Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Tag Archives: Project Scheduling

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

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

5 Important Things Freelancers Forget When Scheduling Projects

You know every function of your project management software backwards and your expertise in estimating task times is second to none.  So why do your projects sometimes fall behind?

1/ You don’t have 8 hours in the day

It’s all very well being able to micro-manage your day with your shiny project management software, each minute accounted for, but you may have noticed life doesn’t work like that.  You get phone calls.  You answer tricky emails.  You might schedule 8 hours of work in the day, but it is unlikely you will actually work for that time.  As a freelancer, you still need to schedule time for general admin each day.

Tip: try to schedule admin work outside your most productive hours, maybe after lunch when your brain needs to do something a bit lighter.

Freelancers might not be able to gather around the water cooler but they can still procrastinate…


2/ You might not have a water cooler but you can still procrastinate

As someone who has worked both in the corporate world and as a freelancer, I can testify that it is entirely possible to procrastinate in a large office as well as in your home study.  You might not gather at the water cooler at home, but what about forums and blogs?  Not to mention Twitter and Facebook.

Be realistic about setting goals.  How much can you realistically get done in a day?  Plan your projects with what you actually get done in mind, not what you hope to do.

Tip: I read The Wealthy Freelancer (by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia) recently, and highly recommend it for all freelancers.  One good productivity tip they had was to time yourself working in 50-minute bursts, then give yourself some time off.  Try this if you have problems with procrastination getting the better of you.  Or turn off the internet whilst you are working.

3/ Sh*t Happens

With the best will in the world, things still go wrong.  You get sick; your car breaks down and you spend a day trying to get it fixed; your kitchen floods.  As a freelancer, you can’t call into work and get someone to take over from you for the day – it’s all on you.  Build some slack into your project schedule.

Tip: If you have some over-arching personal projects on the go – maybe writing an e-book or some other long-term project, you can always use any spare slack time you have to work on these.

4/ Over-Optimism

When planning projects, experience matters in estimating the duration of time needed for your tasks.  But even the most experienced freelancer can get overly optimistic when taking on an exciting new project and rush in without considering all the variables.

Tip: Doing a risk-assessment at the beginning of each new project can help you think around each aspect of the project.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just sitting down and brainstorming the sorts of problems you might encounter can really help get your project in perspective.

5/ Moving goalposts

We’ve all been there.  You think you’ve got your project under control, things are rolling along exactly to plan… then the phone rings.  It’s your client and they ‘just want a few changes’.

Moving goalposts are one of the top reasons projects overrun their deadlines, and this is outside your ability to control.

Tip: The good news is that you can do something about it.  Setting out an agreement at the beginning of the project can help protect you from moving goalposts.  You can specify that changes to your agreement will need to be considered separately – either you can charge more for the amended project goals or agree an extended deadline, or both.  Don’t be afraid to be assertive from the beginning – it is better than missing deadlines later.

Photo by Flickr user Just Chaos