The tour has been a part of this project right from the initial fact-finding meeting between the community center and the project manager. Though the center has a large number of facilities and programs, it was felt that people visiting the site should be able to zero in on the community center's ability to meet their specific interests, rather than aiming for as broad a market as possible and speaking in generalities.
This goal has been thoroughly discussed among the team members, and several solutions were proposed and examined. When the solution was agreed to, it was presented to the client, and he signed off on it. When that occurs, the client inevitably asks "The Question:" "When will it be completed?" If you directly answer this question, the project is doomed to failure.
At this stage of the process, you are working with concepts and ideas that have become more and more refined as you move from paper-based storyboards to a comprehensive design. You have a rough idea regarding what is needed. You have conducted a content audit to determine what content exists and what content needs to be created. What you haven't done is to create the final production schedule from client acceptance of the proposal to delivery of the project. If you don't know to the day how long it will take to create the assets, how can you give the client an honest answer to the "How long?" question. In addition, no matter how you sugarcoat and obfuscate it, any date you give the client will be filed away for future reference. The last thing you need is the client meeting with you a couple of months later and asking why you aren't able to meet the date given when he asked "The Question."
The only way to answer the question is through the use of a production plan, which evolves from the key event schedule.
There are actually two "Questions." They are "How much?" and "By when?"
The "How much?" question is way out of the scope of this book. Still, the consequences of answering it at the same time as the "By when?" question are similar. Both replies get filed away, and don't be surprised if the client retrieves those two bits of data at the most inappropriate time. Deal with paper, not "vapor." If asked, tell the client you aren't prepared to answer the question right away. Instead, tell the client you would prefer to put it in writing. This way, both sides have the same information.
There is an exercise one of the authors uses in his classes. Its purpose is to shine a klieg light on the importance of a key event schedule on the production process.
The project is the delivery of a rather simple interactive CD. He first asks the class to come to some sort of consensus about the date the courier delivers the CDs to the client. Thinking that the project is easy to complete, the class usually agrees to a 60-day timeframe.
The class then roughs out a calendar on the whiteboard, and the start and finish dates are added. Then the fun starts.
The author works backwards through the schedule, crossing out weekends and holidays. He gets the class to agree to the various steps of the production schedule, ranging from content and asset creation to Gold Master testing and delivery. In between are testing, revisions, client approvals, and so on. At the end of the exercise, the students are absolutely flabbergasted. By agreeing to a 60-day schedule they have actually left themselves with three to four days of actual production time to build the project.
There is no single way of developing a key event schedule that meets the needs of every web design firm on the planet. Instead, you have to understand that the members of a team need structure, and part of that structure is provided by deadlines. By developing this schedule, the project suddenly becomes real. It is something each member of the team can see, in writing, and it delivers a rather powerful message: "Here is what is needed and when you have to deliver it."
The purpose of a detailed key event schedule is to push the project forward. It is something both the team and the client now have in common. Both sides shares the common commitment to meet the goals outlined.
When it comes to the team, the key event schedule lays out the flow and the pace of the project. In certain cases, it serves as a daily "to-do" list for the team members and highlights how dependent they are upon each other to complete the task at hand.
Finally, a key event schedule is a living document. All deadlines should have what one of the authors calls "The Human Factor" built into them. Accommodate the fact that people get sick, scopes change, and approvals can be late. This is a delicate balancing act because being too accommodating will only serve to cloud the deadlines.
As one of the authors tells his students, "Clients think things can be done instantly because you are using a computer." Instead, tell the client there are three broad options available when it comes to building web sites or other interactive media. They are "Fast," "Accurate," and "Cheap." Explain each option and then tell him he gets to pick two. That will get his attention.