Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Tag Archives: Project milestone

Keeping your eye on the ball: how to stay focused on your project goals

It’s all too easy to get sidetracked by the things that need to be done day-to-day: emails to send, invoices to pay, phone calls, thinking up new ways to market your business… Twitter…

Freelancers have to organise so many aspects of their businesses that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  All these things are important, but so is the reason we set up our businesses in the first place: our freelance projects.  There’s not much point in being a freelance writer, event planner or designer if you don’t ever get time to do the writing, planning or designing!

There are four simple strategies you can adopt in order to keep your goals clear and your mind on the result.

1/ Define your project’s scope

It is much easier to keep your goals in mind if you know what they are!  Write down the goals of your project at the outset, and make sure you have agreed them with your client: you could both have very different ideas about what constitutes a successful project.  For more information, have a look at this previous post about the project scope.

2/ Track tasks

I have written previously about breaking your work down into tasks; once your project has been divided into bite-sized chunks it is much easier to keep track of your progress.  You can use a low-tech approach such as Post-it notes and a wall planner to keep track of your tasks, or use one of the multitude of software packages specifically designed for project management.

3/ Set milestones

If you have a larger project you can divide it into phases before breaking it down into tasks.  The end of each phase is denoted by a milestone, which might be something like submitting a piece of work, a website going live, your design being approved or moving from a planning to an implementation stage.

Reaching a milestone can give you a good sense of achievement and a reason to celebrate.  It helps to have smaller goals to focus on within your project when the end is too far away to see right now.

4/ Schedule in time-outs

It can be helpful at various points in your project to have a time-out to review your progress so far and look ahead at what is to come.  Reaching a milestone is an obvious point to do this, although you can do it at any time, especially if you feel that you have hit a wall.

Your time-out can be used to evaluate:

  • What is going well
  • What could be going better
  • What problems you have faced and how you overcame them
  • What you could change as you enter the next stage

By taking the time out to assess your progress you can avoid repeating mistakes and get yourself out of any ruts you might find yourself in.  You can monitor your work and consider whether you are still on track to meeting your goals or whether you are getting diverted or sidetracked.

Photo by Flickr user chispita_666

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

Do Freelancers need to set Project Milestones?

Freelancers are usually split into two camps when it comes to using project management.

  • Those who use their clients’ framework as part of their work
  • Those who create their own framework as a helpful tool to manage their projects.

In this post I will be dealing with the second group as they must make their own decisions which elements of project management they want to adopt.

 

What is a Project Milestone?

A milestone is an event during the life of a project that signifies a new stage.  Often a milestone is reached when a key task or deliverable has been achieved.

Milestones are set along the critical path of your project plan.

Why might I want to set them?

Scheduling

Setting milestones can help keep your project on schedule.  When you reach a milestone it is a chance to re-visit your project plan and identify any problems in your project schedule.

Celebrating success

Like any milestones in life, completing a stage of your project is a cause for celebration.  Especially if you are working on a long-term project, reaching a milestone can be a chance for you to congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Project evaluation

Re-visiting your project plan from time to time is essential and reaching a milestone is a good time to step back from the project and take a critical look.

  • What is going well?
  • What problems are you encountering?
  • Are your tasks realistic?
  • How about your time estimations?

Re-evaluating your project when you reach milestones is a good way to keep it on track and to identify potential problems before they become serious.

 

What are the downsides of setting milestones?

Over-complication of smaller projects

Not all projects need milestones.  Smaller projects can become unnecessarily complicated if you break them down into too many tasks and milestones.  You don’t want your project planning to take over from doing the actual work!

Non-critical task slippage

There is a danger in concentrating too much on the milestones along your critical path: you might miss the non-critical tasks that can slip as a result.  If you do set milestones be sure to use them as an opportunity to review the whole project, not just the tasks along the critical path.

 

To recap…

As with everything related to project management as a freelancer, only set milestones if you think they are useful and relevant to your projects.  Don’t over-complicate your project plan unnecessarily… but remember to celebrate your successes as you achieve them!

 

Photo by Flickr user Tim Green