9 strategies for dealing with tight-turnaround projects
It was late summer. Animade was busy, but manageably so. A client we'd worked with a few years back had a new project, and they'd love to partner with us.
At first glance, it looks like an ideal project. We've got a working relationship already, and a clear direction on where they'd like to go. Check, and check.
But, there's a catch. Delivery is next Wednesday, which is five working days away. Based on the brief, we'd ordinarily want two weeks minimum. The deadline can't move. It's starting to look a bit less ideal.
I'm sure this is a scenario familiar to many people working in the creative industry. In our experience, the rise of shorter form social content has been matched by an increase in quick turnaround, tight deadline jobs. However, there are some strategies you can employ to mitigate (or at least minimise) stress and create something of which everyone involved is proud to be a part.
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1. Set expectations
From the outset, it's vital to understand what the client wants in as much detail as possible. While this is integral in any creative brief, it's all the more pressing when timelines are tight. Establishing what (if any) differences there are between the brief and what's possible is crucial to things running smoothly. If time is pressing, it's also wise to stick to your existing strengths. For example, if you don't produce rendered 3D work, trying to learn how to do so in an already high-pressure situation is a recipe for disaster.
2. Define a deliverables list
Practically speaking you should provide an agreed upon deliverables list, and if possible, style references for what you're hoping to produce. The desired level of visual complexity may just not be feasible within the time available, so ensuring everyone is on board with what's achievable will avoid any unpleasantness come delivery day.
3. Find the decision makers
When it comes to scheduling, delivery day is king. However, there are many other points you'll need to be in touch with key decision makers on the client's end to make sure that day is a celebration, not a frantic exchange of increasingly alarmed emails.
Find out who needs to sign off on any work, and make sure they'll be available to provide feedback when required to keep the project running. At this stage, it's also worth ensuring all decision makers are accounted for. You don't want a head honcho being looped in at the last minute.
4. Check in every day
During the project, aim to maintain daily communication, even if it's just checking in. This regularity might be borne of necessity if the deadline is sufficiently tight, but regardless setting a regular rhythm will give structure to your interactions. Setting a collaborative tone also the whole project team to air any concerns, no matter how minor.
5. Say what you're sharing and why
Before sharing work, be clear about what you're sharing, and in what format you'd like feedback. With clients who aren't as regularly involved in the creative process, consider whether the work is complete enough for them to be able to give a constructive opinion. While it might be evident to you that what you're sharing isn't representative of the final piece, that might not be the case for the client.
6. Narrate your work
If at all possible, share visuals while you're speaking with the client, be that in-person or on a call. Inferring intended tone over email is notoriously challenging, never more so than when the pressure is on. Speaking in-person takes as much miscommunication out of the equation as possible.
We learned this the hard way in our early days. Many were the times we'd send an email, then spend a nail-biting hour repeatedly clicking refresh on Gmail, waiting for the verdict. Whether or not the feedback was positive, talking things through solves this problem entirely.
7. Follow up with a summary
After a call, always follow up with an email summary of discussion points and next steps. Summarising the call will guarantee a written record of everything that has happened and creates an opportunity to ensure everyone agrees on next steps.
8. Remain calm in the face of chaos
Whatever happens, it's important to appear calm (even if you don't necessarily feel that way). Don't add fuel to the fire. By definition there's an element of urgency to short-term jobs, so do your best to maintain a smooth emotional tone throughout the project (in public, at any rate).
9. Just say no
Sometimes, no matter how you cut it, a job may just not be feasible. If your gut is telling you bad things will happen if you take a job on, more often than not you'll be better off listening. While the allure of creating a financial safety net is indeed powerful, taking on too much work is a surefire way to short-change yourself and your clients.
Applying these strategies
Not all of these will be applicable to every project, but we hope having a bit of a hit-list will help you deal with the increasingly common "WE NEED IT TOMORROW!" project enquiry.
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Please do let us know your thoughts. What strategies do you employ when dealing with tight-turnaround projects? Let us know in the comments.
Many thanks to Laura Darby, Animade's Head of Production, for her insight in writing this post