WarLord's WarBlog

Managing Multiple Projects/Contracts

by on Feb.06, 2013, under Production

I’ve been asked several times how I manage multiple projects along with how many projects I was comfortable taking on at one time. This is relative to the project as some take longer than others but in my own case I usually have between 4 and 7 projects going on with various deadlines and I try never to have multiple deadlines scheduled for the same week if possible. One reason for not front loading deadlines in the same week is that revisions are a fact of life so there needs to be time for them as well. Even with your best work the direction can change requiring a revision and quite possibly a major revamp.

Those revisions can pay well but what about the next job in line? Can you still deliver on time? You HAVE to deliver on time… that is not an option in this business.

I usually add a minimum cushion of 25% and in some cases as much as 50% but doubling the time is not practical on a lot of projects and will severely limit income potential. The minimum 25% cushion allows me to farm out what I can to competent and in some cases better freelancers than me while giving me time to jump into other projects on the deployment schedule.

But… I’ve NEVER done that before!

Yeah well… guess what… neither have I in a lot of cases. That is what freelancing is all about. You will constantly be tasked with projects you have never attempted before. Asked to create 3D models you never even thought about creating or help with script treatments and many other facets of a project. Replace the “Can I do it?” attitude with a “Got to do it” attitude and you may find the task easier.

If you constantly stress over deadlines then I’d have to guess that freelance is going to be tough on you or you aren’t scheduling it properly. I hate to turn down work and will burn the midnight oil to keep from doing so but the fact is you will have to turn down work eventually. You just have to be careful how you do it and over time you will learn which clients will tolerate it. Yes… you’ll probably lose a few clients along the way but you will lose them anyway if you blow deadlines and if you do it with high profile contracting studios then your reputation will suffer too.

When you first start managing multiple contracts you will usually have a little experience under your belt as to how long it takes you to do something. If you have no idea then its time to get out a stopwatch or clock that you can time some test projects with. Do a wide variety of test projects to get a good measurement. Try single and multiple task projects and throw in an “emergency request” or two to see how well you can work on two projects with close deadlines.

Mind you I’m not advocating scheduling deadlines that close but you may be given opportunities to earn way above the standard for an emergency project that needs to be rescued from a failed deadline or a change in direction with minimal time left. This will give you an opportunity to see if you can actually meet both deadlines on the same day or close to the same day when one project wasn’t even on the deployment schedule.

Don’t wuss out on these tests either. Make them a good test of your ability. If you don’t succeed only you will know and can take steps to do better. It’s also good to discover your limits because if you continually overstate your ability to accomplish a task then I seriously doubt you will be kept in the employment loop much longer.

Deployment Timeline is Critical

I have been very fortunate to serve as project, timeline or deployment manager on many projects in the past and this experience helps me to understand some of the difficulties encountered by other freelancers.

As a Project Manager I am very intolerant of missed deadlines. If you were sick then you better be very sick or turn it over to someone else on the team. If I have to be up till 5:00am to meet a deadline because the assigned freelancer couldn’t perform then you can imagine I’m not a happy camper. Who would be if they are supervising or paying someone to do a job and its not done?

You certainly have to be organized and I keep a flow board of timelines so I can see what is coming up and when. A quick glance at the flow board tells me who is doing what and at what point they should be at within that project including my own projects and pending deliveries or deployments. This flow board is nothing more than a timeline on a calendar. You can get them at your local office supply or use a whiteboard.

In our case we use computerized and manual methods to keep track. The flow board is for my benefit as a manager but it also helps when you are a cog in the machine as the machine needs to be running as your delivery time is very important for the next step in production. If you have a problem being a cog in the machine then again… freelancing will be very difficult for you.

Who’s Your Boss? Everyone!

As a freelancer I answer to everyone at the firm that employs me. This is not what is required in most cases but just how I handle myself. A freelancer needs to be informed and who will know the comings and goings that you are not privy to? The people in the trenches with you… that’s who! By treating everyone at your employer’s firm with respect you will find yourself given more information that is vital to keeping track of production and being on time.

If a problem is popping up in some department or two creative geniuses aren’t getting along then its nice to be alerted to the problem instead of stumbling into it or wondering why things are not going smoothly. Get along with everyone in the project and you will be included more than excluded which makes the job much easier.

More Skill… More Time Taken???

You would think that as your skill improves you would shave off time to accomplish things but in reality you will find yourself using those skills to further enhance the project which can actually take more time instead of less.

You just learned a great new technique for adding greebles to break up flat surfaces and hard lines. You want to use this technique whenever possible but it will add more time to accomplish the task and you need to be aware of this and schedule for it. Don’t assume just because you’re getting better it’s going to get easier!  Oh no… in fact… every technique adds another layer of work so schedule for that contingency.

In Conclusion

I bet you thought I was never going to get here with this ramble but hang in there… it’s all relevant to the process.

  1. Keep a record of everything done with the creation and deployment of a project. Write it down somewhere and make a backup of what you keep online or on your pc.
  2. Use a calendar to assign people and teams to a task with a proper deadline.
  3. Add “wiggle room”. Pad your estimate as discussed earlier. If you think it will take 5 hours to accomplish a task then add 25% more time to it.
  4. Stay in touch with all managers, directors (especially unit directors as they have a lot of influence) and creative supervisors. Limiting surprises will limit your chances of failing to meet an objective.
  5. Be prepared for revisions. That 25% padding will look real good to you during this time.
  6. Time yourself to get a grip on what you can accomplish and how long it will take.
  7. Be firm but fair with any freelancer you farm out work to. Give them a firm deadline and outline the consequences of missing that deadline.
  8. Never schedule multiple deadlines on the same day or week if at all possible.

I was nervous the first time I started working with multiple deadlines and I think a lot of us are. We just have to focus, document, prepare and plan. Don’t cut corners. Consider it the ultimate evil to miss a deadline. Give yourself plenty of time… pad that estimate just make sure you don’t over charge your client. Padding the time doesn’t mean padding the bill!


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