Project Planning Compass

Project planning creates a clear path to success. Without it you are navigating without a map and compass. You might end up at the right spot, but it is unlikely.

A project plan builds understanding between your team and client about what needs to be done, and provides a benchmark for measuring progress. It helps your reduce risks for both you and your client.

Below are some common project planning mistakes and how to avoid them. In addition, you might enjoy our other project planning articles:

Mistake #1. Failing to Manage Expectations

Starting a new project is exciting, but you still need to be prepared. It is easy for work start before you and your client have set expectations. If you haven’t agreed on the project’s goals, you and your client will have different expectations. This is best discovered before you start work, not once work has started, or worst once you finish the project. You don’t not want to waste your time, money, and hardwork reworking projects.

Avoid this by getting those involved in the project together before beginning any work. Remember that creativity requires collaboration.

Take the time to develop a project proposal to validate the project’s purpose, deliverables, timeline, resources, and expected outcomes. A well developed project proposal ensures that everyone involved understands what is expected of them, and where they fit into the plan.

A creative brief is a great tool for managing client expectations. It provides an intermediate step for clients to review your creative direction before finishing the work. The purpose of a creative brief is to make sure your client understands the ideas you have developed and to get their feedback. Don’t blindly push forward to the finish line. Make sure to collaborate with your client, get their input and sign-off.

Carefully managing expectations will help you avoid rework, keep you sane, and your client happy.

Mistake #2. Failing to Assign Responsibility

Another common mistake is failing to identifying who is responsible for the project. This creates feedback whiplash.

Feedback whiplash occurs when your team doesn’t know who to follow. They waste time responding to multiple managers. Each new opinion forces the team to change direction — creating confusion and rework. Your team needs to know who to follow — one person.

Watch out — feedback whiplash can from both clients and inside your agency.

Use your project plan to create unity. Define who is responsible for each deliverable. In addition, select two managers for the project: one to represent the client, and one to represent your team. These managers have the final decision, and are responsible for the success of the project. They help filter feedback, and set the tone for the entire project.

Identify roles and responsibilities, and stick with them.

Mistake #3. Failing to Match People and Projects

Creative teams are full of extremely talented people. However, skills and intelligence don’t always guarantee a project’s success. Failure to match people with the right projects can lead to procrastination and even depression. Consider these 4 characteristics when matching people to projects:

  1. Time. Creativity takes time. You need to assign people that have the time to think through the problem, and iterate until they discover a solution. You need to understand your team’s capacity for work, because you can’t say “yes” to every project.
  2. Project Mix. Each project has an energy. Projects can be tedious, inspiring, complex, and even morose. Working on only one type of project is overwhelming. As a manager you need to pay attention to the mix projects each person is working on. If someone is working on a tedious project, try to mix it up with something complex or inspiring.
  3. Length. When matching people to projects you need to consider the size, duration, and number of interdependencies. People typically do best at a particular level. For example: some copywriters capture ideas susinctly, and other excel at pontification. Make sure to match the right people with the right level of project.
  4. Motivation. Creative work requires motivation. Finding the right answer requires iterating over a concept over and over. This is next to impossible if you aren’t interested in the problem. Before assigning someone to a project, I stop and ask them if they are interested to solve this problem. This is both a challenge to them to find a great answer, and a last check to make sure I have the right person on the project.

You have worked hard to recruit a great team. Now you need to carefully match your people to the right projects.

Mistake #4. Failing to Track Your Progress

Having a map and compass is only useful if you know where you are. Too often project mangers create plans to bid projects, and then stop. They fail to track their progress. This is short sighted. Just winning a project doesn’t mean that you will make a profit. The profitability of today’s project requires that you stick with your plan, and can negotiate a change order if necessary. A longterm benefit is being able to evaluable the accuracy of your estimates, and find ways to improve.

You need to track progress from start to finish — comparing where you are to your original plan. However, don’t be afraid to make adjustments. I recommend keeping to two versions of your project plan — your original estimate and your current plan.

Mistake #5. Failing to Learn from Past Projects

A common project planning mistake is building new project plans from previous project estimates. This makes sense: you have already done the work. However, there is one major flaw: you aren’t learning anything. New plans should be created from actual hours worked — not estimated hours.

Everyone recognizes the need to do project postmortems, but often the pressure to move on to the next project is too great. Most companies use two systems to plan projects and track time. This makes it hard to find similar projects, and compile the data. However, if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.

Make sure to take the time to organize your project plans and timesheets so that you can use them to bid on future projects. Keep track of how accurate project plans are to reality, and try to continually improve your team’s ability to estimate new projects.

Bric Makes Project Planning Easier

Project planning is hard. You have to set expectations, establish a chain of command, assemble the right team, monitor progress, and learn from the past. We created Bric to make project planning easier:

  • Billable Rates. Bric keeps track of your billable rates, automatically calculates what you should be charging, and compares this to your client’s budget. You can set rates by company, for specific roles and people, and even customize rates by project. And of course you can control who has access to this financial information.
  • Availability. Bric alerts you to who’s available for projects, and who is over scheduled. It even adjusts availability for Holidays and Time-off. You can set goals for the entire company, as well as by role and person.
  • Estimated, Planned, and Actual Hours. View your original estimate, current plan, and actual hours side-by-side. This makes it easy to identify projects that are off-track, and make adjustments as needed.
  • Learn from Past Projects. As you complete projects Bric learns from your timesheets, and automatically applies lessons from past projects to new projects. Learn more about planning projects with Bric.

Bric is a complete capacity planning system for creative teams. It helps you plan and track time so that you can make the most of your team’s time and skills. Sign up and try Bric for Free.