Keep projects on track with these simple tips

ACpostingHere are some tips I’ve learned that can make a project go more smoothly and with less people conflicts or administrative headaches. I use them in my work and you may find them helpful too.

Good briefings for good results

Resist the tendency to have a preliminary discussion about a new project and then decide ‘OK, let’s get going’. It seems proactive but in the long run this could be a recipe for disaster. Improper planning can result in a project getting derailed on timing and going over budget. Take the time to really define the messaging and scope of the project then create a briefing that addresses both practical and strategic issues.

Example: People focus on some details but neglect others. I received a briefing from a client that provided lots of background information, more than I really needed (huge PowerPoints and Word docs), including links to a company intranet that I could not access. Here’s what was missing:

  • Who exactly is your target audience for this document?
  • When a person reads the document, what do you want them to do ?

 Who really needs to know about the project?

I’m not suggesting that you cc: everyone in your company or the planet. Just consider who needs to be informed about the project during its various stages. People involved in the early planning phase may not want to be copied on ongoing correspondence. They may be satisfied with periodic updates – find out so you can keep everyone informed but not overwhelmed by details.

InflueI recommend that you also pay attention to the subtle but important role of an influencer. Every organization has people who don’t directly make decisions but they are very much in the loop and influence those who do make the decisions.

Example: I learned this the hard way earlier in my career. I started on a new project that seemed clear and straightforward. I informed the people who I felt needed to know…but I missed one. This person was an influencer; someone who wanted to be in the know, even if he didn’t have an active role in the project.

 Just as the project reached the validation stage, the influencer spoke up and began to derail the whole process with new input and objections. As a result, some work had to be revised at the last minute. A colleague told me, ‘if you cc: him early in the process, he’ll be perfectly happy. If you don’t, he’ll feel obligated to create waves later on.’ Lesson learned!

Standardize file names and version control

My last tip seems obvious, but it’s a common problem. As content goes through revisions, it’s crucial that everyone is working with the most current version of text. Clearly establish rules for how to name and update files. You’ll save time and greatly reduce the potential for mistakes, especially if your files have to be checked by people in different departments.

Example: One of my clients outsources the writing and design of a quarterly 40-page corporate magazine. The source language is English and the articles are translated to Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian. Accuracy is crucial throughout the writing, revision, translation and validation process, which includes review by the legal department.

Edits and last-minute changes are not unusual, so some files are updated continuously. It’s a big project, so I depend on some colleagues in my dream team. Fabien (translation expert with an incredible patience level) and Zorica (charming but strict project manager and content maven) taught me the value of proper file names. Here’s their formula, of course you can create your own criteria for the title. Just be consistent!

File name: Edition of magazine_Year Month Day. Name of Article_version.doc CE7_20161702.ProductNews_01.doc

A good file naming system and version control is useful when you are working with cross-cultural teams where there is no common language except English. I often work with designers who are not fluent in English. They are experts in design but don’t read the text as they’re putting it into the layout. I make sure that they have the right text to work with; this prevents proofreading nightmares later on.

Thanks for taking the time to visit my site, I hope these tips were useful! Please contact me if you need consulting, copywriting or translation assistance with your next project.