Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Tag Archives: Communications PLan

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

What Makes an Effective Communications Plan?

As a freelancer running a project, you should consider having a communications plan to share the progress of your project with your client and any other stakeholders.

Having a regular reporting schedule means that your client can be assured that they don’t have to waste their own time chasing you up – they know that the information they need will be delivered to them when they need it in the manner that suits them.  They can see when to expect updates.  If you establish a communications plan from the outset they know that you will raise any issues with them before they become problems.  That leaves you to get on with the job.

The key to a good communications plan is that it should deliver the right information at the right time to the right person in the right way.

The right people: people with a stake in the project are called stakeholders.  Freelancers need to identify who are the key stakeholders and how they should be informed of the progress of the project.

The right information: stakeholders closer to the project will need more detail than those not directly involved, who only need the headlines.  They need to know whether the project is on target and of any potential problems that they need to deal with personally.

The right time: Stakeholders closest to the project might need daily updates, whereas those not directly involved might want updates only once a week or once a month, depending on the length of the project and that person’s involvement.

The right way: Phone calls, emails, electronic newsletters and meetings are all ways you might choose to communicate with the project’s stakeholders.  You need to decide which method is appropriate for each level of involvement.

Example:

Lee, a freelance events organiser is hired by an national supermarket chain to plan their annual conference.  The Human Resources department are in charge of planning events and the specific contact there is Cindy.  Cindy, her manager Terry and Laura, the head of HR, all need to be kept updated on the project, as do several of the company’s senior managers.

They don’t all need the same level of detail or regularity of updates.

Cindy needs a brief conversation by telephone each morning to discuss the day-to-day progress and an email at the end of the day giving an update.  Lee shares the project plan with her whenever it is revised so that she can report on progress and budget to her department.  Cindy’s manager, Terry, needs to be copied in on the daily email and should have a quick email at the end of each week to show progress and flag up any concerns.  Laura, the Head of HR is also copied into this.

Lee produces a brief bulletin twice a month to give an overview of the project for Laura and the senior managers.

Lee develops his communication plan with Cindy, as she can identify the key stakeholders and how they should be updated.

Lee’s communication plan looks something like this:

Stakeholder Medium Frequency Information
Cindy Email/phone 

Project plan

Daily 

When updated

Details of costs, schedule, problems, solutions
Terry Email 

Email

Daily 

Weekly

Overview of costs, schedule, problems, solutions
Laura Bulletin (by email) Twice monthly Overview of costs, schedule, high-level problems and solutions
Senior manager Bulletin (by email) Twice monthly Overview of costs, schedule, high-level problems and solutions

As the project progresses other stakeholders become involved and the communications plan is reviewed as necessary.  As a freelancer, you will find that each organisation you work with has different reporting mechanisms and preferred methods of communication.

For more on project communication within your project team, see Project Communication: 10 Top Tips