Some time ago, I wrote a post about implementing simple planning to achieve better results in web projects. Now I want to expand on that idea and provide more specific, actionable steps you can take to actually put simple planning into motion, and the best way to do that is by splitting the simple plan into three distinct actions.
1. Have a Starting Plan
Starting something always seems to be the most difficult challenge, whether it be starting a new exercise routine or starting your taxes. We look at the end goal to be attained and see an enormous mountain of work. That mountain can seem daunting, perhaps even impossible, which is why you need to focus on the basics.
In nearly every web project I begin, I have to establish that initial interaction with the client where I flesh out their needs. Even if it’s a rehash of previous discussions, organizing the client’s desires and goals into one cohesive conversation can help make that mountain appear to be nothing more than a small hill to conquer. But in order to have this conversation, you need the right tools to steer it in a way that allows you to touch on everything important to the project.
You’ve probably seen them all over the web, but checklists and surveys can play a very valuable role, basic as they may be. A starting survey that asks questions pertaining to the client’s vision for their website can not only help you write down and organize your thoughts, it can also serve as a beacon, guiding that initial conversation in the direction you need it to go in.
What are some questions you should ask? Here are a few examples:
- What does the client’s organization do?
- Who are the client’s target audiences?
- How effective is the client’s existing website?
- What marketing literature or branding guidelines does the client have available?
- What content does the client have available? What is their timeframe for developing new content?
2. Have a Daily Plan
Once you’ve started the project and have it on a good pair of tracks, how do you make sure it doesn’t derail? Oftentimes, project managers, designers, and freelancers are bombarded with varying obligations and requests. Unfortunately, these requests can act as small missiles, targeting our projects and impacting the time we have available to commit to them.
Milestones are a great idea in telling you what needs to happen with a project, but they are no guarantee that those tasks will happen. Time is finite. We have 24 hours in a day, and regardless of what a looming milestone may say, we cannot create more time.
This is where daily time management becomes critical in the planning process. The best part is that it’s simple. Using a calendaring tool such as Google Calendar, which I highly recommend, you should plot out your time commitments for the day. Set aside an hour or two to complete the tasks needed to meet a milestone. If you do this every day or every other day, these small amounts of time add to significant progress.
Of course, the unpredictable requests that rise to bring down our projects won’t go away, which is why it’s important to build enough padding in your daily schedule to account for them. In my daily planning, I have a single one-hour block of open time in the morning where I tackle the little things on my plate. These could be emails, support tickets, phone calls, and anything else that takes less than fifteen minutes each to complete. I repeat this open time in the evening before leaving the office.
3. Have a Communications Plan
Web projects that succeed didn’t do so because they delivered the best possible solution, they did so because they had a project manager or designer who understood communication. This may sound odd at first, but in looking back at successful projects, it makes perfect sense. I’ve always preached that communication is the most critical part of any project, and I mean it.
So what exactly is a communications plan? For me, it’s a mental map of how and when I need to communicate with a client. This tends to vary from client to client, but for the most part, I try to maintain a consistent mode of communications. If you think your current communications lacking — and you can quickly identify this by counting the number of failed projects you have — you may find it more useful to actually write out your communications strategy.
A strong communications strategy will incorporate multiple means of contact, and it will identify the critical points of contact. For example, communication is obviously paramount during the very first phase of a project. Your mode of contact may be a face-to-face meeting to get all the facts about the project and to provide your input. There should also be goals to this meeting. What do you want to walk away with? By identifying these goals, you can create support materials to assist you in delivering the best possible communications, and these materials may include surveys, questionnaires, checklists, or just a simple set of mentally prepared questions.
Other points of communication essential to a good strategy will revolve around getting feedback and keeping the client appraised of the project status. List out the tools you have available to you, which could be the telephone, a project management system, or email; and set a baseline for your communications by beginning those support materials that will ease the burden for you. Communication can be difficult at first, but once you’re able to approach it with a standardized methodology, it becomes a relatively painless set of steps.