In these economic times, oftentimes clients will not want to spend what it takes to get a good product, so they leave it to the last minute to give it to us. And that is if we are a chargeback operation. As we know, oftentimes, clients just give us projects late, because they forgot or they don't know how long projects take or who knows why. Yet it is up to us--and is our responsibility to our organization--to still deliver a quality product, one that delivers on the brand and represents our organization in a reputable way. So, how do we do that, given the reduced cycle time we have been given? Here are a few tips from my experience.

Follow the Process

When there is a reduced cycle time, we are tempted not to follow the process. We know time is short, and we skip steps. That is a recipe for disaster. The process is there for a reason: to keep quality high. And even if we have reduced time, we still need to follow the process, albeit in a shorter timeframe. The "trick" is for the Traffic Manager or Project Manager to let everyone know that this project is on a reduced timeline, so be aware of its shorter cycle time.

Do the "Basics"

Making sure the project still has high quality when time is reduced is one side of the issue. The other side is to ensure that there are no mistakes. When time is short, again the tendency is to hurry. That is when mistakes happen. Ensure that this is NOT the case. Once we adhere to the process, as normal, we MUST make sure "get the basics" right. First priority is that we make sure the specs are right, the format is right, RGB or CMYK, photo selection, spellcheck is run, etc. Although the project may not win the next Art Director's Club award, you or the company will not be embarrassed by a glaring error in the wake of too little time, too late.

Fill Out the Creative Brief

Some things you get "skip," i.e., number of edit cycles or number of reviews, others you can't. You or the Account Managers MUST ensure that a Creative Brief is be filled out completely (for Tier 1 or Tier 2 projects, not production-only projects). With cycle time at a premium, the Creative Brief is even more important to be "right" and complete BEFORE the project begins. There is no time to chase the client around for missing information or for the designer to redo the project.

Scale the Project to the Time Available

When delivering concepts or execution, take the timeframe into consideration. Sure, it would be nice to have weeks to deliver an award-winning project, but the time will "bite you in the butt." Scale the project to the time available. It is important when there isn't the optimum time to deliver a credible project. On the projects with ample creative time, then several rounds of concepts and execution options are possible, but when time is critical, don't be over ambitious. Keep the number of concepts and execution time to what is manageable within the parameters.

Make Sure the Traffic Manager Treats the Project as a Priority

Whoever is responsible for the traffic flow of projects through the department, must take a "special" eye for the project with truncated time. If the project is treated like "all projects," it may miss the deadline and certainly risk mistakes when "rushed" at the end. Keep an eye out for this project that is on a shorter timeline to ensure on-time, on-target delivery.

Set Client Expectations

The Account Manager or whoever talks to the client when first accepting the project, must set the Client's expectations. First, the client MUST be available ON TIME for all reviews and approvals. The AM must ask the Client to schedule approval dates on their calendars, and set expectations that quick approvals are required. The AM can even go so far as to require immediate/24-hour turnaround approvals or implicit approvals upon Client unavailability. The more immediately the Client understands their responsibility in a quick turnaround project--and the parameters for not being available (that the project will publish without their review)--the better they will understand the importance of their attention to this "quick" project.

One Last Look

Once the approvals are met, the edits have been made, the reviews have been done, give the project "one last look." Have the basics been met? Is the branding right, the color palette? The specs? The format? Client signatures on the Creative Brief, the sign-off? approval without review, if necessary? etc. The old adage: measure twice, cut once applies even more so when there isn't optimal time. The project may or may not be award-winning, but is does need to be free of errors. It reflects on your organization and you.

Now that the project is out and delivered, you have a process that works for quick, reduced cycle time projects. And you know, some of the best creativity has been delivered when the resources are just not there, e.g., the original Star Trek series. It is a fact that when there isn't money or time for "all the bells and whistles," that's the creativity steps up. You may have an award-winner after all.

Making Sure Quality Is High, Although Cycle Time Is ReducedCella Consultant Susan Hunnicutt is an expert in using marketing and communications to achieve business objectives. She works with organizational leaders to assess their needs, determine their goals, analyze their resources and develop an action plan and recommendations to meet these goals. Susan's value proposition is taking a growing in-house creative team "to the next level," not only in metrics but also in systems and processes, quality control and increasing the number of high-profile and quality client projects.