I Need this Now, But Please Don’t Rush

7 Tips to Managing Short Deadlined Projects without Making the Client Feel Like it's Been Rushed.

A quick preview into a day in the life of our studio:

Email comes in. “Hello, my name is X and my company is Y. We have a pretty big project that needs to be completed in a ridiculously short amount of time. Can you do it?” 

Sound familiar?

One thing we have always been proud of as a design studio is our ability to turn around great work FAST. (Average site project is 3 to 4 weeks)

And though the majority of our clients appreciate this – others feel like our fast turnaround time means that their project was rushed and, therefore, wasn’t given the proper amount of thought, design thinking and love.

As the project manager here at MENO, I used to think WHAT?! I moved around all sorts of projects on our calendar around to make design magic happen for you, and now our designs are devalued because of it?!

But at the end of the day, the perceived value of your services as a designer rests entirely your hands. It’s your job to read in-between the lines and understand what it is that the client really, truly, wants.

So, as a designer, how can you keep tight deadlines moving forward without being labeled as thoughtless? Here are 7 tips for you:

1 – Always follow the client’s Project Scope.

Ideally in the order they wrote it in and use the same terminology they use to present and deliver your work. Their scope may be confusing to you and their terminology may be off – but try to stick to their world and mindset as much as possible. They organized the project in their brain that way, so don’t switch it up on them. They will think your delivery is sloppy if you don’t follow the project scope word for word.

2 – Always present your designs.

With tight deadlines it’s easy to just email your work in progress over to your client as opposed to getting on the phone – and they may even ask that you do this. But whatever you do, DON’T fall for this trap! It gives them way too much time to ask other non-designers around them what they think and instead of being able to explain your design thinking, you’re just given a list of things that they don’t like or don’t understand and rarely are you able to make a design control comeback.

3 – Ask for productive and timely feedback.

Not asking anything or simply asking the client if they like it, will open up a whole new time-sucking can of worms.

“Tell the person exactly what you’re looking from them. If they know the kind of feedback you want, then they can answer accordingly. Free reign isn’t always a great idea; people need constrained focus to perform well.” -Neal O’Grady

State clearly what it is you want feedback on and don’t confuse them with too many options to review at once. Instead of leaving it open-ended, ask specific questions so they’re focusing on one thing and can more effectively come up with an answer. And never forget to ask them what they don’t like. Negative feedback, though it may not be fun to hear, is the most important feedback of all. So let them know that they are free to speak their mind – or forever hold their peace.

And to keep your timeline on track, give them a deadline for their feedback so that the pressure is off you if they don’t provide feedback in a timely manner.

4 – Listen to vocal cues of uncertainty or hesitation. 

Again, this is why it’s important to get on the phone. Understanding what they’re not saying is part of the job. It’s hard to really gauge how someone is feeling via email, so try to keep communication vocal. If it seems like they are unsure about a part of the design or something isn’t quite as they imagined – ask them about it right then and there. Don’t ignore it as it will bite you in the butt as the project progresses.

5 – Give your client gentle timeline reminders.

Remind them of where they are in the design stage, then ask them if they’re ok with moving on to the next part of the project of if we should allocate more time nailing down the task we’re on right now. Telling your clients that you’re moving on to the next phase without asking never ends well.

6 – Don’t be afraid to ask if they have wiggle room in their deadline.

If things have started to slow down, don’t be afraid to ask if they have wiggle room in their deadline, or even if they would like to put the project on a brief hold. Instead of assuming that they have a hard stop deadline, ask them about it. If they’re asking you to see the same page in a million different views, they’re probably not happy with what they’re seeing and pushing through will end up in an automatic fail. So figure out what their priorities are before pulling all-nighters trying to meet their extensive and possibly even random requests.

Then if the changes are drastic, let them know that this will take more time and ask them if they have room in their timeline to accommodate for this. If it’s a NO, then try to meet in the middle and work out small wins over the phone or via google hangout. Then and only then should you pull an all-nighter in order to get shit done. If they’re expecting a fast turnaround, they’ll appreciate it.

If they’re not expecting or requesting a fast turnaround after a review, they will think your designs have been rushed and they won’t appreciate your sleep deprivation in any way.

7 – Wait to press send. 

I know, no one wants to be thought of as slow. However, if you’re getting the vibe that your client will appreciate your design thinking more if you sit on a revision for a few extra hours or even days before sending a design update over, then whatever you do – wait!

They don’t need to know that it took you 1 hour to update your previous design or come up with your brilliant solution. And since it took you no time to update, they may actually look over the brilliance behind your work and ask to see more…since it’s so simple, after all.

And though they are paying you for your years of design experience and expertise, some clients like to have an actual and tangible time cost. So give them the reassurance they need to justify their design expense and just wait to press send.

Want to learn more about design feedback and project management?
Here are a few good sources:

“Design is a Job”  by: Mike Monteiro
How to ask for design feedback by: Neal O’Grady

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