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Project Management: Episode 3.75: Meeting your Deadline

Cue Dramatic Music

It is a dark time for the rebellion. Or so you think.

At first glance, a new project may seem daunting.

You get a call - the client likes your proposal. Let's do it.

Great, you say, glad to be working with you.

The client signs the SOW and you're off and running.

The what?

SOW = Statement of Work

Whether a one-page summary of the work to be done, roles and responsibilities, or a multi-page contract with some legal gobbledeegook if that is the format you or they are required to follow, you basically need to put in writing the expectations. But read the contract, especially if you didn't write it.

Your job as Project Manager, or PM, is to Manage Expectations.

Let the client know what they will see - before they see it.

When they give you feedback, positive, negative or a combination (constructive feedback) tell them what they will see next, when and and in what form. Manage their expectations.

Then, of course, you need to deliver on those expectations, or come close along with a list of why's and why not's.

Part of your SOW is what you will deliver, and approximately when you will deliver it.

Also specify, if relevant, what the client will deliver to you, in order for you to deliver what you said you would deliver. Or specify, whether by sequential dates, deliverables or more specific details if required, tasks that rely upon one person before another. These are called Dependent Tasks. I can't design the interface until Wedge gives me the logo and the corporate image guidelines. Then I need to design the interface, get it approved by the client, before Biggs can program the prototype.

Meanwhile, you need to perhaps manage assets coming in from the far reaches of the galaxy, whether by freighter (mail) or sub-space transmission (e-mail) or perhaps stored in the memory bank of your astro droid (FTP).

So you know what you have to do and approximately how you will do it. Time to gather the troops and put the plan into motion.

This briefing may be formal or informal, one-on-one or in the board room. Sometimes the board room is known as the bored room. In other words, keep meetings to a minimum and as brief as possible. Everyone is busy - hopefully busy doing the tasks in this or another project.

Speaking of which, when you setup your timeline, include some buffer, or wiggle room. If you know it will take roughly 80 hours to do the work, don't schedule this 80 hours into exactly 80 hours of available time. Build in some breathing room, say 90 or 100 hours. This lets you keep tabs on other projects and keep other clients as happy as this new client is going to be. Also this gives you that extra time at the end if you need it. And you could almost always use a few more hours. You're human after all.

As part of your SOW and before that, a kick-off meeting, you have also defined the end-date when the project is needed. This end date should take into account the end goal. The end goal is not the product - it is the purpose for the project. You know you can make a DVD. The client knows you can make a DVD. But WHY do they want this DVD? What's that, they want to give out the DVD at a board meeting at the end of the month? That would be good to know at the beginning of the month. Knowing pretty accurately how long you need to do each dependent task, you can back-time from the delivery date to know how all the efforts fit together, and the latest you can actually begin work.

So you have defined roles and responsibilities in your SOW, managed dependent tasks, kept track of content, followed the directions of communications and moved the project along. Now you are in the final stretch - the final deliverable.

You launch your ships for the final assault. You are in the lead fighter.

Check your cargo - 2 laser pointers and an LCD projector for the final run-through with the client. Some last minute changes are inevitable. This is not saying anything negative about your management skills or about the client. Sometimes it is not until someone sees a completed project, and they can compare the vision for the project with reality, that they realize some minor changes are needed. You make them and everyone is happy.

But if you recall the project briefing, Scope Creep was a danger on the board. This means the project scope has gotten beyond the initial understanding - it has crept outside the lines. Also, scope creep can be a real Creep. Maybe we should call it Scope Creep Squared.

Maybe not.

You sometimes don't know Scope Creep is coming until it arrives - it just jumps out of a worm hole without warning. You know it when you see it however. It could go a number of ways:

The client sees the prototype, and it is exactly what they asked for. But now that they see in reality what they thought they wanted, they realize it is not what they wanted. What they actually wanted they can now make out of what you have given them. No problem, right? Maybe.

Or you finish the project to the client's satisfaction, but oh wait, it would be even better if it had flashing yellow lights, a photo gallery and a new video. You can do those things, can't you? Yes, but that was not part of the SOW, remember?

