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Creating Realistic Project Deadlines

When you start a new print project, you want to hit your deadlines, keep your sanity, and make your customers happy. Fortunately, the right amount of planning will make sure that you keep your sanity and your clients.

For your audience to receive the printed piece on time, ask yourself the following questions:

1. When do you want your audience to receive the piece?
2. Who will be writing the text, and how long will it take to produce it?
3. Who will be producing the artwork, and how long will it take to produce it?
4. Who will be doing the design and production work, and how long will that
take?
5. How long will it take to print, finish, and mail the piece?

The first answer provides your end date. Once you have that, you can work backwards, adding 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 down these time estimates to create the project plan.

Once the project is complete, do a post-mortem on your estimates. Did you pretty much stay on schedule all the way to your deadline? If not, where did you get bogged down? Were the bottlenecks one-time occurrences or were they related to factors inherent in the process? If the latter, you may need to adjust your fudge factor to achieve a more realistic time estimate next time.

Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes. Along the way, you inevitably learned something, such as when your creative staff says, “It takes us one day to turn around the proof of concept,” 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.