Community Post: 4 Ways to Plan for Flexibility

Editor’s Note: Hannah Carmody is a digital project manager at ISITE Design in Portland, OR, and our first contributor on PDX Digital PM. This is her first post with more to come. If you’re interested in becoming a contributor, please contact us!

The other day I had an internal meeting for an upcoming project that left me feeling warily excited. For the content strategy and experience design portion of this project we decided to try out a “cadence of deliverables”. If you wonder exactly what that means, you’re not alone. Essentially the beautiful project plan I had put together that even included a little red bar for client vacation time was going to be scrapped in favor of bi-weekly client presentations. What we would be presenting would be loosely planned internally with the client expectation of, “you’re gonna see something”.

If you’re like me, the thought of “going off script” can be a little intimidating. Many questions circled my mind: How am I going to keep the project on schedule? How will I track budget against deliverables? Will the client “get it”?

Luckily, one of my best coping mechanisms is repression paired with optimism so I put those behind me and thought of all the reasons it would work.

  1. A strong dedicated team – As project managers, many times we want to champion our team even if some players aren’t doing all they can to make the project successful. That won’t work in this situation. The team will need to include motivated individuals with strong communication skills who are serious and excited about the project. Leaders, outside of the PM, are also important in making sure the project moves forward. A cadence of deliverables would be a disaster with anything less than a stellar team.
  2.  Client trust – If your client gives you the side eye after every presentation, the best move is to do standard deliverables. To make the bi-weekly deliverables work, you need a client that not only trusts you but can also be collaborative and see the “good bones” of items that aren’t yet polished to perfection.
  3.  A not-so-specific SOW – This one may be night sweat inducing but just trust me. A generic SOW can ruin a project by giving too much flexibility to a greedy client. That’s why #3 only works when #2 is established. In this case, it allows the project team to be creative not only in the way deliverables are presented but what those deliverables are.
  4.  Budget – Let’s face it. This I-don’t-want-to-use-the-word-agile-but-let’s-call-it-agile approach to deliverables and feedback loops can potentially be expensive. Know that a smaller project will probably need to be more traditional with strict rules and no mercy. If you have the budget though, you can get your client more involved in all the stages of your work and make them as invested as you are in the outcome. It’s always a good idea to keep a 10% contingency that gets tracked outside of any internally circulated budget updates. Then you will have a rainy day fund or, if you’re lucky, a delight fund to make something extra special.

Long story short, this is not the optimal working relationship for every project. But when you have those lovely clients that you can plan for flexibility with, the results will be truly inspiring.

Oh, and a word to the wise! Even if your schedule is flexible, make sure you are communicating hard dates internally because everyone needs a little structure here and there.

Posted in Community Posts.

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