A rough project management timeline can be divided into three parts: 

  • Idea development
  • Product construction
  • Shipping

While "shipping" in project management parlance often means the point at which a product is complete, in this case, we're talking about actual shipping: the steps involved in getting the completed product to the client, to the customers, or to any other major stakeholders.

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Why does this step constitute a full third of the project management timeline? Because many project managers do not spend enough time thinking about how this last step will play out. They choose to focus their efforts on idea development and product construction, assuming that the physical aspect of delivering the finished product will work itself out on its own. 

Here's an example of how a project manager set her team up for failure by not taking the time to plan the shipping phase: the PM worked with an architecture company that regularly sends out enormous binders of plans and blueprints to new clients. This PM created her breakdown and backlog plans for the first and second thirds of the PM timeline (researching construction ideas, developing the blueprints and plans), but never included "building and mailing the binders" in her timeline.

This meant that month after month, her hardworking team knew they would have to pull at least one late night in front of the printing plotter, making last-minute runs to the office supply store because they were one binder short, trying to make sure everything got to the FedEx center before midnight so they could still get next-day delivery.

If this sounds like one of your projects, you need to start paying more attention to the shipping component of your project timeline.

Consider these factors the next time you plan a project:

Shipping needs to happen during regular business hours, not afterward

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The story of our architecture project manager is not unique. Many project managers ask their teams to end a long period of crunch time by spending additional time after hours boxing and mailing out their completed products. It is your responsibility to build this project time into the regular workday.

The shipping timeline needs to be protected

Let's say you set aside two full days for project shipping. At some point, somebody's going to suggest that you cut those two days down to one. Your job as a PM is to protect your shipping timeline. Consider adding a shipping timeline buffer if necessary. You know exactly how many hours it takes to box and ship your product, so make sure those hours remain available to your team.

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You need to manage shipping equipment in advance

No one should ever have to run to the office supply store the night before shipping a product. You need to work with your suppliers, your office manager, and any of your other resources to ensure that you have everything you need to complete the shipping portion of your project.

You need to choose the most optimal shipping materials

That architecture team making the last minute runs to the supply store isn't choosing the most optimum materials for shipping and presenting their products. Their competitor, who has taken the time to select the best binders and boxes, is going to pass them by. Shipping counts. The corrugated box design is important. You need to have at least one project meeting that is just about choosing the best shipping materials for your product.