Guide to Completing Projects On-Time

Part of being a web designer (or any other type of service provider for that matter) is dealing with the reality that deadlines are going to be a part of your job. Deadlines often have a negative stigma, but they actually freelancers and independent designers to keep themselves on track and to promote efficiency and productivity, which will lead to a profitable business.

Last week I wrote about some various steps to achieving a productive workday, and in many cases your days will involve the need to meet deadlines, or at least to make progress towards meeting the deadlines at a later date. In this article we’ll take a look at 10 different things that you can do to help yourself in terms of meeting deadlines on client projects.

1. Start with Realistic Expectations

One of the most important factors in completing projects on time is simply not accepting work that requires an unrealistic deadline. Of course, there will be times when a looming deadline will be a tight squeeze, but if you hope to be able to meet a deadline and to provide your highest quality of work, a certain amount of time will be needed.

If a client or a potential client is trying to get a project started with unrealistic expectations, the time line needs to be adjusted as soon as possible, or problems will follow. Most clients won’t know everything that is involved in getting a project completed and they won’t always be able to know what is realistic and what is not, so it is the freelancer’s responsibility to make sure that deadlines and schedules are reasonable.

2. Give Yourself Time to do Your Best Work

When evaluating a schedule or deadline proposed by the client, you may know that you’ll be rushed. In this case if the money is right and other factors work out, you may be tempted to move forward knowing that the time crunch will not allow you to do your best work. However, once you get in to the project and you want to produce something of quality, you’ll find that justifying a lower quality of work is not usually acceptable to yourself or to the client.

For obvious reasons it’s always preferable to come away with something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, and a piece of work that would help you to win new clients, not chase them away. When evaluating a potential project to determine if it’s one that you should accept, be sure to give yourself time for a high quality of work, or it is likely to be an issue later.

3. Get Started Right Away

Procrastination is easy for freelance designers, since there is no one around to hold you accountable. It’s a very simple concept, getting started earlier will allow you a better chance to meet your deadlines, but it’s easy to put things off.

By getting started right away you’ll have a chance to identify any potential problems while there is still plenty of time to deal with them, and you’ll reduce the pressure that will exist later as the deadline gets closer.

4. Plan for Unexpected Issues

Part of the difficulty in pricing projects and setting deadlines and schedules is that unexpected issues are almost certain to arise. Planning for the unexpected is a necessary part of the process that will usually be learned after a few bad experiences.

When extra time is built in to your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems, deadlines will not need to be missed because of these setbacks. Even though we all know that unexpected things sometimes happen when designing and building a website, explaining to a client that you can’t meet a deadline because of something you didn’t anticipate is never a good thing. Yes, there are times when it may come to this even when you have built some extra time in to the schedule, but minimizing and avoiding these situations should be a goal.

5. Communicate with Clients that Your Ability to Meet Deadlines Depends on Their Cooperation

Being held up by clients can often be a frustration for designers. When you’re building a site for a client there is a strong need for the client to be involved in the process. Whether you are being held up by waiting for content or waiting for feedback on the design, a slow response from the client is frqquently a contributing factor in delays.

To make sure that your clients have a clear understanding of what will impact your ability to meet the established deadline, take the time up front to emphasize that their input and follow up must also keep to the schedule, or else it will impair your ability to get the job done. This will help many clients to make sure that they get back to you promptly, and in cases where it doesn’t help, at least you will have covered yourself for later if deadlines are not met.

6. Get as Much Information as Possible Up Front

As was mentioned in the previous point, building a website is always going to involve some information from clients. Whether you need written content for the site, photographs to be used, a listing of pages that they want to be a part of the site, or feedback on the style of design that they want, the sooner you can get the information the better.

Of course, different projects will have various levels of involvement that you will need from the client. Whenever possible, it’s preferable to let clients know everything that you will need from them up front. This gives them a chance to go gather the information all at once, plus it makes it possible for you to have all of the information before you even really get in to the project.

Going back and asking the client for more information will usually happen at some point, but the more you can get up front, the less time you will have to wait later for a response. As deadlines get closer, these types of delays can often make the difference between meeting or not meeting deadlines.

7. Give Deadlines to Your Clients

In order to keep things moving forward, deadlines should also be given to clients for getting their part done. For example, when you communicate with the client at the start of the project, if you’re going to need content for X number of pages on the site, agree on a deadline with the client for the time when they should have all of that content in your possession.

Simply asking the client for something in an open-ended nature with no deadline will not always work. While you’re waiting you may be losing valuable time. Giving deadlines to the client can obviously help to get things moving quickly, but it also helps them to realize some of the ways that they impact your ability to meet the deadline.

8. Have Checkpoints with Smaller Goals Along the Way

Some projects, especially larger ones, will have smaller goals and deadlines built in to the schedule along the way. However, even if you’re working on a smaller project that only has one established deadline, it’s a good practice to break down the tasks and steps that are needed to get the project completed, and set some specific goals and progress points for yourself to meet along the way.

When you’re evaluating how much time it will take to complete a project, it will typically be much easier and more accurate if you can break it down in to small sections and gauge the time required for each of them. Without doing this, it’s easy to get part way through a project and feel good about where you are at, when in reality you should be much further along in order to meet the deadline.

9. Set Daily/Weekly Goals and Task Lists

If you’re starting a project with a detailed breakdown of what needs to be accomplished at specific intervals, you can evaluate your progress at any time and adjust if you’re falling behind.

