Use Your Time Wisely

With a very small project, there’s every likelihood that you can gather a couple of brief proposals, make a quick decision, hit the ground running, and finish up by the end of the month. Voila! You have a new landing page for your website. Or a new set of images for your slideshow. Or the text of the speech your president needs to give. Let’s call the small project a speedboat.

Major projects — a complex website, a custom app, a branding initiative or a major identity program, for example — are more like container ships. It takes time to put together buy-in for a larger budget, there are lots of complex pieces that need to gathered and brought on board, it takes a bigger crew to run the ship, and changes are likely to be burdensome. As a result, this ship is very slow to get started.

Letting go of the shipping metaphor for the moment (because I actually don’t know enough about it to keep this up), here’s the truth: preparing for the execution of a large project can be frustrating. You’re itching to get started weeks or months before you can actually kick things off.  My advice: do yourself a favor and be smart about how you use this time. For example:

Get your (political) ducks in a row.
Chances are good that a large project will involve a large number of people from within your organization.  Chances are also very good that not all of those people agree. Use some of your start up time to sit down with these folks, listen to what they have to say, and generate goodwill for the project at hand. Make sure that every person understands the role he or she will play in the project. These conversations will also help you identify any problems areas or hotspots that might crop up later, which will be a benefit to you and to any partners you bring in for help.

Pull yourself together. That binder that your last branding agency put together six years ago? Find it. Thinking about installing Google Analytics? Do it today. The results of the reader survey you never got around to organizing? It’s time. Think of this waiting period as an opportunity to gather the resources or research that you’ll need in order to build a foundation for the new project. That foundation will allow you (or your partners) to make decisions that are data-driven rather than making assumptions about what has worked in the past. Once the project is complete, this is also the data that will allow you to demonstrate your success — and justify your budget — in quantifiable ways.

Identify “all-stars.” As you’re prepping for a project, you’ll probably start to see it everywhere. Using a website as an example, you’ll suddenly be hyper-aware of what others are doing online. What works, what doesn’t. Why you like this image, or why you find this navigation frustrating. A font that’s difficult to read. The difference between tablet and smartphone interfaces. I would suggest that you thoughtfully catalog your findings in some way. Encourage your colleagues to do the same. Whether your examples end up inspiring your team or helping a consultant to see your point of view more clearly, these “all stars” will be valuable to you.

Think about asking for help. Before you’re ready to begin the project, take time to carefully examine your in-house resources. Do you have staff members with the skills required? If so, can they be pulled away from their daily responsibilities to commit to this project? For how long? Who’ll manage them? Who’ll manage the project? If you can’t easily answer questions like these, chances are you may need some help. Hiring a consultant or a creative professional to provide support or to execute on your behalf is a big decision, and is likely to have an enormous impact on your success, so it’s worth your time from the start. Of course, who you choose will have a big impact as well, but that’s a topic for another day.

As you can see, what seems like a long, tiring waiting period can actually be a very productive time. You can save yourself time and trouble later on by getting your house in order early on. These are just a few examples based on my own experience. For readers who’ve gone through this already, what do you wish you’d done? What would you do now, if you could have those prep-weeks back again?