How you deal with scope creep can vary, and may vary by project. Or you may have a policy. Try to communicate this policy with your client at the outset, to either avoid or better deal with Scope Creep when it happens. If it happens despite your best efforts, you may need to bring everyone back together and figure it out on a case by case basis. Whatever you do, don't just say "yes, we can do that" unless that is your policy. Don't pay lip service just to avoid the conversation. You could burn yourself. Deal with it.

All of your opponents to progress have been dealt with. The budget is tight, but you can make it. Stay on target. Almost there. A final design change at the last moment. It's unexpected but not too bad. You can deal with it. Have your droid lock down a stabilizer. You can hold on for just a few more seconds. There it is, the final target is in your sights. Just need to blast that last budget review and you're home free.

You got it. Well done. With a little help from your colleagues, you can put this project to bed. You rally the troops back to base and thanks everyone for a job well done. You really came together as a team.

Cue award ceremony fanfare.

Award ceremony? Really?

Sorry to disappoint. Your reward is knowing you did a good job. The client sends their thanks, but the best reward will be repeat business with this client. Your job as PM, after all, is to keep this client happy. Because the best kind of client, is a repeat client.

May the "Thanks for Reading" Be With you. (best I could come up with)

Check out this week's Creative COW Podcast featuring me talking about project management.

Thanks for listening.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 13, 2009 at 6:23:47 pm project, management

Don't Forget to Hit SAVE A Lot

When a particular piece of software is acting up (ie, unstable, crashing a lot) a good rule of thumb is Save Often and Frequently.

However when things are running smoothly, which is most of the time, one must also remember to save one's work.

And I don't just mean hitting the save button. I am talking about archiving.

Here are some of the habits I am trying to get into the habit of making into habits.

(for the sake of argument this will concern Premiere)

1. Save your project frequently.

2. If you get an error message (ie, Premiere is running low on memory), save, exit and reboot.

3. If you get a program crash, pray.

3. (the real one) - You should have set your auto-save to a reasonable interval, so a crash should not bag you too much. Just open the last auto save. Remember the auto-save does not save the project file you are working on - it saves its own backup file in the auto save folder.

However these frequent saves only go so far. What if an asteroid hits your computer? Ok, technically it would be a meteorite, and a right tiny one with perfect angle of attack to take out your computer but not kill you.

In other words, backup.

4. At the end of the day, copy and paste your project file and anything new that would be difficult to re-create (artwork, one-of-a-kind compositions) to another drive or a usb thumb drive. I keep a folder on my desktop (system drive, separate from project drive) where I drag project files. Video, audio files (narration, music) and artwork created by another person are generally easy to recreate.

I am not working in the RAID world (not yet), in case you are wondering.

It is up to you how worried you want to be about separating the backup drive from the computer. I tend to eject the external drive from its bay when I shut off the computer, just in case of a lightning strike or previously mentioned meteorite. Not sure if a meteorite strike causes any electrical disturbances. Perhaps the static electricity from the displaced air, if there is not too much humidity, could have a capacitive effect. I'll ask Professor Hawking next time I see him.

5. Up until this point, a project is generally in progress. Again, whenever something is imported into a project that does not exist anywhere else, it is a good idea to make it exist somewhere else, even on another drive in the same system. What are the chances that all drives will die at the same time?

C3-PO: Approximately 325,000 to 1

Han Solo: Thanks Threepio. Chewie, take the professor and plug him into the hyperdrive.

Chewie: Grawrrl!

6. Once your project is finished, or anytime before that, make sure you have your project backed up in its entirety. It is, again, up to you if you archive the raw video, a project managed (trimmed) copy of the project, or just the non-video assets assuming you can confidently keep track of the tapes. If you are tapeless, make sure your original media (ie, Mp4/MOV/MPEG/MXF) files are doubly backed up.

Hard Drives = Cheap
Time = Not cheap

7. What about the potential to have the backup drive fail?

It could happen. Depending upon the project (one-off, never to be seen again vs. Your annual mortgage payment) you may want some additional redundancy. For example, I have a 1.5 terabyte drive with backups of really really important projects that are already backed up somewhere else. You never know.

