Common Problems Causing Schedule Lag

“How will you keep my web project on schedule?” This is the highly anticipated question that makes everyone cringe. How do you tactfully tell a client that most of the work for keeping a project on schedule falls on his/her shoulders?


Now don’t get us wrong, we know that we have a large role in this too. It is our responsibility to provide specific milestones and clear guidance on what those milestones entail. We also must hit all of our deadlines to keep a project on schedule. But when all that is said and done, we’re still at the mercy of clients for providing their vision, feedback, copy, photo/video assets, and approval. If they don’t meet their deadlines, we can’t meet ours and oftentimes are at a standstill.

Over the years, we’ve found clients plagued by recurring issues:

  • Difficulties gathering and consolidating feedback from several individuals into one clear direction forward.
  • The final approver too removed from the process causing circling back on phases.
  • Seemingly simple questions opening up Pandora’s box on company vision, strategic planning, services offered, and more.
  • The effort to produce copy, even if it is simply reviewing and updating current copy, taking significantly more time than estimated.
  • Underestimations for what a large production updating photo/video assets is as well as how time consuming organizing, collecting, and renaming photo/video assets can be.
  • The difficult balance of adding the new tasks that come with a design project on top of a regular workload.

Concise, Consolidated, Clear Feedback Takes Effort

Feedback is vital, and we thrive on it when done well. More often than not, feedback is coming from several individuals. While this is great for providing a thorough review and comprehensive stakeholder viewpoints, this can lead to contradictory feedback, open-ended questions, or behind-the-scenes discussions, taking what was thought to be an easy feedback checkpoint and turning it into a much lengthier endeavor. Without all reviewers understanding the overarching vision for the project or having a designated leader, feedback can stall out or be sent off with unclear comments requiring additional follow up.

Tips for success: We highly recommend having a pre-project internal meeting to establish feedback goals and expectations as well as to elect one point person to consolidate the feedback and provide clear, actionable items. Also mark feedback checkpoints on internal calendars to make sure time is set aside for review.

Understanding the Final Approver’s Vision Is Key

A project’s contact person is often not the final approver. Presidents, vice presidents, CEOs, and the like might have the final say, while a marketing director or team manages the day-to-day work on the project and in-phase feedback and approvals. Without a clear understanding of the approver’s vision or strategy for the future, the project may get through several phases — or even to the end — before the approver sees it and sends it back for re-work.

Tips for success: Identify who has final approval and get his/her vision for the project in advance. Discover key expectations and requirements as well as strong dislikes. Provide a few early sneak peeks for quick thoughts to make sure everything is on the right path.

A Website Is So Much More Than a “Marketing” Piece

The initial phase of a website design project is the flowchart, where the main navigation structure, pages/page hierarchy, and footer are identified. What sounds like a very basic, easy phase can turn into a larger company discussion: “We really have nine services, not eight.” “Our vision has changed.” “We need to have robust case studies though we haven’t before.” Then before a client knows it, the web design project turns into a business strategy and strategic planning moment and both the scope and the timeline have changed significantly.

Tips for success: Sit down as a team before starting to make sure the company’s business plan, vision, services/products, and website project goals are up-to-date and well communicated with the team members managing the website design.

Writing Takes Serious Thought

For most people, they write every day — emails, text messages, reports, etc. Writing for a website is a completely different thought train. It’s crafting a message that explains to users what a company does in terms they can understand, entices users to purchase a product or service, spells out the mission and vision, showcases value, and on top of all that has to show character and personality. That’s not a task that can happen quickly. Many clients underestimate the time it takes to get their thoughts together clearly and concisely, and the longer it takes for them, the longer it takes to get to the design team. While some basic design can happen without copy, the best design happens when designers are able to read through the copy — at least a strong draft — and use it to guide the creative.

Tips for success: Schedule out blocks of time to devote to reading through current material, rewriting, and creating new drafts during the initial stages of the project. Set aside smaller blocks of time to rework and edit copy once it has been set in the design. And remember, a good rule of thumb is to always double — if not triple — the original writing time estimate.

Images Enhance a Site — and More Than Just Visually

If the time has come for a new website, chances are it’s time for new visuals too. A new design can open up opportunities for images/videos that don’t exist or old visuals might need a refresh. Updating imagery and videos, however, can be a time-intensive project. From hiring photographers/videographers to scheduling headshots to staging products/scenes, there are a lot of details to manage. If not planned and timed just right, it can throw a timeline off. And once a shoot is over, the work is still not complete. Images are important for more than just the initial visual appeal; an easy way to boost SEO is to have detailed image names. Taking the time to provide detailed names can take a great deal of work, especially if a site is image rich.

Tips for success: Book a photographer/videographer early on to make sure there is no delay on getting assets. Discuss size, orientation, style, and composition needs with the design team prior to the shoot to provide direction to the photographer/videographer. After receiving the files, make sure to dedicate at least a solid hour to naming and organizing assets before delivering to the designers.

“Real” Work Never Stops

Rarely does a client shut down all business for or devote an entire employee’s time to a design project. That just isn’t realistic. We understand that business as usual must go on. Trying to keep up with client proposals, new product design, sales, and all the other real work within a company and still provide feedback, write copy, and figure out imagery can be a challenge. Clients assume they can make it work and then find the deadlines pressing in. Our base feedback turnaround time is two days, but an honest evaluation of workload may require clients to have four- or five-day turnarounds. This is absolutely not a problem — if planned up front; otherwise, it will throw the project off schedule. One day might be able to be made up; five can’t, especially if it happens regularly.

Tips for success: Don’t start a web design project unless time can be devoted to it from all necessary constituents. At the project start, schedule work blocks on internal calendars based off of the project timeline and feedback checkpoints and treat them with the same sense of priority and respect as a client meeting.

* * *

Not every project will hit these hiccups, and some projects fly through their timelines with great success. With great planning, preparation, and persistence — let’s hear it for alliteration! —, projects large and small can arrive at the finish line right on time. The key is to know the goals of the project, understand approval processes, and carve out time in advance. Pair that with a diligent creative team, and success is within everyone’s grasp.

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