Anatomy of a Project Plan

Originally published 8/10/07

How does an icon in traditional media make the transition from an outsourced ad operations solution to in-house ownership of the tools and processes needed to facilitate online advertising?

This is a story about how a logical, step-by-step roadmap can ease that transition. And in this case, how the process became relatively painless and ultimately successful.

This is one of those rare instances where the names are NOT changed to protect the innocent. So let me introduce you to Joe Friend, ad operations manager of, the flagship internet property of the 150-year-old Philadelphia Inquirer.

A change in ownership of the newspaper created a situation where ad operations, including ad serving, contract management and all associated workflow, was being brought in-house on a six- week timetable. As a former analyst at the newspaper’s technical help desk, Joe was approached with the opportunity to manage the transition and the associated ad operations department.

As in most circumstances, the stage was set with a cast of players who had varying degrees of experience. Joe was experienced in internet technology, but not so much when it came to ad serving and operations. had never managed its own ad server or inventory, but it did work with an outsourced operations group that handled all ads. In six weeks, the company needed to deploy a new ad server across the site, migrate hundreds of campaigns from their previous operations provider, provide a roadmap for process and workflow for the new internal department and train sales and traffickers.

The project plan

The first step was to create an internal project plan with benchmark dates that highlighted the critical tasks that needed to be accomplished. Although an ad serving provider may furnish a high- level schedule, it’s really in the best interest of the publisher to take that into their own hands. After all, it’s your site, your schedule and your job at stake. You own it.

So “let’s break it down,” to borrow a phrase from the music business. By that I mean, let’s break down this project into the major tasks needed to accomplish the transition. Each of these tasks needs an owner, a start date and an end date. In the case of, here was the basic game plan:


  • Create the project plan
  • Create organization chart and define roles/responsibilities
  • Develop a process workflow that highlights how to take an order from “quote to cash”
  • Present project plan and workflow to sales and finance
  • Gain agreement on the business rules that will drive the ad operations process

Define the Site Structure:

  • Define the sites and sections that define the web properties and the types of packages that sales will sell
  • Create the ad tags
  • Technical call with ad server to discuss type of tags needed at
  • Build and distribute ad tags to web development group
  • Test tags in QA environment
  • Move tags to production server
  • Create test matrix to verify ad units and placements and work


  • Create users and set levels of permission in the ad server and contract management application
  • Create the ad products in both applications
  • Create any checkpoints or gate-keeping function

Contract Management:

  • Train operations on contract management application
  • Upload agencies, advertisers and contacts
  • QA the site structure and make sure it syncs between ad server
  • Load terms and conditions
  • Load rate card
  • Test billing output and discuss integration with current financial applications

Campaign Migration:

  • Identify all ad campaigns that cross over from the old to new ad server
  • Ensure that legacy campaign reports are archived
  • Retrieve all creatives and clickthrough URLs from old ad server
  • Calculate the impressions that need to be input into the new ad server in order to fulfill the balance of the ad campaigns
  • Book all the currently running campaigns into the new ad server
  • Create a communications plan for current advertisers advising them of the changeover and how transitional campaign reports will be delivered

Live Date:

  • Coordinate launch support
  • Create an escalation plan with key resources clearly identified
  • Develop a testing matrix for post launch QA
  • Monitor campaigns to track expected delivery and ensure they are on pace to fulfill contract
  • Monitor performance of web pages and ads

Creating a project plan helps keep things organized. Without it, all of the above tasks can seem daunting and overwhelming. Even worse, without this type of plan and the clear owners and end dates, many of the items above can get dropped. Finally, anyone else in the organization can see a clear picture of all the work that needs to get done, it’s the best answer to the question: “What do these guys do all day?”

So, how did it all work out? Pretty darn good. The best indication was the eerie quiet after launch. No advertisers or sales people asking, “Where’s my ad?” No ads obstructing editorial recaps of the latest Philadelphia Phillies games. No frustrated staff members submitting resignations. Joe had a project plan and a couple of partners to help define it and execute it; in this case DMW MediaWorks and DoubleClick.

Ad operations is not a perfect world. Post launch, perhaps the biggest challenges are associated with measuring and forecasting inventory. But ask any publisher and they’re pretty much in the same boat when it comes to inventory forecasting.

All in all, the Philadelphia story is a good one. My advice to those in similar situations is to break it down so you can plan, organize and execute effectively.

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