Careful management is key in any project, but for design projects its importance really does go up a notch.
Design projects are famously unruly, and that’s largely down to the fact that they tend to involve numerous creatives, all of whom have something different to bring to the table.
As creatives come together, they utilise their unique skill sets and experience in new ways - and that’s when amazing things can happen. However, there’s also a real potential for clashes, particularly when challenges arise or the scope of the project begins to change without warning.
Design project management seeks to overcome the obstacles that complex design projects commonly face, guiding the project from start to end in a way that makes the responsibilities of all involved crystal clear.
In this guide, we’ll explain all there is to know about design project management, taking you through a step-by-step guide on how to manage design projects, before introducing some of the most commonly used design project management methodologies.
So, if you’re ready, we'll begin.
What is design project management?
Design project management is all about spinning plates. It involves managing projects that can be enormously complex. These projects are often multi-faceted, requiring the input of a number of creatives from different departments across a business.
The idea of design project management is to take a project from an initial idea into a finished product, ensuring that the end-result is delivered on budget, and within a suitable time frame.
While the budgets and expectations of projects are usually decided at the outset, the challenges that may arise during the design process will often appear unexpectedly, and that’s partly why design project management is so important.
In design project management, a project manager is tasked with connecting creatives and clients, so that different products or assets can be turned from a dream into a reality.
Project managers oversee all the tasks and other moving parts that go into the creation of this final deliverable, giving design professionals the space to explore their creativity while keeping work in line with the objectives of the project.
What does a design project manager do?
A design project manager is a crucial part of any design team. Their focus is overseeing the project, and they do this by turning what might have been a huge, overwhelming project into a series of smaller, much more manageable tasks.
Tasks are assigned by the design project manager, taking into account the unique skills and experience of different team members. During this process, the project manager will also check the availability of different members of the team, so that tasks can be assigned in a way that will get the project moving as quickly as possible.
A design project manager will then ensure that the project is progressing within expected timeframes, checking in regularly with teams to establish when the next milestone will be met.
The project manager also brings team members together through regular communication, allowing for collaborative teamwork that gets the best out of all involved.
A step-by-step guide to great design project management
Great design project management doesn't happen by accident. It's the result of huge amounts of hard work and planning. Follow our step-by-step guide to see how you could upgrade your design project management and fulfil your team’s real potential.
Analyse the strengths of your team
Before you dive into planning your project, take a step back and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your team members.
Make sure you have a clear idea of who is best suited to particular tasks, who works best under pressure and who has the experience to troubleshoot those last-minute challenges that threaten to completely derail your project.
If you have a big team, or you’re working with professionals based off-site, it’s worth creating a survey that will give you the answers you need here. For smaller teams, better results can often be achieved through group discussions or one-to-one conversations.
Structure your team with unique skill sets in mind
Once you have a clearer understanding of the skills your team members possess, you can think about whether or not you might need to make any adjustments to the structuring of the design team.
Flexibility is key here. A structure that might work for one project may not suit another project quite as well. Be ready to make changes to your structuring as each new project begins, to make sure you’re always getting the best from your workforce.
List your tasks
As soon as the goals of a project become clear, a project manager can begin work on the tasks that will be needed to achieve the end result.
At this point, the project manager will outline the different tasks the team will need to complete, giving consideration to the priorities of the end client and the overall project budget. Which brings us nicely onto our next point…
Consider the budget
When the ideas start flowing, it’s easy to get carried away and forget all about the budget. But doing so is always a big mistake.
Design project managers set out the project and its delivery, in accordance with its overall budget and the availability of essential resources. This ensures that the end result is delivered within budget, and that the design team remains profitable.
Create your project schedule
A schedule outlines what needs to be done and when. It provides transparency for all involved, while keeping team members aware of how their tasks will help to move the project along.
Design project managers must check that their chosen schedule is realistic and achievable for all creatives involved, to avoid team members becoming frustrated or discouraged by expectations.
Regular milestones are great for motivation, and they’re hugely helpful when it comes to checking project progress too.
Team members should all be notified when milestones have been achieved. It’s important that these smaller successes are marked and celebrated, so that everyone feels that their hard work is appreciated.
Allow for easy communication
Explore different communication options, and start thinking about how collaborative tools might enhance your team’s capabilities even further.
Design project management software such as Hello Ivy makes teamwork simple, by bringing creatives together with real-time discussions, 1:1 messaging, group chats and so much more. With tools like these, teams can communicate with ease, bouncing ideas off each other as they move towards an end product that suprasess expectations.
Design project managers should interact with team members frequently. In doing so, they’ll manage team workflow while also keeping up with how tasks are going and what resources professionals might need to deliver work faster.
