Project planning is something that I have always felt pretty comfortable with. I always begin with a Task Analysis, something I have talked about in an earlier blogpost, and as someone who loves a To Do List as well as clearly agreed deadlines and processes, project planning is something I genuinely enjoy and always appreciate once the project is underway. It not only allows you to ensure that you remain on schedule and budget, but if done properly (and if you want that level of information), you can use it to evaluate the delivery of a project once complete.
Lately, I’ve been spinning a lot of plates and I felt that my current system – a combination of a detailed calendar, which includes notes on tasks and how long I’ve spend doing them, plus my trusty To Do List in a notebook – wasn’t working anymore. I needed more of an overview of my calendar and I needed to stop scouring my notebooks and emails for something I knew I’d written down but couldn’t remember when.
After winning two contracts recently that require delivery over the next six months or more, it made me think that I needed a new project management system in place if I’m going to keep on top of everything and work effectively.
Project Management is a topic that comes up frequently in online freelance groups, usually in the form of someone asking for advice about how best to keep on track with everything. Some use specific project management software e.g. Trello and Teamwork; others have created their own systems that work for them.
After exploring some of the available software options, I decided that I really couldn’t be bothered to learn yet another platform and that good old Excel would do the trick. And after some trial and error, I created my glorious new Project Management spreadsheet. Whilst I’d love to share the actual spreadsheet with you, I can’t – it contains personal and financial data. Instead, I thought I’d talk you through it in case any of it is of use to you.
The spreadsheet itself is really very simple…
The first tab is a visual calendar that lets me see, at a glance, when I’m busy.
It’s set up with Months/Weeks running across the top in Rows 1 and 2, and live projects listed out down the side in the first column. Each project has been assigned a colour.
I block out weeks, colour-coded by project, according to the agreed project timeline. This allows me to see when I’m working on multiple projects in one week or if there are weeks that are currently free that I can shift some work to and therefore take some pressure off.
Each live project I am working on has its own tab.
On each tab I include everything I can about the project so that I’m not having to route around in multiple places to get an answer.
Each tab includes the following:
On-Boarding Client Checklist
- Is a contract in place?
- Has a payment schedule been agreed?
- Who are my key contacts?
- Have I connected to key contacts on LinkedIn?
- Have I got permission to talk about working with the client on Social Media?
Project Details Table
- Client name
- Project title
- Total fee
- Total number of days / hours assigned
- Key contacts names and email addresses
- Project timeline (agreed during the brief/proposal stage) listing out broad activity and any key dates
All agreed project outputs that are agreed at the beginning of a project are listed out in a text box. I use this as a checklist to ensure that I’ve delivered all of the agreed outputs, and if I produce anything outside of the original scope of work, I make a note of it here so that it doesn’t get forgotten about. This allows you to keep a track of any added value you bring to a project.
To Do List
A detailed To Do List is included in a text box. I typically set out the list based around my initial Task Analysis and then add to it as the project progresses / things come up. As I complete tasks, I delete them from the list.
Invoice Schedule Table
Most of my projects require multiple invoices because I typically ask for a portion of the total fee upfront and then agree a payment schedule for the rest, usually based around the delivery of key phases/outputs. This table lists out:
- All the invoices related to the project e.g. Invoice 1 of 3, Invoice 2 of 3, Invoice 3 of 3
- The corresponding invoice number
- The date the invoice was issued / is due to be issued
- The invoice amount
- Whether the invoice has been paid or is outstanding
- Total project fee
Off-Boarding Client Checklist
- Has the client been sent the final report/files?
- Has the final invoice been issued?
- Have any outstanding invoices been paid?
- Has any client personal data been securely destroyed? (if appropriate)
- Ask client for a testimonial.
- Add testimonial to website and/or CV as appropriate.
- Organise and archive project files.
And that’s it. It really can be as simple as a couple of tables and text boxes. I’ve been using it a few weeks now and feel that it’s already helped me to keep on top of things more, and its given me an overview of my diary for the rest of the year, which is something I was lacking before.
I’d love to know what you do when managing projects – any tips and tricks to you’d like to share? Is there some software you just cannot live without? Or are you more of a pen and paper person? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.
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