As any professional designer can tell you, many things can and will go wrong over the course of a project, both internally and externally. Here are some "red flags" that indicate potential business problems, along with some thoughts about what you can do to prevent them.
An incomplete plan
A lack of comprehensive planning can lead to oversights and unpleasant surprises. If your plan left out something small, you might be able to absorb the additional expense. However, if you left out something large, it will require an embarrassing renegotiation with the client.
Poor organization of resources
On a daily basis, make sure that there are no coordination or communication problems that could possibly lead to misunderstandings or to a resource not being ready when needed.
Lack of role definition for team members
If there is confusion about who is doing what or who is responsible for what, it could lead to serious overlaps or gaps. Establish individual accountability for tasks and make it clear who has the authority to make decisions on any trade-offs.
Dependency on one person
Make sure there is always cover in case of emergency or illness. On a daily basis, make sure that information is shared and progress is documented.
This is the most common problem of all. As work is being done, clients will always want to add things. A moving goal post will make success impossible. Stick to the original specifications as much as possible. When necessary, issue change orders or re-estimate.
How will you know that the project is done and whether or not it has been successful? The most important things to be accomplished by the end of the project must be agreed upon in advance. Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for possible disputes in the closing days of the project. You may think that the work is complete and successful, but your client may be evaluating it in a completely different way.
Don't let yourself be taken by surprise—make sure that you know who holds the purse strings and whether or not they have made an adequate commitment to the project. A number of things might cause the funding for your project to dry up before it is completed: there may be a larger shift in the client's business strategy that makes the project unnecessary; poor financial performance might trigger general cost-cutting; the project might be put on hold or cancelled due to a merger or acquisition; or executive turnover may bring new priorities and pre-existing relationships with competing design firms.
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