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The importance of timelines

Posted On December 30th, 2010 Author Amy Wheaton Filed Under Business Development,

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m obsessive about timelines, not just at work, but in my personal life too. I set deadlines for everything from my gym schedule to cleaning our house. Bordering on crazy? Maybe – but my work experience has taught me the value of time management, and this is the system that works best to make sure I get everything done.

One of the biggest problems that can arise working on any creative project, online or otherwise, is when people don’t recognize of the value of time. The end deadline is looming – website launch, campaign in market, or gala event scheduled - yet milestones are missed. Everybody starts getting anxious. In the case of an online project, the developer can’t start working on the website back end because the design isn’t approved. Everybody’s work is delayed. Before you know it the project is off the rails, team members are on edge, and the site launches late. The project wraps up, and everyone’s left with a bitter taste in their mouth. How can this be prevented?

It’s easy to stay on track with a little bit of effort and a few tricks. Here are some simple ways to ensure your project goes out the door on time:

Set a realistic end date.

It seems obvious, but often clients will push to have their site launched by Date X without thinking about realistic turnaround times. It’s almost always better to wait and launch later with a good product than to cut corners to meet an unrealistic deadline. Anything worth doing is worth doing well – and to do anything well takes time!

Really review your timeline.

Overestimate on everything. I once read an article that said you should add a 50% contingency to every task – for example, if you’re expecting something will take two days, expect it to take three.

Build in buffers.

Anticipate that feedback is never going to be instant. Look at your responsibilities and their assigned dates and ask yourself if you can commit to this time frame. If you have any doubts, speak up! Better to adjust the timeframe before you get started than to miss milestones and throw the project out of whack midway through. No one will fault you for building in extra time!

Communicate.

If a red flag arises speak up immediately so the problem can be addressed before it snowballs out of control. Say you’re suddenly swamped and you aren’t going to have time to pull content together until next week – as long as you communicate that to the rest of the team, everybody’s aware of the situation and not wondering where in the world your content is. They may be able to move on to another area of the project and keep things on the rails overall. And even if everything is on track, make sure the team is aware of it – regular status reports on any project are helpful and reassure your team that things are rolling out as they should and that everyone is doing a good job.

Keep track of all responsibilities, using whatever system works for you.

At Headspace we use Basecamp project management software, which is great because it makes everyone accountable to a project and keeps the entire team updated on progress. For my appointments I use a good old-fashioned day planner, and I write down meetings, conference calls, and deadlines. As antiquated as it sounds I hate electronic calendars, and I usually ignore alerts that pop up, so for me they’re completely ineffective. Figure out what works for you and use it.

Give yourself fake deadlines.

I know that creative teams hate getting ‘fake deadlines’ from account people so I never assign them. However, fake deadlines work for me! If I need to have a block of copy written by the end of the day, I’ll try to have it done by noon. That way, if something does come up that’s unavoidable, I have extra time built in to get it done.

Build in lots of time for testing.

At Headspace we have started incorporating more time on our interactive projects for quality control and testing pre-launch and it makes a big difference in our clients’ satisfaction. Again, anything worth doing is worth doing well. It’s easy to underestimate testing time but this is one of the most crucial phases of a project. There are inevitably going to be bugs and errors with any website – better for your internal team to find them than your client!

Any other ideas for ways to keep a project on track and delivered on time? Feel free to share.

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  • on December 30th, 2010, Kyle Racki said...

    So true Amy, a red flag always goes up anytime a prospective client says they don’t have a timeline and the site can launch whenever. It usually means it may never get done because there is nothing motivating them to launch it.

    As they says, goals are dreams with deadlines.

  • on December 30th, 2010, Ricky said...

    Yes, allow time for testing, this is the item that always takes the hit when projects fail behind schedule, but it is also one of the most important items for any project to be successful.

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