements are fixed until final delivery

This is considered a “traditional” project management technique. Say the word “waterfall” around modern developers and you might get the response “are you building a time machine?!”.

Yet waterfall methods lend themselves nicely to campaigns where both schedule and scope are fixed, as all requirements are clearly defined in Waterfall at the beginning of the project, without much (or any) room for change.

The iron triangle would dictate that if time and scope are fixed, then cost must be variable. Thus, using waterfall requires that the holders of the purse strings have very flexible wrists. This is especially true when working towards tight deadlines, where  more human resource is required for timely delivery. In a situation like this, many developers would feel inclined to tell the joke that “project managers think 9 women can make a baby in one month”.

However, taking the time to estimate tasks and measure velocity early in the project, will give you enough data to react to a slower velocity. You can then upscale your team before it’s too late to get more resource up to speed.


Whatever project management method you use for projects with a fixed deadline, like campaigns, there needs to be some flexibility on other elements of the project. Flexibility in either scope or cost will help ensure you meet an ever-looming deadline and determine the best approach to delivering a successful campaign. A useful rule of thumb is that campaigns with a fixed scope are better suited to waterfall-style management, while Agile is better for fixed-cost campaigns.


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