Last week I wrote that having a daily to-do list is one of the keys to a productive workday, and I feel that it also has a big impact on allowing yourself to effectively meet deadlines. This way you will always know exactly what you need to accomplish in a given day to put yourself in position to get the project completed on time.

10. Evaluate Your Progress Daily

In addition to just setting goals for each day and tasks that need to be accomplished, it’s also necessary to evaluate your progress and make sure that you are still on track to meet the deadline. If you’re not on track, it’s obviously best to know that as soon as possible so that you can adjust your work as needed, and this method will allow you to do just that.

My typical practice involves spending about 5 minutes at the end of the day to go back through my to-do list and to make sure that any items that weren’t accomplished become part of the list for the next day. At this time I’m able to look at the projected schedule and determine if I’m still on track.

What’s Your Process?

How do you make sure that you’re able to meet deadlines?

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28 Responses

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  • Business Media Plus, December 12, 2011

    This is a very helpful post! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Web Design, January 7, 2011

    Great post with some good tips. Planning for the unexpected is a tough one.

  • This guide is excellent. Moreover, this can be termed as short bible for Project Management….

  • Naples Web Design, August 20, 2010

    Well when it comes to deadlines it’s better to have time management and a good plan to execute those important things to do.

  • Very Informative,

    I would suggest to gather as much information from the client before starting the project. plan the things accordingly. if you commit the result to the client within 15 days, complete the task in 13 days and send it to the client for the review and feedback. so that you can give the client complete satisfaction in your work.

    That really helps you to improve your business either by long term relationship with the client or referral marketing.

  • Projektowanie Stron Internetowych, September 23, 2009

    Very useful, thanks

  • Website Design Services, July 6, 2009

    Great guide! I find the best method is to add a day or two extra when you state your terms. I have learned to that recently and it has cured the tendency to go over deadlines.

  • Glenn Reffin, June 2, 2009

    Great to see this post, I am currently writing a short series of blog posts about project managing web design projects: which fits quite nicely with this and another post I read. If you don’t mind, I would like to link to this.

  • web design, May 24, 2009

    very important and usefull post.I’d be happier if clients stick to features & deadlines

  • Trina, May 18, 2009

    Starting with real expectation sets the tone for the entire project. I dont have much experience with real clients but when working with teams in school this can make or break a project. Putting the project into perspective in the beginning and coming to an agreement of what the scale of the project should be really helps in the long run because each member knows what there up against.

  • michelle, May 11, 2009

    Yes its very important to get the project complete on time and before hiring any company for projects we need to take the time estimation and we need to separate that time frame into modules of the project. it will help to get the project done on time.

  • Web Templates, April 27, 2009

    I find that if I do tasks I don’t like I’m able to move them quicker if I build mini-rewards into my schedule.

  • Portland Web Design, April 27, 2009

    I’ll second that LeapGo. So many times the client is not paying us to write copy and that is where the design process just grinds to a halt because we didnt make it clear what text is needed.

    I love your Whats Expected of you idea… I’ll have to start implementing something similar.

  • Ovi Dogar, April 27, 2009

    Very interesting and useful article…

    Great tips! ;)

    Ovi Dogar

  • LeapGo Web Design, April 25, 2009

    I think one of the most important things is making sure the client knows what is their responsibility. So many times when we were first starting out, we’d get to the end of a project ready to implement the text and the client had nothing. Now, we have a “What’s expected of you” section in our web design proposals and agreements. We also set a specific number of mockups and revisions, otherwise you can easily get into a never ending loop of web design revisions with an indecisive client.

  • MorayWeb, April 25, 2009

    Really useful – thanks!

  • Brad, April 24, 2009

    Great points! I always set up timelines using Basecamp for my clients at the very beginning of a project. That way the first time they login the timeline is established. I have them approve it and let them know that if they miss a deadline it will push the entire project back. All of my clients are happy to do this in return for the knowledge that they are working with a designer who gets projects done on time.

    Its sad that some people in the design industry have given everyone a bad rap for not being able to meet deadlines. But hopefully your post will help turn that around.

  • Ryan, April 23, 2009

    Your suggestions/guidelines are very applicable to freelance videography work. From my experience, I have found that your number 6 rule “Get as Much Information as Possible Up Front” is the most important. It is imperrative that you find out EXACTLY what the client wants before you begin/early on in the process. Get in in writing. Otherwise, you’ll be making countless major and minor alterations to your work later on to suit the whims of the client.

  • Navdeep, April 23, 2009

    These are real good tips. I’d be happier if clients stick to features & deadlines ;)


  • Vandelay Design, April 23, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your experience. “Often you can use their own time limitations to help you get them on a reasonable schedule.” Well said.

  • joyoge designers' bookmark, April 23, 2009

    helpful article thanks for tips..

  • boracay regency, April 23, 2009

    This is a good guidelines in completing projects on time. It manage time properly with the work and with the client as well as to have time finishing the said project.

  • Matt, April 23, 2009

    My approach is to talk to my clients about the nature of web design. It’s always changing and as soon as you start a project, the requirements start changing. So I try to get them to start small and work there way toward what they want, but I very much hold their hand all the way through that process.

    Often you can use their own time limitations to help you get them on a reasonable schedule. People always want a project done in two weeks until they’re the one blocking it. Make sure people have something to do for their own project. Pictures, content, artwork, design discussions, whatever.

    My approach however, comes from many years of experience. If you don’t have a good understanding of how projects fail in general you probably won’t be able to make a very good case for why going slow is good.

    But that reminds me, one of my arguments for going slow is so that they don’t waste money.