10 reasons why design project schedules fail

Planning is the intellectual, psychological and tactical process of thinking about each task that needs to be accomplished to meet a goal. In design, a formal planning and scheduling process improves logistics, avoids wasted time, and helps the team stay on track. Establishing and implementing a workable project schedule is often easier said than done. Terry Lee Stone’s two-book series, Managing The Design ProcessConcept Development and Implementing Design — helps designers manage the collaborative workflow that brings about the best possible outcome for themselves and their clients. One issue the books address is why seemingly simple things like schedules often fail.

Scheduling design: Creating a flexible framework
Sometimes in design the only two clear dates are the day the client gives approval to start the job and the day they want the work delivered. Some clients might specify a few key dates in between, but typically it’s up to the designer to develop milestones due dates for each phase of the project.

Design managers must understand that scheduling is an ongoing, dynamic activity. It is rare for a project to follow the initial schedule exactly as it was developed. Dates slip and slide for several reasons, mostly related to the client (e.g., the client doesn’t provide a vital piece of information required to proceed, fails to sign off on some work, or makes additional changes). If a manager thinks of scheduling as a flexible framework, but is very clear on which deadlines must not be missed, he or she will run a saner project.

Click here to see larger image.

A Gantt chart like the one above can be used to map out the first phase of a design project — in the case of this example, an identity. It is an at-a-glance look at the schedule for major activities that must be performed. Gantt charts appeal to designers as a visual expression of a schedule. They can be created with scheduling and project management software, Excel or in rough form using many types of digital calendars.

Essential components when scheduling projects
• Clear tasks and deadlines
• Assignment of responsibility
• Procedures for dealing with changes
• Tracking and reporting process
• Oversight management
• Shared web-based calendar
• Frequent schedule updates

To facilitate scheduling, communication between the design team and the client must clearly spell out the consequences of any missed deadlines and how that would affect all subsequent due dates. It’s pretty much a cardinal rule for a graphic design firm not to miss any deadlines — clients can miss deadlines, designers can’t. If a deadline issue arises for a designer, it is best to alert the client as early as possible that there is an unavoidable problem and that the work will be late. It’s all about managing client expectations and satisfaction.

10 reasons why project schedules fail
Every design project brings its own unique challenges. Here are some common ways design projects to go off track:
1. Creativity means uncertain duration — creativity doesn’t always happen exactly within a specific time allotment.
2. Problems on another project demand the team’s attention, and everyone must focus on addressing that … and not the current project.
3. Client delays in approval or providing information or even just decision-making.
4. A poorly forecasted or overly optimistic schedule created by the project manager.
5. Technological troubles — software conflicts, IT issues, bad file and asset management.
6. Steeper learning curve than anticipated.
7. More client and or designer revisions were required, causing more work … expanding time allotments as well.
8. Bad creative brief: poorly defined scope of work and incorrect strategic assumptions. Essentially, working on the wrong problem in the wrong way and wasting time.
9. Unforeseen complexity and degree of difficulty.
10. Poor communication and team interaction.

Terry Lee Stone is based in Los Angeles and specializes in the management of creative people, projects and processes. She teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her recent series is called Managing The Design Process, published by Rockport Publishers. Visit her website. Buy her books here or at your favorite bookseller.

Graphics by AdamsMorioka; Gantt chart from Managing The Design Process: Implementing Design

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