When you start a new print project, you want to hit your deadlines, keep your sanity and make your supplier and customers happy. But if you don’t sit down and plan out the project, you are not likely to reach all three goals. The right amount of planning will make sure that you keep your sanity and your clients.
Planning the Schedule
In order for your audience to receive the printed piece on time, you need to answer the following questions: When do you want your audience to receive the piece?
- Who will be writing the text, and how long does it take to produce it?
- Who will be producing the artwork, and how long does it take to produce it?
- Who will be doing the design and production work, and how long does that take?
- How long will it take to print, finish and mail the piece?
The first answer provides your end date. Add the rest of the time estimates together to determine your start date. Pad each time estimate by a factor of 1.5 to 3 times depending on your confidence in the numbers. Write these time estimates down to create the project plan.
Planning the Design
Once you have agreed on the design concept, your designer should also sit down and plan his or her work. This entails thinking about what grids, master pages, style sheets, fonts and image files are required to produce the finished electronic file. If your designer can successfully move from artistic design to engineered production, you are much more likely to hit your deadline and be able to fit design changes into your schedule.
Planning for Changes
Plans are perfect only until the work begins: they inevitably miss something. That is not only okay, it is expected. All you need to do is understand that the unforeseen will occur, make sure to pad your timeline and make sure to communicate often. Questions like “How is the work going?” will keep you apprised of the situation and your suppliers aware that you care. E-mails to clients updating them about your progress will keep them happy, even if the schedule needs changing.
The most important planning tool is your project plan. That’s how you will track your progress. It can be as simple as a note on a napkin or as complex as a Microsoft Project file, but you need to have written down when people owe what deliverables to whom. Secondly, tools to help you move from one step to the next, such as file preparation checklists and preflighting software, will help you make sure you provide printable files on time.
Planning for Next Time
You did all this planning, kept track of the work, told people how things were going along the way and pretty much hit your deadline. You guessed it, there is more. Along the way, you inevitably learned something, such as when your client says “It takes us one day to turn around proofs,” they meant two days, or that you forgot to take into account transportation time when you made your project plan. If you add these facts to your next project plan, you will “gain from the pain” by learning from these experiences.
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