Six Tips To Improve Your Next Project

James Dockey, Senior Editor with ESPN helps a student with settings during our Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal last year. [Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/60]

We are finalizing all the plans for the workshop that I am helping teach in a couple weeks in Romania. Through all of this there are things I am making notes about for any future workshops.

Here some tips that after reviewing some of my notes, which are, not just about workshops but really apply to everyday assignments and projects.

1) Be Prepared–I think another way of thinking of this is that you continue to review and think of anything you can do now that will improve your work in the future. We used to joke in agency work that the person in charge of the deadline is the FedEx or UPS guy. When they come to pick up the package that is when it is done.

So until you leave your house or workplace to go to a job you still have time to make changes and adjust.

This is making a list of all the gear, who all you need to contact, all travel plans and most importantly being sure you have prepared those you are going to work with on the project. Do they know all they need to do before you arrive. Have they had time to dialogue with you about their responsibilities.

Do you have your contingency plans in place as well. That is when you don’t just have plan B, but rather C, D, E and so on.

2) Learn from previous jobs–It never fails that while doing a job I don’t realize there was something like miscommunication that creates a bump in the road for a project. Each time I make a mental note about how to avoid this in the future. Most of the time I do and then the next project another new thing is put on the list.

While I was in Honduras last October just after we arrived we were sat down to go over the ‘RULES’. They had them numbered and after we went over the list together we signed a piece of paper saying we had reviewed the rules and were going to abide by them.

The very last thing said to us was a great way to think of why we have these lists in the first place. The leader said that through the years as situations arose that caused problems then a rule was created to put on the list. “Please people think and use your common sense, we don’t want a new ‘RULE’ because of your time here.”

James Dockey talks to the group about how he would approach shooting nighttime shots for b-roll use later for their projects. [Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/30]

3) Create a Timeline–Think through each step and what needs to happen at that step. What must you have done by then and what will you need to make that happen? My suggestion is to talk this through with someone and ask him or her to see if there is a step left out. If you do this all the way to the end, then you will have done your best to plan for every step of the project.

I like to think of creating a timeline as reverse engineering your project. Reverse engineering, also called back engineering, is the process of extracting knowledge or design information from anything man-made and re-producing it or reproducing anything based on the extracted information. The process often involves disassembling something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) and analyzing its components and workings in detail.

4) Intentional Communication–You need to create a dialogue and not just a list to hand out to people that need to be a part of the process. You may say something like, “Here is a timeline that I have created for this project. Here are the specific areas I see us working together on and can you see if you agree with this or have changes that I need to make? My goal here is to be sure we have adequately planned for this project and to make this a great success for everyone involved.”

Remember if they are a part of the project you need them and you need them to help you see what they need from you to help them meet your expectations and the team’s expectations.

James Dockey taught everyone how important pastries were. Actually he was teaching us how to have fun and building relationships with everyone–even the worker at the pastry shop. [Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 7200, ƒ/8, 1/100]

5) Put the priority on the people and not the project–Too often we tend to concentrate on getting the project done, which has us looking at the shortest distance from A to B.

Pretty much every thing that became a ‘RULE’ involved a person. The success of a project then at the root relies on how people perform. People’s performance often comes down to how well that feel treated by those involved in the project.

Don’t use the philosophy, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” to decide if a person is OK with everything if they don’t complain. Rather take the time to get to know your team. The key to the success is when everyone feels appreciated and accepted by one another.

Treating someone with honor, dignity and respect does not mean you are in agreement with the person on everything. No two people will ever agree on everything. If so then one of them is not necessary.

Everybody is better at something than you. The key I think to truly getting the best performance out of people is making it your job to be sure you recognize another person’s strengths and telling them.

Make the relationships more important than the end product, if you do this then the project will be more successful than making it more of a priority than the people involved.

6) Go with the flow–When you try to over steer a car you wiggle the car back and forth. Once you start to look further down the road and relax the car needs less steering. The car will actually steer itself if it is properly aligned. Your hand makes small adjustments to the steering wheel. This is how the project should feel that your team is all in the car together and all arrive at the destination fresh.