Planning, So Your Project Doesn’t Kick You In The Ass

Posted: March 25th, 2009

Today, after a week and a half of balls-to-the-wall work to get a project done by today (on time!), I learned a valuable lesson which I repeated as a fledgling freelancer. One single word: PLAN.

Normally, new freelancers do not give much consideration to the planning stages before bidding or starting on projects. The misconception is that time spent planning is not time spent working. The truth is that even a few hours of planning, or however long you need, can help you find and uncover those important details to help you make accurate estimates. By an accurate estimate, I mean you don’t severely underprice which is often the case when you hurry through this process.

Surely, you create a project agreement or project specifications (I’ll save this for another post) for every project you undertake. If not, lots of luck to you. Before creating an agreement or spec, though, is an exact outline of what you will do to complete a project has to be done. This is where the details come in. You have to list every last one of them.

The following is a good procedure for outlining your project:

1. Break your project down into smaller tasks. If necessary, break them down further into even smaller tasks. Write down these tasks in an outline form. By breaking down you can usually find parts of a project that are more time consuming than others. Others may be new and not have been done before which leads to. . .

2. For those “new” tasks, do the research and come up with a method to complete them. Don’t just wing it. Be 100% sure you can do them.

3. For smaller projects, create a calendar and set a goal to complete one or more tasks on a particular day and chart this until the end of the project date you set. For larger projects, this could be done on a weekly basis, but I highly recommend charting it daily even though it is cumbersome.

4. After charting your project tasks on a calendar, you should be more able to calculate the time required for the entire project. A pretty reliable rule of thumb is to add an extra 15% overhead time to this since poop happens.

If you follow the above, it can be time consuming but you come out ahead in the end. From what I learned, though, is that even if you spend an entire day planning a project down to the last day, you can probably save anywhere from a few days up to a week in added time completing it. Projects that drag on and on end up costing you time and money, WAY more then the planning time, itself.

Which leads me to my last point. Your time planning is also a part of any project. Include this time in any project estimate.

Odds are you’ll repeat my mistake of not planning carefully but better to learn sooner than later.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

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