How to make sure projects don’t get stuck

Our first post in this series on stuck projects covered why projects get stuck. Yesterday we talked about how to get that project going again. Today we’re going to talk a little bit more about getting projects unstuck, but more importantly how to make sure that they don’t get stuck in the first place.

Track Tasks

I talked about this a bit in my first post but it deserves a longer discussion.

The number one reason that my projects get stuck is that I don’t track tasks properly. That means I don’t start a Trello board for it and don’t create cards for all of the main items that need to get done in the project.

Without at least a high level view of what needs to get done starting work on the project each day turns into a huge cognitive burden since the first thing I have to do is figure out what the hell I have to do.

When I’m tracking a project properly in Trello I have cards for all the high level stuff. If I’m building a site and we assume it needs a few custom plugins I’d have cards that looked like:

  • Build Theme
  • Restrict Users from WordPress admin
  • Build custom dashboard

Now those are pretty high level items. Building a theme means I need to check a bunch of WordPress template locations (like archives, search, index.php, comments…). I usually include those on a list in the card so that the client can see some updates as I check things off.

As I prep for my upcoming week I look at the cards scheduled for the week and open up OmniFocus where I break down the cards into individual action items. My ‘Build Theme’ card would become

  • Get base theme starter from github
  • Make sure debug is turned on
  • Make sure I have my development plugins set
  • Double check the Grunt tasks for compiling

Sitting down Monday morning I don’t open Trello, I go right to OmniFocus and start on my first action item. No cognitive burden and the project is tracked.

So start a project by tracking tasks and establishing the next action items. If you have a project that is currently off the rails get a Trello account and start tracking your tasks now.

If you don’t write down the tasks then all you see is huge steps to get things done.

Establish that Clients have work to do as well

For so many projects it seems that clients don’t feel they have much to do. They seem to expect that they pay you some money and then you build a site with little interaction on their end outside of looking at the work you do.

The fact is that clients have jobs as well.

They need to:

  • Approve designs
  • Get you login credentials
  • Add content (if it’s not in your contract to do this)
  • Write the content for you to add

When we build out tasks for a project it’s so easy to forget all the stuff that the client has to do to make the project successful.

When I start a project in Trello I assign cards to clients so that they have responsibilities. Any project is a partnership and each party has things to get done to make it successful.

When I talk to clients I make sure they understand that there are tasks they need to do to make the project successful. I expect the tasks to be done and done with care. A red flag during initial project meetings is when a client doesn’t expect the role they need to take in the project.

If you haven’ done this from the outset of the project then start right away. Assign items to clients and tell them that you expect them to do their part of the job as well.

Establish Deadlines and Consequences

One of the best ways I’ve found to make sure that clients get on board with their jobs for a project by establishing deadlines and consequences.

Tell them you need content by March 10th if they want to hit their March 30th launch date. If you don’t have content by March 10th then the launch date won’t happen. Write these deadlines and consequences into the documentation that goes with your contract.

Unfortunately too often clients miss deadlines and then expect us to work overtime to get the project back on track. Of course if we are going to miss a deadline due to issues that are unrelated to the client we should be working extra hard to bring the project back on track. If the client is missing deadlines then they should be working overtime to make sure that they hit deadlines and help keep the project on track.

Hopefully you can now identify for yourself why projects get stuck, come up with an effective way to deal with the aftermath, and create a plan to make sure that projects don’t get stuck in the first place.

Now what happens when things just aren’t working out and the project and client relationship is going down the tubes? Hang in there because tomorrow we’re going to talk about cutting a project loose.

photo credit: cszar via photopin cc

In the Series: Stuck Projects

Others posts in the series

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  1. January 10, 2014: Weekly Roundup of Web Design and Development Resources - January 10, 2014

    […] Make Sure Projects Don’t Get Stuck: Third post in Curtis McHale’s series on stuck projects explains the number one reason why projects get stuck in the first place. And how you can fix it. […]

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