Written on Tuesday,
February 1st, 2011
The fine art of pipeline management is not so much an art, as much as it’s a vaudeville juggling act (that involves chairs and torches and knives). It’s nearly a full-time job just to juggle all the variables entailed in taking a project from start to completion. It relies on an honest reflection of what you or your team can realistically accomplish, given the many variables, while making it worth the efforts (both in time and money) of those involved. Cameron Moll wrote a reflective Tumblog on the pains of learning that building something well often takes more time than you allow (or what a client wants).
Estimate for Value
We’ve had to address, readdress, revise and reassess my process pipeline (i.e. how much time it takes from the time the client says “Let’s go” to concepting, presenting, revising, finalizing, troubleshooting and launching a project) so often, that I’m starting to believe that there is no set standard; there’s no way to have a comfortable or sustainable pipeline. For the sake of not only estimating a project cost correctly, but also making sure you don’t waste your value (hourly costs, whether expressed or as assimilated, have to be used to estimate the budget) one has to know — with liberal amounts of “padding” for the unknown — how long it will take you to do something. But how does one not only plan for that, but plan for it to be done well; with room to think, revise, research, test and deliver the best possible solution; while keeping a reasonable timeline to the client?
Perspective and Instinct
A great deal also depends on the timeliness of your client. If a client starts a project but has yet to give you the “deliverables” (I really hate that I used that word), that estimated timeline is in a holding pattern. Pretty soon your other projects are circling the runway. That’s when communication because the key ingredient to keeping that flight pattern revolving. It’s your responsibility to tell your client what is needed and the consequences to the project if those needs are met in a certain timeframe. As hard as it may be, some projects need to go to the back of the line and wait. The balance and difficulty comes in when do you ask for more from your team — more hours, more weekends, more focus — or ask your client for more — more time, more budget, more flexibility. There is no formula for what is essentially an instinct informed perspective.
Set an internal milestone (about 5 days before your client milestone) to check that your team is meeting the timeline goals— Are the concepts worthy to show? Is there more time needed to revise or research? If you need more time, communicate that with the client the added time that will be needed: when it’s a week before that initial deadline, a requested extension is typically more well received. Do this at each milestone. While it might feel like overkill, or even unnecessarily time consuming; it helps both you and your team in revisiting your efficiency (because your time is your money — your inability to correctly estimate will decrease your relative hourly rate, while efficiency and accuracy will give you a higher return). It should take less than 15 minutes to determine if you’re on pace or not.
Ultimately your project pipeline is a continual revolution of revision. Complacency is not an option.