Project schedules: How to set expectations and ensure success

Project Management 7 min read

Project schedule

Last updated: September 27th, 2018

In the third part of our web design process series, we’ll cover setting up and maintaining a solid project schedule.

If you’ve been following along, you now know to get a signed contract before starting any work. Now that the contract is signed, its time for you and your team to get to work!

But before you start churning out wireframes and layouts all nimbly bimbly, you need a plan of attack in the form of a web design schedule.

Project schedules are the key to successful outcomes

Developing and maintaining a project schedule is the single most important function of a Project Manager’s job. A project schedule plays a HUGE role in the success of a project. If you don’t take the time to plan out and set the project’s milestones and delivery dates, it will no doubt lead to confusion.

But have no fear! I’m going to show you the process that I use to start every project off on the right foot.

When creating your project schedule, start with what you know

Before you start throwing random delivery dates on to a calendar, let’s first start with what you know about the project.

The first question you should ask yourself is, “when is my client’s desired completion date?”. Most clients have a timetable in mind for their project. And it’s likely they mentioned that timetable during the web design contract phase.

Once you have that date, you now know two very important pieces of information; when you start (when the contract was signed) and when you stop (upon completion). Now you just need to fill in the gaps!

By now, you should have all of the requirements in hand since most of these (if not all) are written in to the client agreement.You have what you need, now it’s time to move on to page requirements.

If you’re still unclear as to what the client is expecting at this point, now is the time to get the requirements solidified.

Pages needs to be brainstormed, wireframed, designed, and signed-off on before it can be coded. And since a home page design then typically dictates and influences the look of subsequent interior pages, it’s likely that you’ll be able to plan the secondary pages shortly there after.

Thinking your way through the requirements will help you put deliverables in the proper order on your project schedule.

Once you’ve outlined the order of events, you can then begin filling in delivery dates for each item. But how long does it take to complete each of the tasks you’ve put on your schedule?

Getting your web design ducks in a row

Trying to allot the proper amount of time per task is important. There are many variables that can affect completion time. You need to factor in not only time spent doing the work, but also time for client feedback and subsequent revisions.

We’d all love it if we nailed a design on the first try. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that to happen every time. You have to allow time for dialog between you and your client and build in extra hours to make changes to your work based on those conversations.

If you’re not sure how long a particular task will take you, heck even if you do know, try and add in more time for completion of that deliverable.

Believe me, your client won’t be upset if you over estimated and deliver early, but you can bet you’ll get an earful about it if you miss a deadline that YOU set!

The client impact

Even though your team will be responsible for most of the deliverables, it’s important that you don’t forget to assign your client their own “homework” as well.

If they take a look at your project schedule and don’t see their name anywhere, they might be more likely to go into cruise control mode thinking that your team has it all covered.

A client needs to know that the success of a project depends just as much on their involvement as it does yours.

Timely feedback, project priority checks, and constant communication are all responsibilities of a good client. If they fail to meet a milestone assigned to them, they need to understand that it could negatively impact their timeline.

Keep in mind that if you don’t assign your client any tasks and they fail to provide the feedback you need, you will have a very difficult time trying to explain that the deadline you missed was anyone’s fault but your own.

Review, review, and review some more

At this point you should have a pretty concrete project schedule outlined. Nut you aren’t quite ready to send it over to your client.

Even though you can become familiar with how long a given task usually takes the team, it’s always important that you review your schedule internally before unveiling your timeline to the client.

Your team of designers and developers may be more familiar with the details of a deliverable. They can point out places where it could take significantly more time to complete than you’ve allocated. Take this moment to collaborate and make any necessary adjustments. It will be much harder to backtrack once the project schedule is finalized.

Also, now is not the time to forget about your other clients! Many web design companies carry more than one client at a time. And sometimes they may have the same resources working on both projects. Be sure that you review your other project schedules to make sure that you haven’t “double-booked” your team.

Spacing out delivery dates between projects can not only lessen the stress levels of your team members, but can give you a slight cushion if something goes wrong on one project and you need to temporarily shift resources to another project.

The project schedule for all the world to see

Once you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, it’s time to send your project schedule to the client for review and sign-off. It’s possible they could suggest additional edits which could send you back to the drawing board. But their input is vital to forming an extraordinary schedule that will put your project on the fast track to success.

When everyone agrees on the final project schedule, I recommend putting the milestones and delivery dates on to a calendar that everyone can access. Whether you use something like Basecamp or a Google Calendar, having the schedule in a central location will allow everyone to check up on the project and see when something is due or what’s next on the agenda.

I also recommend that you review the schedule at various points throughout the the project. Just because everyone can access the schedule doesn’t mean they actually read it!

Typically, I like to review the project schedule in detail two times. Once on a kick-off call at the beginning of the project and then after each major milestone. That way there is very little chance that something is overlooked or a teammate is unaware of what’s expected of them.

Bruce Lee - Be like water

Be like water

There is a famous quote by the legendary Bruce Lee. It reads, “If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” In short, you have to be willing to adapt to situations and environments if you want to succeed.

“If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” — Bruce Lee

This kung-fu metaphor speaks volumes of the importance of maintaining your project schedule once it is in place. Things happen over the course of a project that can throw your carefully laid plans out of whack. Requirements change and unforeseen snags can take longer than expected to resolve. While it’s important to stick to the schedule and drive toward your goals, you can’t be afraid to rework things if the project landscape changes.

If this happens, be sure to set a new schedule that fits the new requirements. Don’t just start plugging away at the old deliverables knowing that the dates are no longer valid. Wash away the confusion by being proactive and make the necessary adjustments the project requires. Be like water.

In conclusion…

Hopefully this article has given you some good advice on how to set your next project schedule. While everything most likely won’t go according to plan, the important thing is that you are constantly thinking about the plan and working towards set goals.

And remember, a project schedule is only the road map. You still have to stay behind the wheel and steer. It’s up to you to do your best and put your team and the project in a position to succeed.

If you have any questions about web design projects or schedules, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

What to expect in Part 4

In Part 4 of our web design process series, we’ll talk about time tracking and the vital role it plays in all web design projects. Stay tuned!

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