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Tick Tock, Mind the Clock – Managing Project Timelines
By Archana Ananthanarayan

Every facet of our lives is defined by time. 40 hour work week, 7 minute boiled egg, 2 year relationship. It’s so hard to think without time in mind. Yet, surprisingly, we are inherently bad at judging time. How many of you are guilty of telling a friend that you’ll “be there in 10”, but show up 20 minutes later? Me, for sure!

It’s not that we are careless; it’s just that estimating time is a difficult task. When you’re managing a project, this can be a complete dealbreaker, and can cost money.

Here are some basics that I follow as a manager, to better manage project timelines. These could be applied to any type of project, even though the projects I’ve derived them from are largely creative projects. Some of these projects were ad films, specialized websites, animation projects and even creative strategy ideations. The one thing that characterized all these projects is that all these projects required a non-formulaic, unique, inventive way to solve a problem – in either the idea or the execution.

So, here goes:

  1. Think, think, do: Ideas don’t follow a timetable

    As much as we would like the Eureka moment to happen between 9am-5pm; it rarely does. Budget more time to ideate and brainstorm. Very often, action-oriented managers give too little time for the ideation piece, and start jumping straight into execution – only to find out later that the idea has been compromised. In most of the projects I worked on, a good idea is half the battle one – so set aside time for that.

  2. Out of the box, into the what?: Rules save time

    Creative projects function within the unique space of wanting something that breaks tradition; whilst at the same time abiding to practical considerations. Lay down the considerations and boundaries at the very beginning of the project. If there is a budget (there always is), state it. Media considerations, audience attitudes, geographies – define whatever you already know. It is important to define these non-negotiables at the beginning of the project so that time is not wasted in barking up the wrong tree. Innovative ideas need an open ground to play with, but having too open a ground actually works against you.

  3. Backspace backspace: Be prepared for revisions

    It is very common in project timelines to want to go back to the start and change something. A better character design; a missed shot; the artist hating what he drew the previous night – whatever be the reason – revisions are common, and not bad at all! I have seen multiple instances of a revision catalyzing a good output into a great one. Buffer for these unforeseen events at the start of the process, and be ready to make changes. I typically save 20% of project time for revisions; for more complex projects, I buffer more.

  4. Now you’re talking: Encourage team dialogue

    Creative projects typically require teams working parallelly on the same collective asset. While smart documentation can smoothen this complicated handling of assets, I find that good old talk is simply the best. Personally, I like daily meetings or conference calls – a quick roundup of who’s doing what. I have found that this considerably reduces project timelines by identifying major problems in advance.

  5. Manage the manager: Find the right person for the job

    Creative projects require creative managers. It’s as simple as that. Having a person who thinks in linear, straight ways almost never works because they fail to see and understand the complex matrix structure of managing creative projects. Imaginative managers are also better equipped to deal with unforeseen roadblocks and also appreciate the efforts of team members better.

So, that’s my list! Being at the CDM and working on so many project teams is helping me hone and sharpen these learnings; and it’s been a great experience so far.

Archana Ananthanarayan is an experienced manager, specializing in managing creative projects. She has worked across the realm of marketing – in creative development, brand strategy, media planning and buying, social media management and public relations. You can read more from Archana on her blog.

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