Hi! I’m Johnson County Library’s newest MakerSpace Facilitator. I specialize in A/V production and storytelling, but in the MakerSpace you can find help for all sorts of projects, from bookmaking to building your own computer. I’m sure lots of you are thinking of starting something new, so I thought I’d share some tips for long term project management. Today I’m going to talk about margin, but this is only the first of a four-part series, so you can always check back for more!
I’m no stranger to long term projects. When you write books or feature-length films, it just comes with the territory. The methods we normally use for projects start to fall apart when you’re doing something long term or trying to work towards a bigger picture. When I initially wrote my four principles behind project management, it was aimed at filmmakers, because that was my background. But I’ve found that the lessons I learned earnestly apply to any ambition, and I hope that you’ll find them as useful as I have.
First things first: be sure to overestimate. If you a want to work on anything over an extended period of time, you need room for error. A lot of room for error. I’ve often been told that my projects are ambitious, and they might seem that way from the outside. But in truth, I try as much as I can to overestimate how much time and resources I’ll need for every step. Thing you can get by with a 10,000 budget? Double it. Will you need, say, two weeks to write a proposal? Triple it. And if you think you’ll be able to export that video in ten hours, make it forty.
Margin isn’t just about scheduling time, though. It’s also about archiving what you’re doing, and project security. Back up your assets. If I expect to record 1 or 2 terabytes of video footage, I get a 4 terabyte drive. I back everything up and I have a backup plan for the backup plan. I store my hard drives, equipment, and props carefully, where they won’t be exposed to serious temperature changes or accidental misuse.
This might sounds irrationally cautious, but think of it this way: If some resource or information for your project disappeared, what would be willing to do to get it back? You can do at least that much to prevent yourself from having the problem to begin with. Of course, you can’t care for every aspect of a project with the same level of importance. Decide your priorities ahead of time so that if things don’t go as planned, you know what you’re willing to compromise on, and what things you’re willing to fight for.
Archiving your project not only eases your workflow, it does a favor for your future self. It’s easy to know what all the pieces in a project mean when you’re in the center of the work, but neglecting to record your process is a major loss. Keep your notes, sketches, and mind maps; you can use them for future projects. And most importantly, keep a record of your mistakes and what you learned from them. You will forget. You’re human. You may be steeped in your work now, but once it fades, you know don’t when you’ll get another chance to record that next album or whatever it is you want to do. By recording your mistakes, you save yourself the trouble of having to reinvent the wheel every time.