One of the hardest parts of planning a digital project is figuring out how much time you will need to execute your project. This is critical for all kinds of things, from budgeting to building a team.
To figure out a timeline, you first need to develop a workflow. This is a description of the steps or activities you need to carry out to develop your project, from data acquisition and formatting all the way through to exporting or presenting your final project. For each stage, you should describe:
Who is executing the task?
What inputs, data, or content do they need and what format does it need to be in?
What tools do they need to execute the task?
What do they need to do?
What content will they produce in this step, and what format should it be in for use in the next stage?
Can this stage happen at the same time as another stage?
You may need to develop a prototype version of your process to make sure your proposed workflow functions properly. Once you’ve laid out your workflow, you can begin to estimate a timeline. Start with the time it will take for each stage in your workflow, making sure to take into account whether the task will be performed once or many times and allowing for computer processing time for complex spatial, dimensional, or narrative projects. Then consider the following factors that affect most digital project timelines:
Are you (and team members, if any) working on the project daily? If you will be working on a lot of other things at the same time and may have breaks where you are not working on the project, you need to add additional time to document what you’re doing more and to get caught up when you return to the project. This is especially true for narrative projects, where it can be hard to get back into the flow of the content, and for projects that involve a new technical skill, where you may have to review how to use programs or tools.
Can any of the steps be done at the same time? This is especially true if you are working with a team, but may apply to other projects. For example, some projects require time for the computer to process something without requiring you to do anything active. Can you work on a different part of the process during that, or use a second computer to keep working?
What sorts of documentation do you need and how will you maintain them? Include some time for documentation and other kinds of administrative “overhead” that may come up. The less repetitive the project is, the more time documentation will take.
How many people are working on the project and how will they be organized? A large team can sometimes do things faster, but that is only true if multiple things can be done at the same time instead of in sequence. Large teams take more time in some cases, because you need more extensive documentation that makes sense to everyone and keeps all your team members informed.
Each project type has its own factors that affect timelines and workflow that you should consider in addition to these general guidelines.
Timelines will almost always be off when you execute them, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead for how to adjust your workflow to manage this. What parts of your process could you eliminate or shorten? Are there intermediate outputs you could use if you don’t get as far in your project as you planned? Are there additional resources you can use so that more parts of the project are happening at the same time?