Skip to main content

— Article 06  Scheduling to Drive Value

Scheduling to Drive Value Hero Illustration

Schedules can be fundamentally strategic tools. That may sound strange, as for many it’s not natural to think of a schedule as a means to drive value and build momentum. Yet when crafting a schedule – planning relationships, defining processes, and allocating resources – decisions are made that lay the foundation for success.

Reflecting on hundreds of client engagements, our client service team composed three principles to guide the development of timelines.

Start Earlier

Whether a brand reboot, a digital platform overhaul, a new product rollout, or a content initiative, we recommend organizations and institutions start early. That may sound obvious, but this requires more than leaving a bit more time for agency partners to produce their best work. Map aspirations and technical needs as part of broader strategy initiatives, before these critical activities are burdened by concrete timelines and delivery windows. Of course, this is easier said than done when managing an organization’s communications and infrastructural needs, but we lead with this because the benefits are profound.

Consulting with potential agency partners before establishing the ticking clock of a delivery schedule fundamentally redirects your team’s efforts and outlook. Invite participation in appropriate aspects of organizational strategy development – ecosystem planning, requirements gathering, RFP production. This prep work encourages the development of holistic perspectives, and also creates the space for more informed decision-making. Engage agency partners during this pre-schedule stage to buttress your new ambitions, to share insights on technical and creative limitations and opportunities, and to offer guidance on budgetary and time implications of various courses of action.

Instead of solely managing partners, you’ll work with them to define optimal outcomes and identify possible pathways to achieving them. This change of emphasis drives a cultural shift for your team away from pragmatic resignation and toward ambitious imagination, and lays the foundation for more substantial returns downstream.

Embrace Iteration

Within a particular project, working iteratively means breaking down more traditional, linear approval processes. You’ll check progress, review options, provide feedback, remove obstacles, and make refinements more often.

There are three key byproducts of this rapid, cyclical approach:

  • Reliance on individual team members declines
  • Pressure on individual waypoints is reduced
  • Ambition and innovation are stimulated

With many opportunities for a broader group to review, contribute, and redirect, broad consensus emerges around organizational perspective and business objectives, rather than individual preferences. With more people involved in the process and communicating more frequently, there are more opportunities to both be and feel heard by colleagues and agency partners alike. And with more responsibilities distributed across more team members, traditional hurdles to scheduling – holidays, vacations, staff turnover – that drag on your organization’s momentum are minimized.

Another key to successfully working iteratively is to discard finish lines in favor of milestones. Regardless of the nature of the work, when planning engagements with agencies and plotting schedules, think of the deliverable like a product. Products require repeated improvements and evolutions over time to continue generating value or delivering advantage. Each completion point is seen as a step in a staircase rather than an ending.

This mindset shift can positively influence the culture of your team and organization. By viewing work through the lens of progress rather than completion, pressure on each step is alleviated. Mistakes become an acceptable price of taking risks, emboldening staff and agency partners and opening the door to innovation.

Accept Uncertainty

Where iteration is about process, the next recommendation requires a shift in mindset. One common pitfall for clients is assuming the right answer or approach is known at the start of a journey. We get it – when taking on an important assignment or major expenditure, it’s natural to seek solid footing. The familiar often feels like a lower-risk proposition. But over hundreds of engagements, we’ve seen the opposite is true. By inviting exploration, we open the door to finding the best approach, defining the right scope, and capturing the most value.

Allowing for uncertainty means replacing a focus on execution with an emphasis on exploration. If the traditional working model is like baking – assemble the ingredients, put it in the oven, set the timer, and hope for the best – think of this as making a sauce for the first time – you can try it repeatedly as you go, reacting to what’s actually needed at each checkpoint to make sure the outcome is perfect.

Propose approaches, ideas, and treatments, then pursue what works and discard what doesn’t. Leave room for testing assumptions and preliminary work to further distill your understanding of where value lives and how to extract it. Incorporating this model early in an engagement leads to more refined objectives within your organization and clearer expectations for your partner agencies. Later, it results in validated concepts and techniques. Faulty decisions are discovered earlier, resources are utilized more effectively, and work product is optimized. Using these techniques, your new schedules will leave more room for exploration up front and recognize greater efficiencies in later stages.

Since the road map is less defined at the outset, this requires faith in the process and faith in your partners. You may not begin with clarity on the full timeline or on the total human and financial resourcing required, though those elements can take shape quickly through open, collaborative exploration. Naturally, for some organizations and institutions internal approvals, grant applications, and procurement processes may limit the degree of uncertainty your team can incorporate at different waypoints. But in our experience there are opportunities for every organization to benefit from shifting its thinking in this direction.

Conclusion

Every initiative has a moment where it needs to get buttoned up, and schedules are an essential tool in guiding personnel to meet deadlines. Our philosophy is not to ignore those realities, but to acknowledge it’s possible to work more productively and achieve better outcomes by folding more experimentation into schedules and the process those timelines describe.

These approaches are effective whether you have years or a few short months because they build both conceptual and procedural momentum and help generate political will within your organization. Starting earlier generates clearer visions and objectives. Embracing iteration delivers quick-wins and data to drive subsequent action. And accepting uncertainty leaves room to exceed organizational and audience expectations.

Working with agency partners, applying these principles fosters more honest conversations, more strategic partnership, and more effective application of resources. Within an engagement, starting earlier, embracing iteration, and accepting uncertainty creates workflows and processes that get stronger as you go.

You’ll produce schedules that optimize each relationship within your organization and with partners. You’ll craft project plans that more effectively allocate resources to drive ambition and efficacy. And you’ll be positioned to extract maximum value from your next investment.

About the project

This series of articles shares what we've learned from 20 years of working with clients. Whether you’re a CMO or a project manager, the Client Handbook will help you find the right agency and deliver value for your organization.