Regular check-ins with the team allow design project managers to stay ahead of the curve, anticipating potential challenges that could be on the horizon, and planning accordingly. Use collaborative tools to schedule virtual discussions or plan regular meetings if your design team is based in-house.
Deliver your project
The ultimate goal of a design project manager is of course the project delivery. But the hard work doesn’t end here.
Once a project has been presented, the manager will start to gather feedback and analyse whether or not the objectives of the project have been met.
At this point, decisions can be made as to whether revisions might be required, or whether the end result is ready to be presented to the client.
Why Design Project Management Matters
Project management is essential to today’s design teams, who currently face increasingly high expectations despite tightening budgets. By bringing together the skills of a design team, a design project manager can significantly enhance the capabilities of the creatives involved, while also boosting motivation and engagement amongst team members.
Good preparation and clear management is a sure-fire way to improve efficiency within design teams.
Project managers ensure that resources are used properly, and any potential waste is avoided. Careful planning of tasks and deliverables reduces the need for revisions, significantly cutting the cost of projects while simultaneously boosting their efficiency.
Coordination and collaboration
A design project manager creates opportunities for regular communication, and improves teamwork by making collaborative working simpler. This allows a team of creatives to work far more harmoniously than they might otherwise have done.
Collaborative tools are a huge help here, as they allow team members to see what others are working on and share ideas as projects move forward.
Informed decision making
If projects are planned and managed effectively, teams will have access to a wealth of data on project progress that’s there to be used.
Design project managers can make informed decisions on how resources should be allocated. They’ll also be able to predict when milestones are likely to be met, based on previous task tracking and data on the speed of progress of recent, similar projects.
Pave the way for future success
Great project management gives teams the information they need to refine their skills and improve their offering as they go.
As design teams begin to work together in a collaborative way, they’ll start to learn from one another as they overcome challenges and deliver the projects their clients have requested.
If teams put their learning to full use, they’ll be able to enhance their abilities even further in the future, putting them head and shoulders above their competition.
An introduction to design project management methodologies
Design teams use a number of different methodologies to deliver work in an efficient way. Take a look at some of the most common methodologies in use at today’s top design agencies to learn more about how design teams are simplifying project management right now.
This iterative approach to project management sees teams break a project down into a series of different phases. There is a fixed scope for each iteration, and these typically last for a predetermined period of between one and three weeks.
Perfect for time-critical projects where progress must be carefully managed, agile design ensures consistency and keeps work moving. It’s brilliant where client satisfaction is concerned, as progress is so clear to see. However, it does tend to lack flexibility, particularly when compared with some of the other methodologies we’ll explore.
Kanban project management is visual in nature, so it lends itself perfectly to design projects. This methodology works by structuring work in a visual way, arranging tasks in columns that clearly show what teams need to do, and when.
Tasks are given cards, which make their way through different columns as work is completed. Teams have full visibility on tasks as they change columns, providing an extra boost of motivation as the results of their hard work are clear to see.
Scrum design is similar to agile design, but it goes a step further with the introduction of what’s known as sprints. Sprints last for short periods of time (usually up to four weeks).
There is additional flexibility with this methodology. Shorter sprints can be organised to help with navigating client feedback, while longer sprints might be used for more complex tasks.
In this methodology, teams come together daily to discuss tasks and progress. It’s an idea that works brilliantly at some companies, but it can fall flat in design teams that aren't used to the demands of daily meetings.
One of the most traditional forms of design project management is the waterfall methodology. In this methodology, stages are completed in a specific order, and the current stage must be finalised before teams can move onto the next.
Waterfall methodologies work well for projects that have set deadlines, and they’re easy for inexperienced team members to get to grips with. However, the methodology does lack flexibility, which is why it sometimes proves problematic in design projects.
Design Management vs. Project Management: What’s the Difference?
Design management and project management are similar in that they both involve the use of a similar set of skills. However, there are marked differences in the way that design projects are delivered when compared with other types of projects.
The key issue is the fact that design is, at its very heart, subjective. And that means that design tasks will usually involve numerous revisions before an end product is agreed.
The task becomes harder still when you consider the fact that designers are often faced with projects that have very vague outlines and minimal information on what the client is really expecting.
Design teams need to be able to work in a flexible way, gathering information as they go and incorporating feedback at late notice. And that’s why design project managers really need to go above and beyond when it comes to keeping their teams on track.
Simplify Design Project Management with Hello Ivy
Hello Ivy simplifies design project management, allowing teams to manage all of their design work through a single, feature-rich tool that makes life easy.
With Hello Ivy, design teams can start to reduce silos, increase productivity and boost communication, to ship work faster than ever before.
Is it time to find out more? Start your free demo to see Hello Ivy in action.