Saturday, September 27, 2014

Designing in a Box

I've been working as an in-house designer for some time now. And one thing we've been doing is using an Agile approach to marketing and design. Although I was a little skeptical at first, I found it to be an interesting experiment. And one thing I've learned from the experience is the value of time-boxing.

What I mean is that I've been getting in the habit of breaking all my various work into 3 hour segments. I know some people break their time down to 20-30 minute pieces, but I'm finding it more helpful for me to break it down in 3 hour segments.

I'll explain why.

Even if the physical activity of designing a small electronic ad may take about an hour or two, approvals, corrections, and even some unforeseen issues seem to always push jobs to the smallest common denominator of 3 hours. However, if I anticipate double or triple the work, I can just time-box it in multiples of 3 hours. So, when I'm feeling something will take me double the time, I don't have to worry to much. I can just multiply the time by doubling 3 hours to get at least 6 hours of work.

What this does for me is make estimations quicker, and surprisingly more accurate.

Here's an example of how I time-box a project:
  1. Let's say you want to design a logo. The first thing I must account for is at least 3 hours for meetings and discussions: An hour for an initial meeting, an hour for a series of progress reports, and maybe another hour for incidental meetings and discussions.
  2. Then I estimate about 3 hours for research
  3. Another 3 hours for design exploration
  4. 3 hours for approvals and corrections
  5. And 3 hours for execution and preparation to finals
This all adds up to at least 18 hours of work. But, the best check is to see how long it actually takes you and adjust accordingly for next time. I track my hours all the time, so I have a good gauge of the time it should take me (if it's an average client). I just make sure to bundle my activities into multiples of 3. Here's the main advantage for doing this: planning.

I can look at my week and plan according to 3 hour blocks. I place these blocks within days that are set apart in 6 hour blocks, and my weeks at 4 days a week for a total of 24 hours a week to spend. Why 24 hours? Well, when coordinating work with others we need a day for planning for the week, and in an 8 hour day, 2 hours tend to be unproductive time (breaks, impromptu meetings, normal distractions of the day). If you work by yourself, you can plan your days and weeks differently. But it's effective, because now I have clear parameter to work within, and I have a clear understanding of the capacity I have for a given week or month.

Then I can plan reasonable completion times, and work around other work and priorities with the knowledge I'm working on the right items at the right time. And I'm getting things done when they need to get done.

Photo courtesy tigger11th of

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