8. Keep track of where everything is. Use Excel, Word, a TXT or HTM file, or go so far as to create a web-based mSQL file (aka, ask someone who knows how to do this do this for you), MS Access or an off the shelf asset management suite. At present, I am using Word. Sometime down the road we may go to a web-based database. Luckily, we have an in-house guy who knows how to create web-based things from scratch.

9. If it is every man for himself as far as backups go, share your list of file backup locations with your team, in case someone needs something of yours when you are not around, or you need something of someone else's. Murphy's Law states that things will go badly when it is least convenient, and that you will need a particular file when the guy who knows about it is on a plane to China.

10. Remind others you work with, such as folks who do not have mountains of data, to make periodic backups. 100 lost word docs could be just as bad for a book project as 1 lost Premiere project file is for a video project. There are open-source and paid backup software apps you can install on your network for this exact purpose. We use such a thing on our in-house servers for backing up in-house databases. I may investigate adding this to our overall network, for example to backup everyone's My Documents folder once a month. This would need to be done at the appropriate time of day so as to not bring the network to a standstill.

In summary, saving your work is important, but backing up your work, which is a form of saving, is vital. Granted, many projects are in fact one-off projects. But for the important and really really important stuff, it is in everyone's interest to back it up, and back that up. Automation can help, but determination to make a habit out of backing up in a timely organized manner is the first step.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 8, 2009 at 9:57:30 pm project, backups, premiere, anxiety, astrophysics

Get Stuff Done

If you are like me, you have a list of things to do a mile long.

I have made numerous efforts over the years to Get Organized.

Over time however I have learned that the real secret to Getting Organized is...drumroll please...STAYING Organized. Big difference.

Ok, so I'm organized and staying organized...whoop-dee-do.

However that's great as long as you actually Get Stuff Done, and not spend all of your time on organization.

While my workstation is simply a collection of office supplies, project management tasks are not physical objects, so you need some way to keep things orderly, and a way to not have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Didn't I just say that?

Now that I have a spacious office with two distinct work areas, I have the opportunity to really get on top of project management, rather than being buried as used to be the case.

First, we have the Command Center:

I know what you're thinking - another one of Cohen's pictures of mundane subjects...
Well..yes...but...let me explain:

The markerboard + gaffer tape = something not in the office supply catalog!

I have a field for each category of project, or client, or for a specific project. The calendar covers 2.3 months, just enough time for most project schedules, plus a field for the following two months.

Could I setup an Excel spreadsheet with the same fields? Of course. But just like with file drawers, it is out of sight, out of mind unless you remember to look at it daily. This way, I cannot help but to look at it.

On the desk we have a large stack of blank note cards, which I use for daily or weekly to-do lists, telephone notes or brainstorming. These are actually the back side of a postcard that we had printed several years ago and never mailed out due to a client decision. So rather than throw away 10 pounds of 50% blank paper, I went green...or half green.

To the right we have some file folders - these are in hanging file folders. While I do not like using file drawers, if I should choose to save a folder at the conclusion of a project, the file is ready to hang. I do a folder for in-progress projects.

Immediately to the left of the Command Center is Mission Control:

Yes, I just posted a picture of my laptop. Real exciting. Let's break it down.

Two monitors on a Premiere or Final Cut workstation is a no-brainer. But two monitors on a office computer is priceless. E-mail is always active on the right, Word, Firefox or even Premiere can sit on the Laptop display.

The rest is self-explanatory - but the goal here is to avoid piles of stuff. Neatly organized stuff, including e-mail folders, goes a long way in helping to STAY organized.

Finally we have The Warehouse:

You got it - a wall unit. The shelf below is the visual file. I have never been a fan of file drawers. If I don't need something accessible easily, I probably don't need it at all. Most paper falls into one of three categories:

1. Garbage - throw away immediately
2. Short-term - Use it today, then save until project ends
3. Long-term but not urgent - Contracts or business matters - save indefinitely but generally do not need very often

I try to print little, but inevitably you generate some paper.

