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Thread: Rigors of private planning practice #17: deadlines

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Rigors of private planning practice #17: deadlines

    In my 7+ yrs in the private sector, I have learned that deadlines are truly at the whim of the client, especially if it's a governmental entity. I'm currently working on a rather large project that involves several sites each with their own set of issues. I set up a design/construction schedule based on the parameters given to me by the client that gave us plenty of time to do the preliminary design and etc. for the sites. All of a sudden, the schedule is "too long" and I need to move up the deadline so that the plans are completed in 4-6 wks, as all of these sites need to be constructed by the end of the year and not early-mid next year.

    The problem is that it's a huge snowball effect. Now I've got to push overworked subs to get their work submitted to me much sooner than expected. I'm also waiting on the client to give me some much-needed info for these sites. I'm in no position to tell the client that "I can't complete this until you give me X,Y,Z," because they call the shots and pay the bills.

    I just learned why this project has been fast-tracked - summed up in two words - ELECTION YEAR. Each of these sites is located in a particular councilmanic district and everyone wants to showcase their achievements come campaign season. It's times like these when I hate politics even more than usual.

    So, if you're a consultant, how do you handle constantly changing deadlines and still maintain high quality work? For those on the other side of this equation, how do you justify changing deadlines in such a manner that it could jeopardize the quality of the work?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    On the private sector side, I prepared exhibits for an expert witness project back this past September-November. Not only were there ≈30 exhibits for the project site, but there were also ≈25 other sites, each of which needed both current aerial photos and tax maps as well as aerial photos and tax maps at the date of the purchase. To further complicate things, these other sites included select tax PINs. It involved roughly 20 trips to four county offices and Sidwell to purchase the aerial photos and tax maps. Several of the counties did not provide digital copies, which meant that they had to sent to third party scanner. All of these were high resolution images at 1:200 scale or 1:100scale. The images were then added to CAD, and the final work was done in photoshop.

    I had roughly a month to prepare these ≈80 exhibits (each of which had several pieces of information). I also had to keep costs down, which meant constant phone calls with the four counties and Sidwell to check data availability. I was able to reduce the costs of the aerial photos from $30,000 to $8,000 (my boss still wasn't happy).

    All of these exhibits were to be displayed on a projector. After spending countless hours tweaking the right colors on our computer screens, they still looked awful on the projector, which meant more and more hours to make changes.

    My boss met with the attorneys (our client) on a regular basis with updates. I worked with at least two landscape architects, who helped me with the enormous amount of Photoshop work (they mostly worked on the project site exhibits and I did everything else). The powerpoint came out to about 400mb, which involved yet more work reducing file sizes so that the images would load faster.

    To make matters worse, as the trial proceded, the attorneys tossed out exhibits left and right, so we finally ended up with about 20 of the original 80 exhibits. The client finally decided to toss out the powerpoint, and wanted all of the exhibits mounted on boards instead. Our HP 1050c plotter is wonderful, but couldn't take the abuse of (20) 30"x42" boards with high resolution aerials that needed to be mounted in 1 day (not to mention all of the other print jobs from other projects).

    I don't know how many hundreds of hours I spent on the project witthin a two-month time span (I am also the only planner, so I have my normal workload of planning projects). There were times I came in at 5AM and did not leave until 10PM (sometimes 7 days a week) but most of the hours were undocumented. Of the hours I did invoice, my boss passed on about 85% to the client.

    Bottom line: if two clients are paying you to jump off either side of the same bridge at the same time, you are going to find a way to do it without pissing either one of them off. This was a very enjoyable experience for me (even if I was sleep deprived for a lot of it). Do the job to the best of your ability and stay as focused as you can without breaking down.

    I think the reason why the attorneys kept changing the requirements was because the trial moved along faster than expected (they won by the way) and partly because the client was disorganized and unfamiliar with a project of this magnitude.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    This is a frequent problem. I have had clients expect to incorporate major revisions from a meeting and deliver a report within literally hours in order to meat another deadline. They do not seem to understand that these things take much longer, and that we are working on more projects than just theirs. I have spent many days working on somebody's project while on the road, over the weekend, or into the evening in order to meet deadlines. Other times I simply have to tell people that it will not be done until later. There is some negotiation, but they have to realize that their schedule is not realistic. Most are usually pretty good about it.
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