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From Thought to Paper (or PDF): Online Document Production Workflows

One of the trickiest things to pull off when you’re working online is producing an actual document. There are any number of distractions, it’s harder to provide proofs and get feedback than if you’re working face-to-face with a client or stakeholder, and you often get the run around in terms of who you should be working with.

I’ve done a lot of this type of work for a range of clients, and over the course of those efforts, I’ve arrived at a number of conclusions regarding how best to go about it. These tips won’t tell you exactly how you should manage your own workflow, but it will help you avoid some of the more common problems.

adobeDetermine Scope and Materials Up Front, in Detail

There’s nothing a client likes worse than switching horses halfway through the race. That means you should pick your applications, end products, etc. with them at the project outset. Make sure both of you know exactly what they want to get out of the project at the end. Details like whether or not they want the document to be editable, the expected shelf life of the document, whether it’s a living document or not will all be crucial in helping you decide not only what, but how you’ll be producing.

time-management-clockSet Up Project Milestones, Even For Smaller Projects

No matter how clearly you think you’ve determined your client’s desires at project outset, the chances that you will deliver exactly what they’re looking for, sight unseen, when it comes time to pony up at close. That’s why project milestones are important. It seems easy enough, but make sure there are check-in points, with percentage completion targets, or specific draft numbers or iterations of the document.

qaToo Many Cooks Spoil The Broth

Revisions are necessary, and to be expected any time you’re producing something, be it for yourself or others. What’s not necessary is an endless series of revisions and rework, which can easily happen if you don’t establish a clearly defined production process at the beginning, with specific roles assigned to specific people.

The hardest part of accomplishing this might be convincing your client to go along with it, but you need to make sure that only one or two quality assurance points exist. Those stakeholders involved should look at the work at predetermined points, and provide feedback according to predetermined procedure. Every new set of eyes that sees the work will want to add their own input, regardless of the product’s quality, just to feel as though they’ve contributed, which is why you need to set limits.

These guidelines are broad, and shouldn’t be too hard to work into your existing project management practices. Probably the most important thing to take away from this article is that communication is the key to succesful delivery. Never hide anything from the client, and make sure both you, and they, are never in a position to be surprised.

6 Responses to “From Thought to Paper (or PDF): Online Document Production Workflows”

  1. Choose the correct project, leave no loose ends, set expected results in writing, add 10 percent time for client changes (always will be changes), add 25 percent time for administration. Online Document Production Workflows are doable – just a bit harder.