Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Tag Archives: Communication

What to do if your project falls behind schedule: A 5-Point Plan

Sometimes no matter how well you plan, estimate and schedule, a project can fall behind schedule.  It may be because of something out of your control, lack of experience in that particular field or just plain old life getting in the way.

So once you have found yourself in this situation, what should you do?

1/ Don’t Panic!

The first thing to remember is not to panic.  You are behind schedule, but this is why you have a project plan: so that you recognise situations before they become problems and do something about them.

2/ Assess the situation

Take a look at your project plan and ask yourself:

  • What is the new finish date of your project if everything continues on this track?
  • What resources would be needed to bring your project back on schedule?

3/ Communication, communication, communication

It might be tempting to stick your head in the sand and hope that everything works out okay, but you will probably need to communicate with your client at this point to make some decisions.

This is why you have already assessed the situation: you can go to your client with solutions, not problems.  You may have already agreed project priorities with your client, which should help you make decisions about how to proceed, but if not the questions you need to be asking at this point are how to prioritise.

4/ Prioritise

There are three variables to a project:

  • Time
  • Quality
  • Cost

At this point, the time frame has slipped.  You need to decide which is the most important variable at this point, if you haven’t already done so.

Time

How important is the time frame?

If the project isn’t time critical, your client may appreciate an update about the new deadline but decide not to act.

If the deadline is key and cannot be moved, you and your client may choose to prioritise this over quality or cost.

Quality

The client may choose to let the quality slip in order to get the project completed on time.

An example of this might be a project to create decorations for a launch party.  Clearly the date of the party cannot be moved, but the client may choose to have fewer banners or to use pre-printed posters rather than custom-made ones in order to complete on schedule.  (Of course, you may have to take a reduced fee to compensate for the loss in quality).

Cost

Your client may decide to allocate a higher budget in order to complete the project by the deadline.  This is why you went through the assessment stage: you are now able to go to your client with an idea of what resources you will need to complete on time.  This may be anything from extra hours to hiring extra staff, more equipment or other resources.

5/ Consequences

If you are working on multiple projects, you now need to assess what the knock-on effects are for your other projects.  Are you allocating more hours to get this project completed on time, and what does that mean for your other project plans?

Remember: Don’t Panic!

Photo by Flickr user Patrick Hoesly

The Importance of Celebrating Success

In the previous post I talked about setting objectives that you can measure.  But why do you need to measure your progress?  There are four main reasons for this:

1/ To keep you on track

2/ To communicate your progress

3/ To celebrate your success!

4/ Evaluation

Keeping you on track

Too many projects fail because of inadequate planning and unrealistic expectations.  As a freelancer, missed deadlines can mean that a) you don’t get paid and b) your reputation can be damaged.

But by breaking your project down into smaller chunks and setting deadlines for each individual stage, you can keep an eye on your overall progress.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, just block out the length of time each task in your project should take and set deadlines for each one.  By keeping track of each individual task you can monitor the progress of the overall project and take care of any slippage before it becomes an issue.

Communicating your progress

You may have agreed a reporting schedule with your client but if not, achieving your milestones or objectives can be an excellent prompt for updating your progress.  (For more about communications plans take a look at my recent posts)

Celebrating your success!

The freelancing lifestyle can be tough: we frequently work alone and have to be constantly self-motivated.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by work and feel that we are swimming against the tide.

This is where celebrating success can be very important for our own self-motivation.  If you wait until you have finished a project to celebrate your success you can become de-motivated in the meantime, especially if your projects are long-term.  This can mean you fall behind and struggle to meet deadlines.  Finishing a project can become an exhausting battle: you may be onto the next one before you have a chance to congratulate yourself on a job well done.

By giving yourself a pat on the back or small reward after each stage of your project you can really improve your motivation and therefore your productivity.

Evaluation: What went well?

