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Design’s Seven Suckiest Time Sucks of All Time

Do your design projects take waaaay too long to complete? No matter what you do, or how you approach the process, is there always some hold-up preventing you from meeting your projects’ deadlines? Design strategist Brad Squires, who has spent some years in the corporate trenches, describes Design’s seven most suckiest time-sucks of all time.

1. The Wayward Objectives
Projects lacking a clearly defined (and articulated) goal are at risk of being judged according to stakeholder opinions. Only when judged against its objectives can a project move forward toward a successful outcome. Hey, laugh all you want, but you’d be amazed at how many projects I’ve seen get kicked off without the stakeholders first agreeing about the actual goal of the project.

2. The Snubbed Decision-Makers
Decision-makers who are not brought on board at the very outset of the project are quite often the culprits holding things up later in the process. If you want to give your project its best shot at meeting its deadlines, spend a little extra time before you begin designing making sure you’ve included ALL decision-makers. I kid you not: a decision-maker who feels left out of the process will put your design drafts in the “I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-get-to-it” pile, while a decision-maker who feels that their input is valued will promptly¬† provide their input or sign-off.

3. The Grocery Outlet of Exploration
A crucial component in any design process is exploration. Skimping on this step to try and save a few days can get you into trouble by leading you too far in one direction just to learn that it’s not working. Don’t be a cheapo when it comes to exploration. All that “blue-sky thinking” BS that designers go on about really is legit. It is far better to explore many different options while you’re still in the rough stage before deciding on a direction to fully develop.

4. The Prohibitive Review Process
If the success of your project hinges on you getting 14 different middle-managers to all agree on a design by Monday, you may be in trouble. The more moving parts you have, the more time you’ll need to build into the process. Communicate to your stakeholders that they have a finite window for giving feedback, and if they insist upon making edits after that window has closed, they risk jeopardizing the project’s deadline.

5. The Design Spiral
Feedback from stakeholders such as “I don’t like it” does not advance a project toward completion. Similarly, scrapping designs in favor of starting from the beginning can trigger the design spiral. Ensure feedback is given in light of the objectives and results in actionable, agreed-upon ideas before proceeding further.

6. The Lackluster Team
The leader’s role is to create an environment which allows each team member to do his or her best work. Without encouragement, clear communications, trust, and ensuring that each person not only understands their role, but has a clear picture of success, projects will move sluggishly toward an uninspired conclusion. Create a milieu where criticism is recognized as valuable for improvement, taking inspired risks is rewarded and mistakes are not punished and you’ll have a fertile climate for innovation.

7. The Mad Hatter
Remember Lewis Carroll’s character, the Mad Hatter? (“I’m late! … I’m late!…”) Habitually underestimating the time required to carry out certain tasks within a project can have a snow-ball effect within an organization. Time estimates drive the setting of deadlines for delivery of projects. If a time requirement is grossly underestimated, the deadline gets missed. If this becomes a pattern, deadlines begin to lose meaning and peoples’ assessments of your reliability will also be affected.

The ability to make accurate estimations of the time required to implement a project comes with experience and training. The first step towards making good time estimates is to fully understand the problem to be solved. Pay attention to the complexity of each project and allow time for internal meetings, other high priority tasks, holidays, sickness, and so on. By improving your skills and providing accurate time estimations, the deadlines you set will command greater respect. When this happens, your team will be prepared to respond when it really is crunch time.

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