We acknowledge that perhaps some of what is presented here is obvious and nothing more than common sense; after all, we are not splitting the atom here. However, I have seen timelines become ineffective and mistakes happen after overlooking the simplest of details. Hopefully, you come away with some points to remember so you can put together effective timelines that help keep your jobs on schedule, make sure that everyone is on the same page with details not overlooked, and perhaps help to save money to improve your ROI.

  1. The more important or complex a project; the more important the need to create a timeline: Let’s face it – creating a formal timeline can be time consuming and may not be needed for smaller, routine jobs. However, if a project is critical or is very complex with a lot of moving parts, we highly recommend spending the time. Your chance for success and having the project completed on time will go up dramatically.

  2. Think carefully about all the pieces and steps needed to complete a project (or Think Twice and Create Once): One of the first exercises I did when studying to be a computer programmer was to create a flowchart of getting up in the morning and getting to class. One person got to class naked without any books; another never got the class because they didn’t take their keys and was locked out of their house – you get the point. In case you are wondering, I at least got to class clothed but was bare foot and without any books.

    The point of the exercise was to demonstrate the importance of being detailed and think everything through because a computer will only execute exactly what you tell it to do. It is the same thing with timelines. It is not only important to make sure all components of a project are included, but you leave realistic time for things to be accomplished. Too often, projects don’t have a chance to be completed on time because people simply did not leave enough time to get everything done.

  3. Work backwards from the time a project needs to be completed or needs to be delivered into the mailbox: While it is true that mail delivery cannot be guaranteed, it can be estimated for the purposes of a timeline. The decision whether to “Mail short” or “Mail long” (concepts that were explained in a prior post) comes into play. You work backwards until you get to the beginning parts of the project.

  4. Make sure that your leave enough time for the approval process: One of the biggest challenges for projects to stay on time lies in the approval process, especially if there are a lot of layers that need to provide input. The tighter the timeframe, the more important it may be to “open the windows” to make sure everyone knows the deadline to keep everything on schedule.

  5. Put actual dates to the tasks of the project: I have seen timelines put together with vague timing to complete certain tasks. Actual dates are much more effective in establishing deadlines and making sure that the project stays on schedule. If you need to move dates, it will also help for people to visualize the impact of missing a deadline. For example, if the approval missed the deadline by a couple of days, chances are that your project will be completed a couple of days later. Of course, clients may not see it that way, but that is the subject for another time.

  6. Suggested elements for a mailing timeline [presented from the “start” (preferred delivery into the mailbox to the “end” (concept)]: preferred delivery into the mailbox; Mail drop date at the post office; Postage due; Mail processing; Mailing list due; production of various components (some components may take longer to be produced and should be factored into the timeline accordingly); Artwork approval; Artwork complete; Design; Concept. Note: Not all projects will need every element – adjust accordingly.

  7. Suggested elements for a printing timeline [presented from the “start” (delivery) to the “end” (concept): Delivery; Method of delivery; production of pieces; Artwork approval; Artwork completions; Design; Concept. Note: As with mailing, not every element will be needed for every project – adjust accordingly.

  8. If you are unsure how long an element will take, ask your printing or mailing professionals their opinion: They should be able to provide options and general guidelines about how long something can be expected to take. And if they can’t or unwilling to assist you in this, you really should consider not using them again. This should be something to be expected of the vendors that are supporting you and we here at Cox take pride in assisting our clients in developing timelines when necessary.

We cannot emphasis enough what a great tool that timelines are to completing projects successfully and on-time. We recently created timelines for some challenging projects for clients and I am proud to say that all of them were completed on-time, relatively stress-free and met the customers expectations in terms of quality and deadlines.