We’re a small team, we’re usually overbooked, and there’s always more work to be done than time permits. You know the story.
I’m the first to admit we’ve had a tough time with scheduling, and running several projects in parallel in the past.
2012 has been the year of process for us. We’ve worked hard to develop a good, solid process from getting new business, signing up new customers, and handling ongoing long–term projects and retainer contracts. I’m glad to say we’re in a much better place now than we were a year ago.
The “Project a Day” Split
A couple of months ago we tried something new, radical even: we started assigning projects to weekdays, meaning we take a project, and decide which days of the week we’ll be working on it. This is something that we’ve picked up from our buddies at Rendered Text, and apparently programmers have been doing this for a while now.
So, if we’re running — say three projects at the same time — this means that one project will get e.g. Monday and Tuesday, one will get Wednesday, and the third will get Thursday and Friday. The split can be more complex if more people are involved, projects’ budgets get calculated in, but for the sake of simplicity in the example above I was assuming: 1 project = 1 person/team.
The benefits of this approach:
- much less context switching, and more uninterrupted time for focused work (equals better quality),
better organization (less organization and management, really),
- better team communication,
- smoother workflow with the customers,
- project pace is more clear and more predictable,
- far less urgencies (and illusions of urgency),
- often a better deal for our customers since they are getting billed at a day rate which is billed as five hours, but we do a full day’s work,
- less complicated billing, estimation, etc.
One key benefit of this approach, is that it gives us — the designers — much needed time for our decisions to form and mature.
- not all customers are willing to accept this approach,
- smaller projects tend to feel stretched over perhaps unnecessary length of time to some customers.
From our experience people who have issues with this system are either looking for a rush job, don’t understand the importance of time in the design process and value it enough, or both.
The truth is no application, tool, or a manager will get you out of the dreaded situation where two urgent projects overlap, and you need to juggle additional iterations, or changes in direction when you didn’t expect them to pop up. Planning and a solid schedule will; fact.
The first thing we’ve done when we implemented this workflow is that we’ve notified our existing customers of the change, and made sure they are OK with it. This is really important since the change isn’t only on our part, they need to adapt to this new kind of collaboration as well.
On the last day of working on the project for the week, we will usually send off some deliverables, and then the customer has a couple of days to offer feedback, and we usually use the downtime to go discuss changes, plan the next iterations, etc. It is very important to emphasize that we only limit the production work to certain weekdays, communication goes on throughout the week.
Since we’ve been doing things this way for a couple of months now, we couldn’t be happier with how things are going. If you are running a small shop, or you’re freelancing, consider this approach, you might be surprised how a little discipline pays off.