How to prevent going over time and budget on a design project.

You might ask yourself, why do projects go over time? Is it because the client is being greedy and asking for work out of scope? Or is it because the designer is too slow? These could be the reasons, but more often than not is is down to lack of understanding of the project than anything else.

When you are working with a client your focus must always be on the underlying and desired outcome determined by their business goals. Building a 'pretty' website for your client isn't enough these days. When your client asks “I want you to build me a website” they really mean “I want my online sales to increase by 25% and we can do this by updating our website”. It is our job to read between the lines.

Understanding the business goals before you start the project is paramount, this will save you time at the end because you will do it right the first time!

Here are a few practical tips to help you stay on track and on time:

Meeting the Client
If possible, sit down and have a meeting with your client face-to-face; this will help you in building a rapport, gaining their trust and solidifying the relationship through an open line of communication. You can ask them their concerns, and expectations, as well as learn about their users and customers. You will get a lot more from your client than by second-hand information through someone else. I believe this is crutial to the success of the project.

Here are some questions to ask your client when you meet with them:

  1. Reason/purpose for the site -
    Why are you building this site? Are you selling a product? Promoting a service? Providing information to the public?
  2. Goals of the site -
    What do you hope to get out of this website? The most common client goals are to make money or share information.
  3. Target market that will be using the site -
    Who will be using the website? Make sure you're asking the relevant questions, such as "what is their age, sex, habits, interests, how much they use the internet, how familiar they are with website etc." Doing a persona based workshop will help you get this information and this will help determine the style and features of the website.
  4. Content
    What information will the audience want to find on the site? Copy it is extremely important to the over all success of the project, but projects are often delayed because they are waiting on content, or the content has been written and it is waiting to be reviewed by upper management. If you have not included copywriting in the project scope, prepare copy yourself before you start the visual design phase of the project. Wireframes should be populated with copy before they get to the design stage to avoid any delay. 

Estimating hours before you start the project:
List the pages and elements in the project scope and then calculate the hours you think it will take. Try to think of everything that will be in the project especially items that aren’t included in the project scope: Icons, photography, illustrations, meetings, etc, these will all add time to your project, so estimate how long these thing will take before the project starts.

Make realistic goals and deadlines:
I know that we all want to be able to do everything, but it is simply not realistic. If you already have a full schedule and you're asked to fit in another project, you might have to look at moving a few things around, or getting a time extension. If the work is outside the project scope then make sure these changes are being communicated to and approved by the client accordingly and time is added to your hours estimate.

Give yourself a fake deadline:
Minus a couple of days or hours, depending on how long the project is, so that you have some leeway. This allows for the times when you have unintended or unavoided setbacks, such as, creative block or change of requirements... best scenario you finish early and can get started on another project, or even have a break ;)

Make sure design revisions are accounted for in the project scope.
Deigns revisions can take up a lot of the designated design hours. Make sure you're factoring in enough hours in the estimate to allow for changes to be made in the design phase.

Set mini milestones
Set actual timeframes for: information gathering/research, mood boards, sketching, production, initial designs, client meetings, revisions and so on. And then give your self time restrictions for each to ensure you're project is tracking on time.

Healthy lifestyle
If you eat well and keep yourself healthy you will be more productive and more capable to meet deadlines. Also get enough sleep, as having sleep deprivation won’t do you any favours. Fuel your body and brain and you will be setting yourself up for success.

Remember you are helping yourself.
Refusing to procrastinate and staying on on track with your tasks serves only to benefit you. You will experience less stress and in turn produce better work. You will also feel a personal sense of pride :)