Congratulations! Your agency just landed your first major client. But once you’ve popped the bubbly and celebrated, cold reality sets in. How do you put together major project management timelines with multiple deliverables, deadlines and a freelance team that scattered across four different time zones without losing your mind or hiring a new employee just to manage the project? The good news: it can be done – and you don’t have to live in the office, either.
Here’s how to tackle putting together a big project timeline for the first time:
Add in extra time as you go. Start with the final deliverable deadline and work backwards, adding a little extra cushion time at each step. For example, if you’re estimating a four-week project timeline and your client’s big product launch is October 1, aim to have the final marketing deliverables complete at least a week before the project launch. For longer projects, add additional cushion room that’s proportional to the timeline (e.g., a five month project should aim to finish several weeks in advance of the drop-dead due date).
Divide and conquer. Split the final deliverable into smaller milestones and sub-tasks. Most projects have a research/development phase, draft phase, revision phase, and final deadline. If you’re submitting a large collection of content or designs as part of the final deliverable, head off lengthy revisions by perfecting a test sample early in the project. This ensures you and the client are on the same page for tone and design of the final deliverable, reducing the likelihood of a last-minute revision headache.
Set communication expectations from the beginning. Whether you’re managing a team of two freelancers or 20, get everyone on the same page from day one. When folks are spread out across multiple time zones and hopping in and out of the project throughout the day, it’s especially important that everyone is working off the latest draft. Use a project management platform like Asana for streamlined team communication and task management without the hassle of email. If you plan on holding weekly status update calls, pick one time and stick to it every week. This makes it easier for the freelancers on your team to plan their schedule accordingly.
Establish protocols for managing client revisions. Scope creep is one of the biggest challenges for first-time project managers. You want your client to be happy so saying no to certain revisions or changes can be challenging. At the same time, you’ve got to stick to a tight budget and timeline – or risk losing out on future work due to cost over-runs and missed deadlines. If a client revision is going to affect the budget or timeline, send an update email that clearly states how the change is impacting the bigger project. Getting approval in writing via email is preferable to an oral agreement on a phone call; should the client later have an issue with the timeline change, you’ve got a paper trail to back up your changes.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a first-time project manager?
Writer Bio: Erin M is a freelance writer available for projects at WriterAccess.