So the visual file is for category 2 or 3 - unless the project has a file folder. Generally once paper goes in it stays in. Thus the previously mentioned file folders are for in-progress paperwork - papers I refer to on a regular basis as a project inches along. Using the visual file for this purpose would be impractical, unless of course you store the file folders in the visual file, but you can't fit a square peg in a rectangular hole.

Finally on the next shelf up are the project drives. We save everything. That's all well and good, but you need to keep a list of where to find everything, otherwise you have a bunch of paperweights. I try to keep this updated and saved on the desktop of all computers.

Well, thus far I have merely described the way to get and stay organized.

How do you actually get stuff done? Easy - get organized and stay organized, then all you need to do is update very small pieces of the puzzle - schedules, appointments, delegated tasks - freeing you up to actually do project tasks, delegate what you do not have time to do yourself, and of course devote time to developing new projects to add to the mix.

In other words, if you offload the burden of remembering project management details from your brain to a system, then you can naturally use this extra energy to Get Stuff Done. In theory.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 12, 2009 at 2:18:04 pm project, management

Project Management

Someone ought to write a book called "I'm a project manager, Now What?!"

Hey, not a bad idea for a book.

Back in 2003 I began the gradual transition from video editor/shooter to project manager. Mind you I do plenty of editing, but depending upon the project I am in fact managing, sometimes more sometimes less. But the particular responsibilities are no less important than the others.

At the time, we had about 3 times as many employees, so I was also a department manager. There was some resentment, such as "can you do my job as the web master? how can you possibly manage me or review my performance if you can't do my job yourself?"

I'm not making this up.

As it turns out, in addition to learning how to evaluate the performance of others, I also had to learn how to fire people, not an easy thing to do.

Given a leaner crew, I could focus less on personnel issues and more on figuring out how to juggle multiple projects and manage a few others, and delegate work to everyone, including to myself.

I have blogged previously about making lists and using the right tools to keep track of a project's process, milestones and deliverables. My favorite tool is a great new application - a calendar! Another tool I use a lot is the yellow sticky note pad - brilliant!

We tried using MS Project and various other free and non-free pieces of software, but in a small organization you can easily devote hours per week just managing the tools you are trying to use to manage your work. Alas, every organization is different and has different needs.

What has worked the best is relative autonomy. Give someone a task and a deadline, and they generally only seek help when absolutely necessary. Everyone, however, has interruptions - many of which are unavoidable - and these lead to missed deadlines. We can all improve in that department.

Project management, thus, includes a heavy dose of time management. Time management is an acquired skill and perhaps the most difficult one to master.

In summary, project management can take many forms. Personnel management, time management, even equipment management all play a role in moving forward toward deadlines. Some deadlines are a day or two, a week or two, a month or two or years in the making. Something useful yet cumbersome about breaking up a project into tasks, either in MS Project or on paper, is that you can fail to see the big picture - or you are so focused on only the major milestones, that you feel like you are not accomplishing anything, while in fact you are working on a 3 month deadline, which is itself made up of perhaps 50 smaller tasks. But these 50 smaller tasks are not and should not be part of a big picture view of anything. This is the beauty of delegation - you can avoid micromanagement as long as you have a capable person working towards the goal - it is assumed the resource will hit each smaller task.

The challenge is when you are the manager and the resource. Time management indeed!

Thanks for slogging through this one!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 29, 2008 at 3:28:34 pmComments (1) workflow, project, management, hr

To Do Lists

If you're like me you have a million things to do. Oddly, none of those things happen to be writing blogs, but hey, I ticked off 7 items on my to do list today!

As outlined in previous posts, in addition to shooting and editing video projects I also am a project manager.

When I realized that 50% or more of my days were being spent project managing, I did some research on ways to improve efficiency.

For a while I listened to a project management podcast by Cornelius Finchner

He has some interesting ideas and conversations, however he also spends a lot of time on preparing for the PMI exam and certification, and a lot of things related to being a full time enterprise level project manager.

Having culled all I could from these podcasts, I turned to this great new thing which apparently existed even before the oh so revolutionary Internet: a library!

