Timelines are a Centerpiece; Create Them Wisely

Creating a timeline for a project can be the most stressful, and yet the most important part of the project that you do – besides the work itself. The timeline is what lets the client know when they can expect the designs, and a good timeline will also let the client know when you  expect revisions and critiques back. They are crucial to a project being on time, and keeping the rest of your projects in line. Though, you always have to remember that life can happen! Lets walk through how to create the best timeline for you and your clients.

Get a General Idea

Look at what you have done in the past. How long did it take you to create the first design for the poster? Write out how many hours it takes you to accomplish the task. If you are working on something right now, time it! If you are working in a firm, or have contact with friends, get everyone’s input. How long did it take them to do x? y? z? Don’t include the revision time just yet, include just the hours spent on the preliminary design. As soon as you have that list, from your past projects or your friends, combine them and make a reasonable estimation between them to get a base number. Maybe you arrive at a round one poster needing 15 hours of work. Awesome.

Convert it into Workdays

Now that you have a general idea of the number of hours you need for a task, you need to consider that you might not be working only on one project at a time. If you are only working on one project, then you can easily split the hours for the project into the number of days, just by dividing by the 8 hour work day. (i.e. if the project takes 15 hours of your time, it will take you a little less than two working days) You might, however, be working on 4 or 5 projects simultaneously. If you are working on several projects, then the amount of time it takes you to get something done will be different. Don’t get me wrong, it will still be 15 hours, but that means you have to split that 15 hours across the different days with the other projects.

My rule is 4 projects per person at a time. That gives everyone 2 hours a day to work on a project. So, knowing that I will only be working on a project for 2 hours a day, that 15 hours is now taking up 8 working days, or nearly 2 weeks. Ouch right? Now you see why 4 is the limit for me! This doesn’t mean that I always set a timer to my day and only allow 2 hours of work per project. Some days I just need an 8 hour day on a particular project. That just means that I have to make sure the next couple of days are the same for the other projects so they stay on target and don’t get left behind.

Add in the Cushion Space

So, we are on 2 weeks, well, 8 working days: 1 week and 3 days. Here is the problem with just leaving it like that. Maybe this design is more complicated or has more content. Maybe you are hung up on a particular project for a day and can’t get to it. You need to make sure you add in some extra time to get everything done on time!   The first thought is, well it is close to 2 weeks, why not just call it 2 weeks and call that enough cushion? This part really is up to you. My rule is that, for smaller projects or tasks (less than a month) I like to add about half of the original time, just to make sure EVERYTHING is covered:sick days, hang ups, computer malfunctions. Anything and everything. If it is a design project, add half the original time. If it is a coding project double the time. So this design task is 8 days? Call it 12 just to be safe. Twelve working days is 2 and a half weeks. Will it really take you that amount of time to finish it? Maybe, maybe not, but now you have the room to maneuver and not fret about it.

What about Revisions?

So you have the base amount of how long the task will take. We are calling this one 2.5 weeks. For some parts of the project, that is only step one! There may be revisions to be done after that! There are many ways to decide on how many bouts of revisions to plan for, and how long they should be. I believe you should have at maximum 3 revisions on your calendar. Any more and it seems like you are not confident in your ability to design. In bigger projects, individual sections or milestones should be put up for revisions to avoid this. There is also the idea that I hold fast to: you should add any client responsibilities to your timeline as well! You work on the poster and send it to them, how long do you give them to revise it? That needs to be on your timeline for both of you! For you to know when to start fretting, and for them to know a hard-fast date to get it back to you.


Hand pinning step on flowchart
Photo by Alvaro Reyes

For the first design concept, I say to make it a meeting. Just like I mentioned in the meetings portion last time, I want to be able to gauge their reaction, and I can’t always do that across email. I go over the design in the meeting, then give them a couple of days to get it back to me with any more thoughts. Let them take it around to who it needs to be taken to. Remember that this might mean working with their scheduled board or committee meetings for review. So, if we meet Wednesday, I tell them that I need any more revisions other than what we went over in the meeting on Friday by 5. That means that Monday I come in, check the email against the list we came up with and start working.

Now, for the first revisions, think worst case scenario. If it took you 15 hours to design it because of thought process etcetera, I want you to think that it will take 7 hours to fix it. Now, ideally you are good enough designer to interpret what the client wants, and the client is a good enough communicator to be able to tell you the information they need on there, so maybe you only need 3-4 hours. Still, write the 7. For the second revisions, write the quarter time – the 3-4 hours.

I use the final concept meeting a couple of days before sending it off for print to ensure that there are absolutely no needed changes, and that everything is perfect. I also use this time to make sure that the project is paid, in the case that there are no changes. This way, everyone is covered, me the printer and the client.

Finalize Timeline Templates

You should always know, before going into a client, what the base time frame for a project is. Ideally, you should know what functions last how long so that as soon as your client gives you a list of functions or needs, you can tell them a date if you started today. Whether they are in excel, an online calendar or as a template in MS Project, you should be able to enter a start date of a project and let the client know immediately. It gives you greater credibility, and saves a beaucoup amount of time on your part in the long run.

But what if I work faster?

The biggest question I get is, but do I really need all that extra time? I can get it done quicker! You know, you might! In fact, based on the calculations I gave above, you should! This is not a bad thing. When you get the design early to your client, they have more time and less pressure to look over the design and get back to you, and you will probably finish the project before it is needed.  This is never a bad thing. What is a bad thing is when one of your projects has a major deadline coming up, or a client’s system goes down, and now you are working against the clock, or any other unforeseen situation comes up. Maybe you had a sick day or two from the flu and are now trying to catch up, life happens! Do you want to try to explain to your client that their project is late because…..fill in the blank? Anything that you will say to them will seem like their project is not the priority!! The amount of time gives you peace of mind without unnecessary pressure, and a cushion for troubleshooting while still getting everything to the client on time.

Remember that you might get it to them early, but they might not have been ready for it until the date so you may have to wait. Sometimes your dates are set around board meetings and committee meetings so that they can discuss your work. Sometimes is it just how the client has set up the amount of time to be able to give the design the review time it needs. Don’t get upset when you give them a design early and they get it back to you by the date you originally agreed upon!


These are all just suggestions based on how I have constructed my own timelines. How do you do your timelines? Do you have timelines ready for projects? What do you put on yours that I have not included? What do you expect of clients when you give project content earlier than expected?

-until next time.

Let others know what you think!



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