Why project planning helps you achieve the right print results

I love my adventures out in the mountains.  I can be away from civilisation and be entirely self-dependent.

But mountain travel requires careful planning.

I need to make sure that I have the right equipment.  I need to make sure that I have enough food.  And I need to make sure that I have planned my route carefully.  And that I will have alternative routes if the weather turns bad.  But I don’t just use planning in the mountains.

I use project planning on big print projects

Project planning does not have to be this complicated. There are simple systems that print buyers can use.

Print buyers who use project planning will stay in control of their print projects.  They will achieve what they need to with their projects.  And they will forge good relationships with the rest of the team involved on the project.  And that’s because everyone will know what is happening and what they supposed to be doing.

If print buyers don’t use project planning, people often don’t know what is happening.  People on the team fall out.  The project collapses and fails.  And nothing is achieved.

So what is the best way to plan a project?  The simplest way to plan a project is to use a schedule.

Schedules are a great way to keep track of a project

Many schedules simply consist of an artwork date and a delivery date.  But good schedules contain much more information.  Here are some of the things that you may consider including:

  • Dates for planning meetings
  • Data finalisation dates
  • Test data report dates
  • Dates for signing off important elements of a project
  • Dates for reporting manufacturing progress
  • Proof dates
  • Despatch and delivery dates

Schedules can be a very useful way to highlight the different stages of a project.  And an effective method to make sure that a project is running to time.  But sometimes a schedule doesn’t give quite enough information.  This especially true when several things are happening at the same time.  And that’s when GANTT charts can be very worthwhile.

GANTT charts allow more detailed planning

GANTT charts are a more visual way of creating a schedule.  They can really help on longer projects which involve several people.  The chart will often contain the same elements as a simple schedule.  But GANTT charts will show what is happening at the same time.  For instance that data testing is happening at the same time as artwork preparation.  And GANTT charts can be colour coded to show the responsibilities of different people or teams.

There is plenty of free software for creating GANTT charts.

Whether you are using a GANTT chart or a simple schedule, you will definitely feel more in control of your project.  I find planning essential when I am working with clients.

Here’s how project planning helped me

I was working with a client to implement a new complicated new print project.  The project had a lot of data analysis.  It involved:

  • the printer
  • the company creating the data
  • the client
  • another company to analyse data at the end of a mailing

It was vital that everyone knew what was happening so that the first mailing went out on time.  I made sure that each team had a list of their responsibilities.  This meant that everyone knew exactly what they were doing when.

And, as a result, the project kept to schedule.  Nobody was kept waiting to test data that wasn’t ready.  And the printer knew that they would receive everything on time.  And that they had had a chance to test sample data first.

Everyone on the project saw the value of a full project plan.  And several people commented on how useful it was.  But some people are less than enthusiastic about project plans.

Doesn’t project planning mean a lack of flexibility?

Planning can actually really help with projects that need to change.  A change in dates or actions can really affect other people or other parts of the project.  And a project plan shows this.  So it is possible to see how other people will be affected straight away.  And it shows who needs to be told of changes.

With the project that I worked on, I was able to change deadlines and know exactly whom to inform.  I also knew what flexibility I had before the overall delivery dates would be affected.

And it’s not just on big, complicated projects that I find this sort of knowledge useful.

Don’t forget to use project planning for your own work

I am often working on several projects at once.  So I find it really useful to have a plan for my own work.  This means that I know that I will deliver on every deadline that I have promised my clients.

Here are three action points to help you start planning:

  1. Make a note of big projects coming up
  2. Note who should be involved
  3. E-mail them and ask them what the key dates and issues are for them

Then you will be able to start creating you first project plan.

You’ll find planning really useful for your print projects

And, fortunately, planning for print doesn’t have the same life or death implications as planning for the mountains!

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