Nearly every project strays from the schedule from time to time. Some stray by five or ten percent, and others by a much wider margin, which then goes too far off track to correct with reasonable effort. We hope never to reach that point and if we do, it will likely take considerable negotiation with the project client – in terms of discounts, free work or shifting project priorities – to get anywhere close to back on track and hopefully back into their good graces. I’ve been there… it isn’t fun.
Let’s assume that our creative project is a bit off track schedule-wise and it’s basically fixable. What is the best action to take? What should we do first? Do we need more money, more resources, or a new calendar? Or perhaps a miracle?
From my personal experience, here are three possible actions the creative director or project manager can take to get the project back on track. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but proactive project management helps give the client confidence that you can and will deliver and helps give your project a fighting chance to be delivered on time – or at least a reasonable distance from “on time.”
Reprioritize project phases. Sometimes you can negotiate with the client to move different phases of the project around to help get the engagement at least closer to back on schedule… or possibly to help ensure that some critical functionality that is needed by ‘x’ date can be delivered. This helps show the client that you understand their needs and are working to meet them. This is a great tool for the project manager when the project schedule is in trouble and there are several phases to the creative project. Don't forget to review the schedule carefully beforehand with your team and proceed with caution.
Add project resources. You can always throw more bodies on a problem or issue, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to solve everything and it will definitely cause the project budget to take a hit. But if the schedule issues were caused by the delivery team or organization, it may be your only choice and you’ll just have to take the budget hit. Avoid this one if you can, but if bringing on a couple of resources in the short-term helps, by all means go for it.
Negotiate a new project deadline. Sometimes the easiest way to get your project back on schedule is to not get it back on the old schedule at all. Rather, create a new schedule based on when you CAN get it done. This becomes easier to negotiate with your project client when they are at least partially responsible for the project being off-schedule in the first place. They will likely be more agreeable in such a case. If the schedule problem is due to issues on the delivery side – your side – this may be a tougher row to hoe. But, if you approach the client professionally with the new proposed schedule in hand and convince them that this is best for them, the project and the budget, then you might be able to pull it off without losing client satisfaction and confidence points.
Summary / call for input
You are off your creative project schedule deadline for your creative project. Getting back on it may or may not be a realistic possibility, but taking one or more of these three measures should help… knowing that their effects on the project budget and client confidence may vary. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – it really depends on the project and how critical it is to get back on schedule. Choose wisely, negotiate well, and always be honest with your project client. Include them early on in the planning of solutions for the project schedule issues.
What about your experiences? What has helped you get back on track or at least negotiate a new deadline with your project client if that isn’t possible?