Universal Truths on Project Completion Times

Today my friend Kelly sent over an article from the Unclutterer website called, “Three universal truths for why projects are not completed on time”. Within two minutes of reading the first paragraph and the three universal truths, Craig and I were into a discussion about how we’ve experienced them over the years.

1. “Clients are never as prepared as they say they will be.”

Is almost an understatement. As I am reminded by stories on the website Clients From Hell, it’s all too common. I think this also leads to many in the creative field, myself included, feeling like we’re not being respected. But I am also reminded of an article in the February 2010 issue of HOW magazine, “The Q Factor” by Andy Epstein. In the article Andy described how helpful it can be to our projects and how they progress, by being involved and educating the people around us. Our jobs are not only relevant but they add value.

The issue, at least for myself, is educating takes time. I’m usually rush, rush from one project to the next. Better. Faster. Next. In many companies this step is usually under valued and seen as a time and money waster. Not to sound cliché but being proactive can help immensely as the project advances. I often forget this and jump right in. The times I haven’t, and put the effort in, it’s made all the difference.

Will this solve all clients not being as prepared? No. There is only so much as the provider you can do. Some people have no desire to change from rush/react mode. I’m trying to get better at reading these signs and stepping away from clients who refuse to at least meet in the middle.

2. “Clients always change their mind.”

Again, so very true. Similarly being proactive and anticipating clients’ expectations/fears will reduce this, and there will always be changes.

Recently I was in a relatively heated discussion around this topic. I still feel my point is valid and possible to implement. My issue was regarding a change to a header that I made six times, back and forth between two options. I did not have direct contact with the client, so I could not test my method. What I would have liked to see happen was explaining to the client that each change back and forth was going to cost more money. That maybe, they needed to pause for a moment, get everyone on the same page and then make a final change. This is not an unreasonable request. It saves everyone involved time and money as the project progresses.

3. “People always underestimate the amount of time it will take to do something.”

Absolutely. I’m a horrible offender of this. I know I do work quickly and I always think I can do it even quicker, because I think the client will be happier if it’s faster. Of course this is the farthest thing from the truth. The client will inevitably hold me to it and be unhappy when I don’t make the deadline.

In the article, Erin recommends taking your time and doubling it. If you think it’s going to take two hours, make it four. It never fails, that my quick off the cuff estimate didn’t realize that the client supplied a flattened PSD, or didn’t actually have a copy of the original source document, only a PDF.

Designers, Developers, Project Managers, Sales people can all benefit from remembering these three truths when starting a project with a client. In a field that seems to try to move at the speed of light, we could all benefit from taking a breather, doing some more thinking, laying some ground work to make all of us saner at the end of the day. Really, what is the rush?