Susan E Caldwell

You’ve accepted a client’s project and have been working on it for a while. In the not-too-distant future, you know this project will end, and you’ll need a new one. Fortunately, a new project opportunity presents itself, and you seize it.

The new project ramp-up (preparation) phase overlaps a bit with the old project’s completion phase. Then things get complicated. The deadline for the old project gets extended. So how do you juggle projects that now overlap more than you’ve planned? What do you do when the work load from overlapping projects is impossible to handle?

Send me your thoughts on this topic! We’ll publish relevant comments or excerpts (with acknowledgements) in our weekly medical writing newsletter, The Biotech Ink Insider.

8 responses »

  1. Anthony says:

    Depending on the stage of the old project, this work could be sub-contracted or assigned to another writer. Provide instructions to the new writer, then schedule time for you as the primary writer to peer review the new writer’s efforts.

    If that is not possible, and if you did not have an exclusionary clause in the old project’s contract, one could argue that the extended deadline overlaps with new projects already contracted and the old project will be fit in when possible.

    Barring that, I’d say buy some no-doz b/c you will have long days ahead of you!

    • Great to hear from you, Anthony, and thanks for your comments. I’ve organized ideas on this topic around the solutions of subcontracting, workload adjustments, and project referrals.


      I agree it’s possible to subcontract when projects overlap, assuming the contract allows it and the client has OK’d that approach. However, if my client assumes that I am the one who is doing the work, I get their approval before I subcontract. If my contract allows subcontracting, I assume it’s OK (because the client has signed the contract), and will proceed with subcontracting, if appropriate.

      That thought leads me to this: it may be a good idea to ask up front for a contract clause that allows subcontracting. Or, at least have the discussion with a new client about subcontracting before the contract is final. If the clause isn’t in the contract, it may be harder to get the client’s approval for subcontracting later on.

      There’s also a risk involved when you farm out a project to another writer. If you don’t know that the writer is competent and reliable, you may end up having to do the work for both projects in the end. As you said, bring on the No-Doze!
      With complex projects, I would consider subcontracting the new project (or the initial phase of it), rather than the old one, because of the daunting ramp-up time required for a new writer to step into a mature project. My first concern is the quality of the work product that I produce, so my decision would be based mainly on that consideration.

      Workload Adjustments

      I can see two sides to your comment about fitting in the old project’s conclusion around the new one that has already been contracted. You have legal, ethical, and professional responsibilities to the old and new clients. It’s very tricky if you sign a contract to begin a new project when the old one still requires work—now you have contractual responsibilities to both clients. As much as possible, you should be sure you can fulfill those obligations to both clients before signing the new client’s contract!

      Project Referrals

      Last December, I had to bypass a new project, because I was still working on an old one. We hadn’t signed the contract yet when I realized there was a timeline conflict. Due to the urgency of both projects, I didn’t have the time to slow the completion of the old one or the ramp-up of the new, so I bypassed the new one. In this situation, I referred the prospective client to another writer who I knew could do a great job with the assignment.

      If your workload is already maxed out and you haven’t signed a contract, you can always refer a prospective client to another writer. I know this may go against the grain, and it can be hard to do if you’re trying to build a contract practice. But it’s important to know when you’re overextending yourself. In the long run, being honest about the total workload you can handle will benefit you and your clients.

  2. Naomi Mendelsohn says:

    I have found that the best policy is to level with my client(s). Using diplomacy the older project deadline may be extended – it’s late already.
    In an “impossible” situation I have colleagues who I can hopefully call on to bail me out.

    • Naomi, I think you said in a few words what it took me several paragraphs to say above. Being straight with your clients is wise for many reasons. Having backup colleagues who can take the overflow work is a great policy, too. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Donna says:

    Hi… My story is kind of a ‘This is what NOT to do’ story. I had 1 large project lined up (approx 100 hrs). In the meantime another smaller project came up (approx 30 hrs), but with a due date after the larger project (but dependent upon receiving feedback on drafts from others). The start date of the large project was delayed by aprox 1 month, which resulted in the 2 due dates overlapping. Because the large project was delayed by 1 month, it became a MONSTER project with a very tight deadline as they did not want to change the due date (I ended up doing what was planned for 1 month in 2 weeks or so). It became improssible for me to complete the small project on time because once the monster project started I was working on it day and night and I had no time to devote to the other project. I ended up telling the small project that I would not be able to meet their deadline. And then realizing that I really mis-handled the whole thing, as it was NOT the fault of the small project that I had a monster project that was delayed. I did end up completing both projects within the time frame, however, I lost a potential ongoing client with the small project. In retrospect this could have been handled much better had I kept both parties abreast of my timelines. I now let everyone know what my timelines are, when I will be able to work on their project and when I will not be able to work on their project. It seems to work so far.

    • Donna, thanks for your story and candid evaluation of how it could have been better handled. It’s the same conclusion as above: be straight with your clients. Not always easy to do, especially if it involves turning work away, but a good policy nevertheless.

      One question, though: if you’ve been working on one project, and then take another, and then the first one gets extended, how do you apply your policy of letting the clients know what the timelines are? Each client will probably want their work to be done first, so how do you balance these demands?

  4. Pooja says:

    Professionalism is very important while handling any kind of project as that is what lead to build a relationship between you and client.If I ever be in this situation, I will work on making my day more organised and productive by forgoing some not-so-important tasks during that period and concentrating more on my projects. Working under stress with strict deadlines is an attribute, necessary in today’s market, and we should face it patiently and positively.

  5. AnthonyM says:

    Go back to the big contract client and ask for more money!!

    These people don’t pay us enough as it is.

    Do they expect us to be able to foresee the future of our other clients?

    If I could do that with the future, I wouldn’t be doing this…

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