How a Phased Approach to Projects is a Win-Win

As a project manager, I live for the day when a project launches on time and within budget. Calendars and Calculators are two of my best friends, and at the end of the day, the “thank-you” I receive from a satisfied client makes everything I do worth it. However, lessons learned through experience and observation have taught me that a poorly planned or unrealistic completion date can turn that happy ending into one of frustration and disappointment, as there’s a constant struggle to bring the project back on track to reconcile the original commitments.

Why a phased project approach?
A supporter of a phased project approach, I believe the process reduces uncertainty (risks). The approach creates a foundation that facilitates success for both the delivery team, who is actually doing the work, and the client, who has communicated the marketing agency’s commitments to their own organization. Imagine you've been tasked with designing and developing a new page on a company’s website. Let’s assume there’s no specific promotional launch date or schedule constraint that’s dictating a completion deadline. If there is, then let’s assume we’re starting the planning process far enough in advance that we aren't already battling unrealistic expectations.

How does your team typically handle these requests? Do they gather estimates from the user experience, creative, and tech departments based on expert judgment, or pull historical information from previous projects? Do these estimates result in a quickly turned around statement of work that outlines deliverables as a creative composition and technical implementation of that composition? If so, I’ll stop here and point out this situation as an example of the common risk faced by all projects and project managers alike.

Where does a traditional approach fall short?
The issue with this scenario is that you, as a project manager, make a commitment to complete a deliverable by a pre-determined date when your creative department hasn't even started the process of creative concepting or designing. What if your creative department develops this awesome, interactive design composition that the client loves, but tech tells you that all of the stellar, interactive features mean that the implementation will now take weeks, not hours, like you had originally planned?

It’s not until the client approves a design composition that a project manager can accurately determine the technical level of effort and completion date. This is where a phased project approach can prevent the need for frustrating and disappointing conversations about pushing out due dates.

What does a phased approach look like?

With a phased project approach, the creative and technical phases of the projects will have separate statements of work. The creative will inform the estimates for the technical development and launch date. At that point, as project managers, we’re not playing a guessing game, and giving the client a completion date with an increased probability of needing to move it out.  With the increased accuracy of a phased project approach, the client’s communication to their organization becomes more reliable. More than that, the project is likely to launch on time, within budget, and your team is likely to receive more of those “thank-you’s” that make us all feel warm and fuzzy inside.

So, next time you’re developing a project statement of work, ask yourself whether the phased project approach makes sense for your current situation.

About the expert:
A Project Manager at Red Door, Candice orchestrates complex projects for clients including Caldera, Reliant Funding, and more. What has been even more impressive than the continuous evolution of her PM-skills since joining Red Door in 2013, is the fact that she manages to find the time to share recommendations with the team to improve the way we work. The certified PMP (Project Management Professional) is a lifelong learner—earning this industry-recognized certification is just one outcome of her dedication to learning and growth.

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