As designers, we need creative freedom. The innovative solutions we develop for design problems can never be predetermined. However, the methodology that we use to develop those solutions is more predictable. The logistical aspects of projects can be planned with some accuracy. Smart internal planning involves asking the following questions:
What client objectives must be met?
Gather as much information as possible about the client and their business needs in order to clearly define the scope of work to be produced. Identify the specific objectives that must be met by the end of the project.
How will I do that?
Describe the creative process you'll be using. Prepare an internal planning worksheet that's broken down into whatever phases and steps you feel are necessary. Within each phase, spell out what's included and what's not. Describe the sequence of activities, the deliverables being designed, the number of creative directions being shown, and the number of revisions or refinements included. Along the way, clarify when client involvement will be needed for meetings, conference calls, and approvals. This step-by-step approach allows you to accurately identify all resources needed for design and implementation. The nature of each project will determine the exact mix of skills required. The range of skill sets will determine the size of the team.
How long will it take?
Once you've identified the size of the team, assign estimated hours to each person. For each project step, decide who needs to be involved and for how long. Add up the hours to get a sense of the overall work schedule—the number of work days or weeks required to finish the entire project. A good way of visualizing this is to prepare a Gantt chart. Gantt charts show blocks of time and indicate which project activities can happen concurrently. If the project involves work by outside vendors (such as printers) be sure to include realistic turnaround times.
What's my internal budget?
Your budget will use two forms of measurement. You'll have target hours for your team members and estimated dollars for vendor purchases. The longer you're in business, the more accurate your budgets will become. In particular, recurring project types make it easier to estimate the cost of vendor services and materials.
How much breathing room do I need?
Remember to build in some leeway. As any seasoned professional will tell you, it's smart to "under promise and over deliver." In practice this means that, even though you're defining the scope of work as tightly as possible, your internal planning should also include a small contingency. It should not be more than 10 percent. This will give you some breathing room in case an aspect of the project turns out to be slightly more complex than you expected. If no complications come up, the contingency will allow you to deliver just a bit more than you promised. A small amount of extra work that the client is not expecting is not really "over delivery" if you have, in fact, allowed for it in your planning.
When your internal planning is complete, you'll be ready to draft the formal proposal document that will be shown to the client. For information about that, please see the earlier article: What Designers Should Know About Fixed-Fee Proposals.
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