My local library in Woodbury, CT not only gets a lot of great new books on business subjects, it also has great organized stacks of useful resources. Having flipped through several of the old classic books from Tom Peters and some of the new classics from guys like Jack Welch, I stumbled upon one of the "who moved my cheese" style books, the On Time on Target Manager. This is what I call a 1 hour book, because you can read it in 1 hour or so, and it is written as more of a parable than an actual story.

The simple lesson from this book (skip this paragraph if you do not like spoilers) is the following:



Do things for the right reasons, in the right order, with the right people, and want to do what you do.




Ok you can start reading again if you skipped ahead.

Brilliant, yet simple. Oh sure, it sounds too simple, but when your To Do list resembles a take out restaurant menu, it can be overwhelming to keep your brain focused on the most important tasks.

Long before I read this little gem, I had been making to do lists. However these lists are often just a collection of unfinished, difficult to finish projects, rather than tasks.

Therein lies the difference - differentiate between a project and a task.

For example, here is a fictional Project To Do List:

1. Paint house

2. Clean garage

3. Organize tape library

4. Find the crystal skull

Obviously I will never check off any of these tasks in the short term, especially if this is a daily list. A list like this can be written on a marker board, well out of my line of sight.

A better to do list, let's say for the week, should be:

1. Assess condition of shutters - if they need to be sanded, take down and put in garage.

2. Sweep garage floor. Clean up recycling. Get rid of t-tops from old TransAm.

3. Setup excel file for tape library. Get buy-in from boss and co-workers.

4. Take weekend trip to Chile rainforest, contact local tribesmen, meet long lost son.

See what I mean? Divide and conquer with an overwhelming list makes it less overwhelming.

So lets say this 2nd list is my weekly to do list, then each morning I can make a smaller boiled down list. You may say, I can manage off the less focused list just fine. But in reality, I at least find that my brain can more easily deal with smaller manageable tasks. Plus I get a kick out of crossing out or checking off items with a magic marker. Maybe we really do learn everything we need to know in kindergarten!


1. Remove shutters from east side of house

2. Move clutter to one side of garage

3. Make a list of fields for the tape database

4. Check last minute airfares to Santiago International Airport. Find bullwhip and leather jacket. Make list of former girlfriends.

So how does this all relate to the price of eggs?


I know I talk like an old man!

Let's use a real world example:

Project List

1. Nursing Video - complete 1st edit

2. Whipple video (that is the actual name of an operation, look it up) - 1st edit

3. New Nursing DVD library - prepare for sale

Again, this may be the list of important project milestones, but you can't check off anything on that list after anything less than a few days or weeks of work. We humans need the occasional instant gratification. Hence the popularity of scratch tickets and tiny bottles of booze in hotel rooms (or so I hear).

Let's boil down this list to a week:

1. Nursing video - complete first pass editing raw footage to script, rough titles, intro montage

2. Whipple video - digitize raw footage, edit down to 1 hour or less

3. New Nursing DVD library - make DVD masters, packaging, labels, post-tests, catalog images and website.

Maybe, if nothing else comes up, I can do some of this. Remember, I am combining video production and project management tasks. While I frown upon multi-tasking, if you can set parts of your day aside for different tasks, that may be ok, but it may differ for everyone.

Here is a sample Monday list:

1. Nursing video - edit at least 5 minutes, rough in shots and temp titles.

2. Whipple video - digitize 2 hours of tape, more Tues

3. DVD Library - author 1st 2 titles on DVD, burn master discs - 2 more on Tuesday, pull stills for packages.

Ok, things are looking more manageable.














Some weeks the lists are not so organized. Lately I have been using brightly colored sheets of paper and a Sharpie, but I try different techniques. Oh, also I like pretty colors. And books with lots of pictures!

A neat work environment is certainly a goal. We can dream...!


In summary, if you manage a lot of projects and do some or all of the work on those projects, the key is to find an organizational system that works for you. If MS Project is something your organization uses, I am sorry for you. Actually it can be a good program if you do not micromanage every task, and if you have the time to manage the project files.

If you are lucky enough to have a scheduling person in your group, learn to follow the schedule, and avoid interruptions.

Avoiding interruptions, however, is another blog for another day.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 5, 2008 at 7:34:45 pm workflow, project, management

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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