Oct 28, 2008

Counting Backwards: Project Planning Made Easy

Projects. Deadlines. Two words that I deal with everyday, and if you're working on a team in any of the creative industries then you deal with them too. From the sign business to the print industry, on over to web marketing, projecting and managing projects is an important skill with a lot of gravity attached to it. I've been lucky enough to work under a lot of project managers and systems...and I've seen a lot of chaos and broken promises. But, I've also been fortunate enough to have seen a few things that actually work, things that generate happy customers who returned again and again. I claim to have no "inside scoop" or "magic solution" to your project management problems. What I offer here are my direct thoughts on how to keep your projects moving and on time. If it's of use to you in your particular industry...FANTASTIC! If not, drop me a comment at the end. I"m always open to learn a thing or two.
  • Start at the end.
    • When does the client need it in hand? Begin backtracking from there.
  • Know where to begin.
    • What would be your first step to getting the project started? How long will these things take. You figure this out at the beginning. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them, hot dates, etc.
  • Don't lie.
      • If you can't complete a project in the time frame needed then don't say you can. You'll tax your office resources (your team), throw off your entire schedule of projects and you run the risk of creating a negative reputation for yourself and your team.
    • Where are all your projects?
      • Are you moving on a track that will allow you and your team to meet all of existing deadlines?
      • Could the new project put any other project behind? If the answer is "yes" then the new project's time line must be adjusted accordingly. Sacrificing one project to save another is a bad habit to start. Once you pick this nasty habit up you'll be out of sync, and so will your team, and fixing this could take many, many months or years (yes..."years").
    • How long will it take?
      • Lean on your experience. How long will it take for each individual to realistically do their tasks? You must know how long it will take to produce each individual element that will come together to complete the project. Trust your team members to tell you this. If you've hired the right people then they will be able to give you an approximation on project time.
    • How many hours can you put into it each day?
      • Again, you must know where each project stands before you commit to a time line on your new project. It is unrealistic and detrimental to the entire process if you do not take each project into consideration before you start planning a new one. If this become "the norm" then you have a problem. Time shaved off of other projects to make room for new ones will put you into a creative tailspin. Taking that approach can push team members to do what is easy, not what is best, and that's not why you were hired...is it?
    • What do you need to do the job?
      • Most projects in advertising industry need a stew of ingredients to be completed, and that's just internally. Externally you need to know who your vendors are that will be producing many of your final products. What are their deadlines? Are they set in stone? Is there any cushion?
    • When does it go into production?
      • Externally you need to know who your vendors are that will be
        producing many of your final products. What are their deadlines? Are
        they set in stone? Is there any cushion? Remember! These dates are important and you must have them to successfully plan a project. Going off what you think is a fair time frame is not fair to your client, your team or your existing projects. Call your vendors. Tell them about your project expectations and work with them as if they were a member of your team. Trust them to tell you what is possible.
    • When is the first internal proof?
      • How long will this take? Once you've gotten to the internal proofing stage then you need to move quickly. There is no reason to let a project sit and grow cold. Internal proofing is the easiest thing that can be done, a step over which you have complete control. Being at this stage means that your team has done their job. All of the elements have been brought together. Now is the time to stop and review.
    • When will the client get their first proof?
      • So, you've proofed it internally. Now it's time to put it in front of the client. Are you on schedule? If you've respected all of your project benchmarks then you should be and your client should be receiving their proof shortly, and they should be very pleased because you are delivering it to them when you said you would. Being on time is a true sign of professionalism.
    • Don't wait on the client.
      • You'll want to make sure that the client is aware of the project schedule from the very beginning. Be clear. They must understand that at this stage they are a part of your team. Put this "proof to client" stage of the proofing process on a schedule and try to stick to it. Remember! You will need time to make any changes that the client may request, and to polish off anything that you may have missed in your first round of proofing. The goal is to get it to the client by the promised date, follow up on it, make any changes, proof one more time, then move on to production.
    • If you promise it, then do it!
      • Don't ask your team "how fast can you do this." Instead, ask your team "how much time will it take you to do it right." This is going to give you a more realistic time line, a much better product and a very happy client. You'll have realistic benchmarks in your time line and you'll be able to hold all those involved accountable for making sure they meet their individual deadlines, which should bring your project together in the end.
    • Pack in some peanuts.
      • Remember! No matter how much planning you do there will always be problems. Make sure you add some cushion to your time frame. Another tremendous error that most teams make is not allowing time for errors, production delays, equipment failure, etc., etc. (seriously...if you can think of it, then it can happen). Maybe everything will go perfect and you and your team will slide through the project from beginning to end, with no hang ups, completing the project right on time (or EARLY), but the old saying "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" is a good one to keep in mind.

    There are plenty of project management books out there; software too. Ultimately it come down to the people running the show, how skilled their team members are, and how good the project manager is at doing their job. Most of my thoughts on getting from beginning to end on a project seem like common sense to me. I hope these simple tips will help you give your project management methods an overhaul. Comments are welcome.
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    PM Hut said...

    Hi Oran,

    This is an excellent post. I would love to publish it on PM Hut under the "Best Practices" Category.

    Please contact me through the "Contact Us" form on PM Hut in case you're OK with this.

    Lantra Design said...

    Nice blog brother, lots of good advice to put into action. Parker Brand showin' the way!

    Becky said...

    Great advice. I just finished reading "Noble Enterprise," by Darwin Gillett, which is also another great resource. I am constantly looking for great books on building a great team, and am really impressed in your advice- I especially like the comment about keeping a promise. Credibility is everything! Thanks for the great tips!

    Oran E. Parker said...

    Thanks for the kinds words and the read! I'm glad to see that folks are benefiting from my thoughts on getting things done. Keep checking in! More creative goodies to come!

    Gillen said...

    Very great post. There is no better info you can get then from someone who has been there before. I would like to take this to my own work. I always enjoy your post for what they are and not just because of who you are. Thanks man and keep up the hectic work.


    Lauren Turner said...

    Awesome post with some great info. I am definitely going to implement this in planning out my projects. Thanks for the road map!