DON'T LET YOUR CATALOG CREATIVE SCHEDULE DRIVE YOU CRAZY
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog May 2014
© 2014 Susan J. McIntyre
It seems like catalog creative/production schedules, just like budgets, have gotten so tight they drive everyone crazy. Here are 9 tips for bringing sanity to your schedule management.
1. MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE STEPS
To everyone else you send a schedule with key dates/deadlines, but for yourself you should also make a checklist of all steps in between. There are often more steps than you remembered. By listing all steps, you'll not only have a much better checklist for getting them done, you'll also be better able to move tasks around to get more done earlier.
2. ONE PERSON NEEDS AUTHORITY TO MANAGE
Don’t just send the schedule then hope all the team will manage their parts and hit their dates. Some will (treasure those few). Most won't on their own, but can if they are closely managed (true for both staff and vendors). Whoever is managing the schedule needs the authority to move Jane's task to Joe because Joe has time, and to make Pat stop X to work on Y.
3. CHECK IN EARLY AND OFTEN
Most team members in the catalog project are consumed with something else. Don't expect them to check the schedule daily. Typically they'll be clearing other tasks off their plate, and responding to other squeaky wheels. Your deadline will sneak up until it's too tight to execute on time. Be squeaky yourself.
4. FRONT LOAD. DON'T BE TRAPPED IN LINEAR MODE.
If there's plenty of time before a task needs starting, don't wait...start early. Check your detailed task/steps list. Is Photoshop scheduled for after draft design but photography is complete now? Photoshop those photos now even if it wasn't on the schedule that way. Waiting for the product list before starting design, and you know a new look is wanted? Design new-look test pages now, using the prior catalog's products — you may get that new look approved even before products are finalized and regular design starts.
5. KEEP THE TEAM BUSY
Example: is the designer sitting on his hands waiting for pagination? Grab that free time with pages that can be designed now: “I know we're going to have a spread for the new colorful tees, I just don't know all the colors yet or the page numbers”. You can fill in the product details on a later round, and be a jump ahead on design.
6. BE VERY SPECIFIC WITH TASKS AND DATES
Wrong: “I need to have 12 pages to management on Friday”. Right: “Send me 2/3, 4/5 and 6/7 by 9am Tues, and 8/9, 10/11 and 12/13 by 8:30am Wed with all corrections made. That will give us Thursday for final changes if needed, and still hit the to-management deadline”.
7. THE DESIGNATED PAGE-APPROVER WILL NOT HIT SCHEDULE. LIVE WITH IT.
Once you kick the layouts upstairs, you cannot expect 24-hour turnaround, even if they've agreed to it in writing 3 times. It's highly likely that they'll take 3 or 4 days instead. Build that buffer into your schedule.
8. WHEN THE PAGE-APPROVER WON'T LOOK AT PAGES ON A FLOW BASIS
Are you working with a page-approver who will only review a complete book but not individual pages? Try this partial workaround: send one or a few key spreads early saying “this is just a draft, we'd love your preliminary feedback”. It's likely she/he will look and give valuable feedback to apply to the other pages, improving your chance of a quicker approval on the whole later.
9. ASSUME SOMETHING(S) WILL GO WRONG
How do things go wrong? Let me count the ways. Photo samples were made wrong and must be Photoshopped with different features. Delivery service loses a shipment for 3 days. Designer went to the hospital. Warehouse shipped wrong products to the studio. Copywriter doesn't like the prescribed copy voice and instead wants to express herself with her own style. Lightening shut down all power. True stories. Really. And more. The point is, do you have a disaster-management backup plan? Do. Plus, front-loading as much as possible is one of the best plans — much will already be completed before disaster can strike.