Keep Projects Moving Forward by Setting Deadlines for Feedback

Deadlines. We generally hate them when they are looming. We also tend to love giving them to other people.

Most of the production and post companies I’ve spoken with set deadlines for the various stages of projects. Where these deadlines are specified generally differs. Sometimes it’s in a proposal, sometimes it’s in a contract, or just in follow up emails.

Clients love to see deadlines for different milestones and deliverables. This makes sense since they generally need this information to coordinate other parts of a project.

Something that’s easy to forget is that these deadlines don’t have to be one sided. Setting deadlines for when clients need to give feedback on videos can be a very effective project management technique.

Seems kind of obvious at first, but let’s explore the benefits.

It helps your clients set internal deadlines and line up resources.

Complex projects often have many stakeholders within different departments. How many times have you sent something off to clients only to have the revision process bog down as they try to loop in other people?

If you specify deadlines in advance, your contacts can book time in advance for review sessions with stakeholders or at the very least make sure that everybody understands that the production company needs feedback by a certain date to deliver the final version by the agreed upon date.

If your client doesn't get you feedback in time, then you're in a much better position to discuss things like shifting out the deadline for project deliverables.

Deadlines guard against unrealistic expectations.

A more subtle benefit is that setting feedback deadlines at the start of a project can help guard against unrealistic expectations. I’ll illustrate with my own personal experience.

Last year when we were redesigning our website one of the designers we were thinking of working with asked about our timeline. I said that we were hoping to launch in 6 weeks.

He worked in a small shop and said it was pretty tight. I asked if he could make it. He said he could do it and that he'd send a proposal over by end of day.

That evening he sent a short proposal and a blocking chart with all his deliverables, the times when he’d be working on the project and our deadlines for providing feedback. The client milestones as he so gracefully put it were eye opening.

It’s easy to imagine designers, producers and editors pulling all-nighters to get stuff done. But put yourself in the same shoes and it’s a bit of a different story.

Here’s a brief example of how it looked for the first week.

Client Deliverables

Day 1.

Start of Day - Kickoff meeting.
End of Day - Deliver initial content, branding information, background (client milestone).

Day 3.

Start of Day - Review initial sketches & moodboards.
Middle of Day - Provide feedback (client milestone).

Day 4.

Middle of Day - Review revised sketches.
End of Day - Provide feedback on revised sketches (client milestone).

Day 5.

Middle of Day - Review finalized sketches & wireframes.
End of Day - Approve wireframes and deliver initial copy, placeholder for our video, and imagery (client milestone).

My reaction was. Hold it!!

It was going to be a stretch to line up the time for 4 calls with the designer and time for me and my co-founder to discuss and consolidate our feedback in the course of a week.

It felt like there was no breathing room for us to carefully consider design decisions that we would have to live with for years. It was also starting to feel like our designer wasn't going to have the breathing room he needed either.

Even if we could get the feedback together, there was no way that we could pull together all of the website copy and resources that he needed in the space of a week. Writing strong copy was something we had always struggled with and it seemed pretty unrealistic that it would come together in couple of days (this part of the project eventually took 8 weeks on its own).

We are a company with just two key decision makers and clear lines of authority. It was very clear that there was no way we could get our part of the job done in time to wrap up the project in 4-6 weeks.

Imagine the reaction in a large company with multiple stakeholders that need to provide input all of the different stages of production. If the person responsible for running the project sees a timeline like this, they might be a little more realistic about how long it will take to complete the job.

In this case, the designer’s proposal accomplished his objective. The list of client deliverables and deadlines helped us rethink the scope of the project (we realized that we needed to work with someone on brand positioning and messaging first) and set a more realistic timeline. We realized that there was no point rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline that I had picked without any thoughts about the overall process.

The bottom line is that setting feedback deadlines can help clients lineup internal resources and stakeholders at the earliest stage of a project. It can also help guide them towards setting more realistic project timelines. If they decide that they need a week to turn around feedback on a revision, then you can always put this time to good use working with other clients or getting a head start on the next step of the project. Ultimately, clear deadlines will help you turn around projects faster and with fewer headaches.

Telling great stories is a partnership. Setting clear expectations for all sides sets a good foundation for the partnership.