It can be difficult to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there if you don’t have a map. Without a magic GPS unit for your direct mail projects, you’re going to need a critical path. If you work with an agency for your direct mail program, they should provide this for you. Here are 3 quick tips to ensure you’re getting the most from this vital piece of information.

TIP #1 – budget for Approval time

Ensure your agency/provider knows how long it takes to obtain approvals within your organization so they can build it into the critical path. Some organizations process copy and proofs at lightning speed. Others may require significantly more time to get everyone’s weigh-in and approval. Not building in enough time for approval is a sure fire way to delay your mailing right from the start.

TIP #2 – give it a thorough review

Once you create or receive your critical path, set aside a few minutes to really go through it. See if there are any conflicts such as holidays, meetings, etc. that could affect your ability to respond to approvals or other deliverables in a timely fashion. Production (I.e. printing, lettershop) timelines are pretty much set in stone in terms of the number of days required; but, things like copy and artwork approvals usually have some wriggle room built in. These deadlines can often be adjusted, if necessary.

TIP #3 – stay on track

Understand that the dates provided are a little like dominoes – if one fails, it might be a challenge to keep the subsequent dates from going sideways! It goes without saying that we all do our best to ensure scheduled dates are met as, more often than not, each part of the process hinges upon the preceding function’s completion.

Keeping your critical path close at hand, or even jotting some key dates into your calendar, will keep you informed and better prepared for what’s coming your way. Nobody likes surprises. Unless it’s cake.