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How to keep your design project on time and on budget

Plan Carefully and Measure Often

Most people think of design work as fun and freewheeling, but, like any other “product” the design process has a beginning, lots of steps in the middle, and an end. The key to keeping design projects on time and on budget is to plan what the steps are and when they will occur before you start the work. Here are some of the steps you should follow to keep things on track:

1. Create a project plan

The project plan will include a definition and confirmation of the project goals and objectives, identification of tasks and how goals will be achieved, quantifying of the resources needed, and determination of the budgets and timelines for completion.

2. Write down what you are going to do and when you are going to do it.

Regular status reports from the agency will ensure that everyone is aware of where the timing and costs are and should be. The team should also implement regular ‘controls’ to ensure that there is accurate and objective information on ‘performance’ relative to the plan, and the mechanisms to implement recovery actions are in place

3. Stay on track.

The place where most projects go off track is when they start to suffer from “scope creep”. Meaning the addition of items, services or time that was not included in the original plan. If the scope does change for any reason, a separate estimate of the additional costs involved should be issued, in writing, by the design agency. This way, when the project is completed, all additional cost estimates or ‘change orders’ can be added to the items in the original plan to be reconciled so there are no surprises.

4. Manage revisions like a pro.

The other way for a project’s costs to get out of control is through revisions. Normally, the design agency’s cost estimate will state how many revision cycles are included in the quoted price. Revision costs often climb when copy changes are made one by one (or a few at a time) instead of all of them being made at once. A process that works well is to have all stakeholders read and approve the copy before it goes to the design agency for layout and art composition. The design layouts should also be approved by the team before the type is set and the file is prepared.

5. Ask to be billed in stages.

Projects usually follow major phases or stages, such as concept development, concept refinement, copy writing, art composition (or site building in the case of a website), approvals, production, testing and launch. It is sometimes prudent, especially when a project might take a long time to complete, that the design agency invoice each stage as it is completed. This is a good way to keep costs under control because you will know if any stage has gone over budget before proceeding to the next one.

Most importantly, recognize that your design agency is there to do a fantastic job for you. Stay focused on the big picture and to remember that the project is a collaborative effort between client and agency and the key to making it work is to communicate with each other throughout the project.

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