Before we start…let me tell you what you won’t find in this article (I know you’re busy, so I don’t want to waste your time and leave you disappointed ;-):
- I won’t show you any fancy project management software
- I won’t explain any project management models or methods
- I won’t reveal any secret tips kept locked up by some mysterious project-management alliance
So what will you find here…I’m going to talk about some simple hands on project management tips you can start applying today to successfully manage your web design projects.
Great, let’s go…
You have an idea for a new website, a new web application, a new typeface or even a new business concept.
Or you’re working as a freelancer or in an agency as web designer, where your client comes up with an idea you should realize for them.
The “idea” is the beginning, the trigger point for every creating. So how do you get from the basic idea to a relevant, novel and shipped solution that meets your (or your clients) requirements.
Everything’s a Project
When trying to transform an idea into something concrete it’s essential to have a plan.
- you have to know exactly what you need or want (the requirements, the goal)
- how you are going to get there (with what tools and processes) and
- how you are going to implement your solution to actually perform the way it should (deliver the wanted improvements).
So from this point of view, every “idea” becomes a project. And to manage projects successfully you need, well…project management skills.
I believe that a great deal of successful web design comes from successful project management. Sure, being a master of MS Projects (no, I don’t use MS Project ;-), having weekly project meetings and waving your gant diagrams allover the place won’t get you anywhere if you have crapy interfaces, confusing navigation, or the solution you’re providing lacks usability.
But, when working as a web designer you will be confronted with tasks related to project management sooner or later.
So let’s have a look at some skills (or tips) that will improve your workflow while working on any (web) idea/project.
Knowing what you (or your client) need and what restrictions you are dealing with is essential. If there are no clear defined requirements, you’re going to find yourself having problems somewhere throughout the project.
In the process of gathering requirements there is one thing I experience a lot. Instead of listening to our stakeholders, our users and making sure we understand where the journey is going, we (the project manager) tend to make assumptions about the problem there is to solve and sometimes even believe we have the perfect solution before we even started gathering the requirements.
So to ensure you don’t end up in the pitfall of assuming you know what you don’t know, here are two simple tips:
1. Know you don’t know
Stop assuming you know.
When gathering requirements you don’t know anything (even if you do, you don’t ;-). You have to be like a little kid, asking every questions about anything.
When moving your assumptions aside you will be open to what your stakeholders, the users, the people that deliver the needed requirements have to say.
It’s about what they need, not about what you think is right for them.
2. Ask questions and listen
Ask questions and then shut up…listen to what the people have to say.
Even I catch myself asking questions during interviews, while assuming I know what the answer is going to be. This leads me to be asking questions like:
“…you have problems finding your way through the provided menu-links, don’t you?..” instead of “…what are your experiences with the provided menu?…” or “…how would you structure the provided menu to meet your needs?…”.
I wouldn’t listen to what the people have to say, or even assume problems in places where there aren’t any.
So let the stakeholder, the user tell you their needs/requirements. Listen to what they have to say. You will be amazed how much information you get if you just LISTEN.
Defining a clear goal
Usually the goals of any project are set at the beginning. You have a problem, an idea or a requirement and the goal is to solve/realize it.
The thing is, after gathering all requirements and left with a reliable and structured IS-Analysis, you might realize that there are different or additional goals then the one’s you set from start. Or you are confronted with requirements that are out of the scope of your project.
So creating clear and realistic goals resulting out of your gathered requirements and knowing where you are heading will save you from creating a solution that doesn’t meet the requirements or having to revise your goals later.
Guess what, you have to communicate. One huge problem in many projects and one of the main reasons projects fail (or don’t meet the requirements) is, lack of communication.
It should go without saying, but communicating isn’t always that easy.
You won’t meet a defined deadline and don’t inform your stakeholders. You redesign a form, a button, the navigation structure because you think it’s necessary without talking to the end-user about your assumed improvements.
Or you never tell your team that their doing a great (or terrible) job…
Always communicate with others and let others communicate with you. Don’t be afraid to tell your client that something isn’t working out the way it was planed. Don’t assume your users will be happy with your improvements without talking to them about it.
And always tell your team what you think about their work. If it’s great, tell them, it will be a motivation boost for many. If their not doing good, tell them, so they can do something about it.
Always communicate, in every phase of your project. You will save yourself a lot of headache and frustration.
Involve the user
Ever visited a website, worked with a software or used a tool where you thought: “…man, this is complicated…” or “…why didn’t they implement *that feature (*what ever you are missing)…”.
Well, I might be “assuming” this but, I believe while creating that website, software or tool, their was a lack of “user focus”.
If you don’t involve the user, the people who will actually be working with your solution, it will never meet the expectations and (again assuming) won’t be a good, usable and lasting solution.
Sure you will never be able to map all expectations of your users (without blowing the budget through the roof). But by involving the people who are going to work with it in the end, you will gain much greater insight (from the users perspective), you have a greater change that your solution will fulfill the main requirements of the users and surly your solution will gain more acceptance when shipped.
(and you won’t have users sitting in front of your solution wondering “…why is this so damn complicated and missing all the features I would expect…”).
Ok, I hear you saying: “…great, but how am I suppose to involve the 700’000+ (yes, we’re going big) potential website visitors during my project…”
Good point. Well…
Know your audience
If you know who you’re creating something for, it’s a lot easier to meet their needs. Knowing your target audience is essential.
If your audience isn’t nearby (I don’t think you know all your 700’000+ potential users ;-), you might have colleagues, friends or family fitting in the scheme of your audience.
As for web design you might also want to think about working with so called “personas”. Create fictive users which represent your main audience and try to meet their need. You can find more on personas from the article on tuts+.
Having a solution with a clear “user focus”, while knowing who these users are going to be (what audience you’re targeting), will not only make your solution more usable, but will strengthen the user engagement, build trust and deliver the improvements you are aiming for.
The big picture
Finally lets talk about the “big picture”.
Being a project manager (on any project) it is your job to know what’s going on at all time. You know the requirements and goals, you know who’s doing what and when, you know which processes and tools are needed to develop the solution, you keep track of the resources, the deadlines, the budget and are inform when problems a raise.
Basically you see the “big picture” of your project.
And as we touched on before, share what you know with all the people involved. Be the manager, the leader of your project. Take responsibility, build trust and create a relevant, novel and lasting solution not only for you (or your client), but for your users.
When it comes to project management there are a lot of models, methods, technics and tools out there helping you manage your project.
But as for many other skills, practice and experience leads to mastery. So keep refining your project management skills and bring your (or your clients) ideas to life.
If you have any tips to share or have any questions, drop me a line or leave a comment below.