Pausing at each milestone or objective can be a great chance to reflect on your work and evaluate what went well in that stage of the project and what could be improved upon.  You don’t need to spend too much time on this, but by getting in the habit of taking the opportunity to reflect on your working practices and problems you may have faced you can improve your work for future projects.

Photo by Flickr user seelensturm

Managing Multiple Projects: Problems and Solutions

Freelancers often work on several projects at once, and working as a freelancer can bring some unique challenges.  But just how do you keep all the balls in the air?

Problem #1: Project updates are taking over your life

Problem: You have three clients who all phone you constantly to get project updates.  They all want assurance that their project is getting top priority but you are spending so much time giving updates you are falling behind.

Solution: You need to put a Communications Plan in place so that they know when to expect progress reports.  Good communication doesn’t necessarily mean frequent communication, it is about making the client feel reassured that the project is on track.

Problem #2: Unbalanced workload

Problem: One of your projects is taking over.  You never seem to have any time to deal with the others and the work is piling up whilst deadlines are looming.

Solution: Time management is key here.  Breaking projects down into tasks and scheduling them in a calendar can help you see what time you have for each project.  If it looks like you really aren’t going to meet your deadlines you need to talk to your clients to decide how to prioritise you time, quality and costs. Discussing problems early on means that you can start creating solutions – don’t wait until after the deadline when it is too late.

Problem #3: Work overload

Problem: You’ve bitten off more than you can chew: you have more work than hours in the day, but you just don’t feel you can turn projects down.

Solution: You need to introduce some project planning to estimate your capacity before you take on more work.  Create project plans for each of your projects and put them together to make a master-plan.  You can use a low-tech approach with a simple wall planner or else try one of the many free or low-cost project planning software packages available.

Now when a client comes to you with a project you can look at your master-plan and see if you have any spare capacity.

N/B Clients are generally much happier to be told that you can’t take on a project outright rather than dealing with missed deadlines or sloppy work later.

Photo by Flickr user Helico

Project Communications: 10 Top Tips

Good communication within the project team is essential for dealing with issues before they become problems, identifying risks, setting priorities and preventing the timeframe from slipping.

Freelancers are likely to be managing a virtual project team, one that is not located in the same building and often made up of other freelancers.  They may not even be in the same time zone or country.

Freelancers work outside the normal reporting mechanisms of a company – often physically outside the building, as well as outside the organizational structure.  Being outside the normal communication channels can bring challenges for project communication.

10 Top Tips for Effective Communication:

1/ Be sure that the whole team understand the project’s objectives and priorities from the outset.  They will appreciate their role within the team and will be better able to identify problems early on.

2/ Language barriers can be an issue, even within English-speaking countries.  Clarify terms and jargon in the initial stages to ensure that everyone understands what is meant.

3/ If you are sharing project documentation with the team, make sure they are able to open the files.  Use software that everyone is able to download.  You could use a system such as Dropbox to share large files and folders.

4/ You will need to share the project plan as it is updated – be sure all your team members have access to the right software so they can view it.  You may need to spend some time on training to ensure the whole team is comfortable using it.  The Useful Links section of this site has links to free project management applications.

5/ Often, your team members will not be able to physically get together in the same room.  While face-to-face meetings are often viewed as an important part of a successful project team, especially in the initial stages, technology such as Skype and VoIP can enable video conferencing and conference calls as an inexpensive way of arranging team meetings.

6/ Be aware that your project team may very well have other projects on the go other than yours (especially if the team consists of freelancers).  Establishing regular updates from your team can help keep your project on track.

7/ If you are working with a team from other countries, pay attention to cultural differences.  A team member may be not be as overt as you in highlighting problems.  Be sensitive: what are they really saying?

8/ You may need to work harder to boost the morale of your team members if you cannot physically get them in the same room.  Using the phone instead of emailing or holding video calls can help bring some personality to your communication.

9/ Setting up a private forum such as Google Groups can help bridge time zones for discussing non-urgent aspects of the project with the whole team.

10/ Keep reviewing your communications to ensure that they are working effectually.