How We Keep Web Projects on Time and on Budget

Founded back in the "good old days” of 2008, Paper Tiger has been around for a hot minute. In that time, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to run a project to keep things on track and on budget, while still collaborating closely with our clients. To create badass websites for our ambitious clients, a lot has to go right — but we also need to be able to pivot quickly when things don’t.

Our projects are a true creative collaboration between client and agency. We’re not simply order takers; we’re a team of experts in our respective disciplines that love bringing new visions to life in unconventional ways. Our clients aren’t run-of-the-mill businesses that want off-the-rack, pretty-without-purpose website builds; they’re cutting-edge brands seeking trailblazing online solutions.

So we follow certain practices and processes that ensure the needs of both partners are met, while staying within the time and cost constraints of the project. ‍

Here’s an overview of what Paper Tiger brings to the table, what clients should expect to contribute during the process, and a couple final thoughts on where it’s most important both sides are aligned.

How Paper Tiger Keeps its projects on track

Like we said earlier, this isn’t our first rodeo. Over time, we’ve found that the following three things make the biggest difference in getting our projects done on time and within budget.

We balance big picture timelines with a focus on current tasks

Sure, every project needs a timeline — a high level plan of what happens, in what order, and how long it will take to deliver a polished website (that works). We do this for all of our projects, like any other agency, and our project managers reference it throughout every milestone to make sure we’re still on track.

‍But we’ve found the most effective way to hit that elusive, on-time launch date is actually to keep our clients and production team focused a bit less on the long timeline, and more on the two weeks right in front of us. Because if we accomplish what we need to in those two-week increments, we will hit that bigger deadline. This frees our clients up to worry less about the long-term and focus their energy on the here-and-now. Besides, there’s no point in worrying about the future if we’re not addressing what’s right in front of us.‍

Our project managers are skilled creative thinkers

Anyone who’s ever worked with any agency knows project managers are the unsung heroes—the masterminds that keep the wheels turning, and solve problems you didn’t even know you had. They can also make or break a project. Without a captain steering the ship, it’s bound to go off course. ‍

That’s why not just anyone can be a good PM. It’s not enough to be able to dot Ts and cross Is. It takes a real problem-solving mentality, thoughtful insight, and a deep understanding of the creative process. That’s why when we hire for our PM team, we’re not just looking for folks that can make a slamming spreadsheet or a good GANTT chart (though they definitely can). We’re looking for creative critical thinkers. PMs who anticipate what’s coming next, use their instincts to foresee any issues, and are resourceful enough to navigate both our team and the client through any choppy waters.

Every one of our PMs have that rare skill set, and it makes all the difference when it comes to keeping things on track, and our clients pumped about their project.

Our team is made up of dedicated in-house talent

A lot of agencies lean on outsourcing for design, content and development work. They’ll compile a team of freelancers they can call on as needed, which can be really beneficial on the financial side of things. We’ve certainly worked with our share of freelancers in the past, and even on a rare occasion now, will tap one of our vetted experts for a project where we know they’ll shine.

‍But when it comes to leveraging freelancers first, things get tricky, because project managers have little to no control over their time. Our PM team is critical in helping our designers, developers, and content folks manage their team each week. They keep their fingers on the pulse of how all our projects are progressing and how much of every team member’s time is allocated to each. That way they can help everyone prioritize their workload and adjust as new tasks arise.

With outside contractors, our PM team finds themselves subject to the ebbs and flows of the freelancer’s schedule, putting our clients in the same boat. Are they on vacation for two weeks? Too bad. Did they recently book a project for a different client? Now your project is on hold. Sometimes, freelancers even flake out entirely, leaving the agency scrambling to fill the gap with new talent right in the middle of your project.

Nowadays, 99% of our projects are completed entirely by our in-house team of talent across design, content, and development. That means a full team that already works well together, and dedicates their full work week to building badass websites for Paper Tiger, is at your service.

How you (the client) can contribute to a successful project

But enough about us! The agency is only half the picture. As a client, you want to know what you can do to keep your project  on track, too. Here are the three biggest things you can do to make sure it happens.

Set and communicate clear project goals from the beginning

The key to starting a website project on the right foot is for us to be aligned on  project goals and scope of work. Doing this efficiently means you (the client) come to the table with clear goals in mind. What do you want your new website to accomplish? Why is it important to do this project now? What are your priorities when it comes to the constraints of scope, time, and cost?

Answering these questions ahead of our engagement — and getting internal alignment within your organization — prevents a lot of headaches down the road.

Prioritize the website project among your other work

A new website is a milestone project for any company. If you’re like many of our clients, your website actually is your business. It generates leads, nurtures prospects, closes sales, communicates your brand, and gives your business credibility. Websites today are not optional; they’re a cornerstone. The most foundational element of your brand and marketing.

But some clients don’t treat them that way. They relegate “the website project” to just another task on their to-do list — one that’s constantly bumped down when other issues come along. And as a result, their website project languishes.

Our most successful projects are the ones where clients are all in. They understand the essential nature of their new website and the business goals and objectives it will support. They clear the time and space on their calendars and in their brains to provide the necessary inputs and feedback to keep the project moving smoothly. They put the website project at the top of their to-do list instead of the bottom and fully commit to the process from start to finish. In short, they treat the relationship like the true partnership it is.

Provide clear, organized, and timely feedback

We aren’t creating websites in a vacuum. From the very beginning of the process, we are guided by your goals, your brand, and your expertise. We check in frequently (at least weekly, often daily) to share the progress we’ve made to ensure we’re on the path you envisioned.

So here’s another reason we need you to prioritize your project: we need your feedback. We need it frequently and quickly so that our team can move forward with the next step. And this process works efficiently for everyone if that feedback is clear and organized, taking into account any relevant stakeholders. We do our best to provide the best tools for that feedback, but it’s up to you and your colleagues to consolidate and communicate your wants and needs clearly and as quickly as possible so we can hit our interim deadlines, and ultimately the target launch date.

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Two mindsets that are important for both sides of the table

We’ve talked through some of the logistical things we and our clients do to ensure a successful collaboration. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention two mindsets that can really make a difference in how everyone feels about the project. And positive feelings lead to a more positive outcome.‍

Trust and respect one another

Website projects are complicated. As much as we all try, miscommunications happen and unexpected issues arise. That’s when it’s important to remember that we’re all human beings trying to do our best, and no one is out to “get” anyone else, or intentionally cause friction in a project. Collaborative relationships require a healthy give and take, a commitment to flexibility, and a touch of grace when things get weird. At Paper Tiger, we promise to respect our clients and trust that their motivations are good. We ask that our clients do the same.

Have fun on the creative journey

Something that often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of our work lives is… fun! Sure, we all have parts of our jobs that we’re less than thrilled about. But this is a website project! We’re bringing your brand to life! Your super talented people are getting to work with our super talented people. And at the end of it all, you’ll have a beautiful, badass new website to share with the world. These projects are an exciting journey, so embrace the creative process — and let’s try to have a little fun!

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