Don’t Dive Straight in to a Project
A new project has dropped into your inbox and you’re raring to get started. But before you do, it’s always a good idea to set up and create a project plan. It’s easy to overlook, but it will help you keep on track.
Whether you are working on an individual assignment or you are a manager for a larger venture, it’s important to think about the project plan first. This allows everyone involved to know what’s required of them before they start their tasks.
This will ensure that the project is successful and goes ahead without any problems or stumbling blocks along the way. It’s better to foresee these problems ahead of the project, rather than half way through, when things can end up getting put on hold, delayed or even over-running and potentially over budget too.
Creative Project Plan Overview
Create a brief and capture all the information required to begin the project. It can be helpful to have a pre-prepared template or set of questions before you meet with your client, so you don’t have to chase them for information you forgot to ask for. Remember that your brief can and probably will change.
Get an idea of their budget and your costs so you know you can deliver what they want and there won’t be any friction come payment time. It’s important to have your figures agreed before you start.
Clarify with the client exactly what they need, the desired outcomes and the set the big deadline dates. Send them a full briefing document which summarises what you agreed in your meeting, and wait for them to sign it off before you get started.
Now is also the time to check the key contacts in the client organisation, and who, if anyone, you need supporting information from. Make sure you know who has responsibility for signing off each stage of the project, and check that they’ll be around to do so – you don’t want the project held up because someone’s on holiday!
Organise your time and resources and make sure you have everything supplied and set up in plenty of time. If you’re outsourcing any part of the project, ensure that your freelancers are fully briefed on what’s required of them and by when. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.
It’s useful to agree mini milestones with the client, so you can be sure you’re on track and they’re happy. Put the dates in the calendar so you can manage your time accordingly and have everything ready for them to review.
Deliver the work, and review along the way. Communication is essential, so agree to send regular email updates or schedule a quick phone call to check that both parties are happy.
If there’s anything you need to clarify or that’s worrying you, be proactive and speak to the client. And if there’s a change in requirements or timescales, get these into your brief. If there’s any reason why you can’t get things done when agreed, let the client know as soon as possible.
You can use an online project management tool to keep track of tasks and deadlines. There are a range of options, both free and paid-for. Explore what’s available and choose the one that best suits your needs. Remember that almost all of them having sharing facilities so you can give suppliers or the client access to some or all of the task lists you’re working. There’s more information on the benefits of using a project management system here.
The Creative Project Plan in Detail
A Creative Brief
A project plan consists of a few different things. The first step might be the need to put together a brief first if your client hasn’t provided one, or you may need to decipher, clarify and capture all the important information from your client’s brief.
The brief should be made up of all the details that make up the overall project. These will be things such as what the deliverables are, what’s being supplied what the desired goals and outcomes are.
It will also include the budget agreed and when the outcomes need to be delivered by. Other notes about the project should be collected here too, such as purchase order (PO) numbers, as this will avoid any hold-ups when completing and invoicing for the work.
This brief will help form the project plan and will help you to plan the full assignment from start to finish, with as much detail as possible and clearly written so it can easily be communicated to others.
Project Mini Milestones
Working backwards from the bigger outcomes and goals of the project and creating mini milestones will help you stay on track for the duration of the assignment. It also means that you’re not focused too much on the big goal and getting overwhelmed.
Breaking down the bigger goals into these mini milestones helps the overall goal and deadline feel a lot more achievable. They go into the project plan and should be added to your calendar. They work even better when they have checklists attached to them.
It’s great to have a checklist, even if it’s just for smaller tasks or an action list for each of the mini milestones. These can be simple and straightforward. For example: “Collect images from Pixabay as references for inspiration”.
This task could be one that goes towards the milestone of “Create an inspiration moodboard”. All of these little jobs ensure that those mini milestones get met, meaning the bigger goal is hit on target. Make sure you tick them off – not only will you know they’re done, but you’ll get a real sense of satisfaction!
Review stages should also be a big part of your project plan, whether that be weekly, halfway through the project, or at regular intervals agreed with your team and the client.
This ensures everything is on track, you know you’ve got everything you need to continue and there are no new problems or stumbling blocks you foresee cropping up. As we’ve said, projects can evolve and change course, so it’s important to review often.
Reviewing also means that you can make sure you’ve got enough resources available to complete the project, and it also means that if there are any problems that you do for see you can let your client or team know now rather than towards the end, when the pressure is on and the deadline is getting closer.
Delivery and Final Outcomes
The final part of the project plan is to set that deadline. This will have been set by the client themselves, and you either need to agree it or suggested an alternative date based on your current capacity and experience.
At this stage, it’s also good to add in another review stage so you can look at the process that you’ve gone through. This means you can update any future project plans.
You can also start to add in some off-boarding tasks here too such as asking the client for testimonials and some feedback whilst it’s still fresh in their mind. Make this easier for them by jotting down some points for them to include, particularly if you used your initiative or solved a problem.
The Key to a Successful Creative Project Plan
There are some key points that result in creating a successful project plan:
- Make sure you plan out the full project in detail before you start. This includes all the mini milestones and tasks that work towards the end goal
- If you’re working with a team or in collaboration with an internal or external partner, make sure you communicate the plan before you begin. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and they can deliver what they need to, when they need to
- Be organised and try to have everything prepared in advance of a project
- Remember to include the review stages in the plan, whether this be weekly or at relevant intervals within the project. This will allow you to foresee any new problems or bottlenecks ahead of time
This is one example of putting together a project plan. Everyone and every team works in different ways, so adapt this to your needs. The most important takeaway is that you need to have a project plan in place before you begin any new job, in order to manage it as best you can and get the results you and the client want.