3 Ways to Stop Project Management Fires in Your Creative Agency

It’s Monday morning, the lead designer Jordan comes into work with her Starbucks coffee. Just as she is turning on her computer, Jenny, the project manager, drops by.

“Morning Jordan, you know the ACME event site that is scheduled to release this Friday? The client wants to switch up the imagery for the front page. Yeah, I know it’s super last minute, but what can we do? Anyways, I’ve forwarded you the photos they want to incorporate. Can you whip something for me by noon? I want to send it off to them this afternoon. Thanks!”

Jordan goes back to her computer and opens her email client to pull up the photos. Then she goes to the ACME event test site and starts clicking around to take a look at work the creative team has done so far. She mumbles under her breath, “This is not what was in my mocks…”.

This is just the typical Monday at the office… it’s going to be yet another hectic week for Jordan. No wonder she looks tired all the time.

Does this sound a bit like your office? What if we can turn this around? What if we can we reduce the amount of fire fighting and make sure projects ;? Here’s some tips that can help, and it all centers around informal communication.

Tip 1: Before You Send Your Proposal, Vet It

Besides scope creep, one of the leading causes for projects to run over budget and fall short of expectation is an overly optimistic estimation of the effort required for a given deliverable. Sometimes it happens. The AE is trying to win a deal with a new client and unknowingly mentioned something that is technically difficult to do. The client loves the idea and so it is added in the proposal. Since the AE doesn’t know it is complex, it gets labelled as just a standard work item.

By the time the production team receives the work, the contract and milestones are locked down. They inform the project manager that it’s unrealistic to deliver the work with the given resources and timeline. They need to cut corners and everybody is disappointed.

We can limit this simply by vetting the proposal through your creative and development leads. They can identify which are the trickier items. You can then adjust the numbers on the proposal to reflect this. A half hour informal chat can save you from a lot of future headaches.

Tip 2: Demo Work in Progress to Others

Like Jordan in the example above, I often hear my designer friends who work in digital agencies lament that things are not implemented according to their visual design. One of them even told me, “When I talk about my work, I never show people the final site, just the mocks. I’m too embarrassed to because nothing looks right.”

I also hear plenty of stories from my developer friends about designers. It usually goes like this:

The designer hands over to them the Photoshop mockup with lorem ipsum filler text that looks amazing as an image. However when they put in the actual content, which can be 3 times longer than the filler text, it overflows the page. Well duh it’s not going to look nice.

Similarly some designs or typography requires pieces to be manually adjusted to align well and look good on screen. Sometimes these fine adjustments are just not possible when you have no control over the content because it is being delivered from a content management system. It is endlessly frustrating for the developers when they tried their best, despite not having design training, to come up with workarounds, then later the designer comes in and tells them everything is wrong but nothing can be done because it’s too close to the launch date.

We can easily resolve these issues with better communication between designers and developers. One of the techniques I’ve learnt from working in software development that is super effective is demo-ing work in progress.

When the designer have a good sense of what the design would look like, they should invite the developer to their desk for a quick 5 minute “WIP” demo. They will walk through what they have so far and where they think the design will be heading. This will provide the developer with a heads-up on what to expect and allow them bring up any concerns about the design. The designer can then take these things into consideration in their work.

Similarly, the developer should be demo-ing to the designer as they are implementing the design. This allows the designer to collaborate with the developer in fine tuning everything so they deliver the best work.
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to also invite the Project Manager to these demos. You can kill two birds with one stone and updated the PM on project progress.

Tip 3: Invite the Client Into the Collaboration Process

Finally, the most common complaint I hear about why a project is delay is likely the client is slow in approving work or they start requesting changes late in the process. One of the ways we can alleviate this is by inviting the client to collaborate with us. An environment like the fp. Client Portal, where work can be easily shared with the client and allow them to provide direct feedback as soon as things are ready, is helpful. Another thing we can do is to actually give the client a to-do item. We should explicitly tell them we need their feedback on this work before we can move onto the next step.

Doing so makes it clear that if they don’t respond back in a timely manner, we are not liable if the project is delayed. Also should the client request for changes at a later time, we can freely respond back saying we are passed the feedback stage, so these requests must be handled separately. Making these change may involve extra billable hours and/or impacting the delivery dates. This puts the ball firmly back in the client’s court and protects the creative team from frivolous last minute requests.

Got Another Tip?

Keeping projects moving smoothly and everyone in the creative agency happy is hard work. If you have tried any of the above techniques or have other tips, we’ll love to know. Please share it in the comments below.

This article was written by former Function Point employee, Amanda Truscott.

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