Did you know that disorganization, lack of resources and scope creep are among the top reasons why your projects fail? Regardless of whether you are a member of the design community or a different field altogether you probably already know that project management is vital to the success of your projects.
Designers and developers more often than not take on more than one project at a time. Likewise some are more successful than others when it comes down to getting these tasks actually finished and handed over to the client.
Starting and finishing your projects can seem like a daunting task but like everything else some preparation before and during can keep you on the right track. Today I’m sharing six useful ways to help you manage your projects better that you can easily apply to both your single and collaborative efforts.
Identify Your Projects
When we were children, most of us learned how to identify one thing from another. Not only that but educational systems often required the comprising of lists whether it be to write down what supplies you needed or to group similar items together. It is easily said that first and foremost when you have projects that need to be done the most important thing you can do is identify your projects. The identification process takes on several shapes but generally it is simply finding out how many projects you have and when each should be finished, if a deadline is applicable.
So how do you go about identifying your projects? Depending on your own work style there could be several methods in regards to going about this process. You must also take in to account how easily accessible the identification will be. In other words, how quick can you get to the list when your location is taken into consideration? The two easiest methods is to record all your projects in some form of .pdf, .txt, .doc or another electronic means if you want to go that route. The other option is to take the traditional route and actually take a pen and some paper, or a better suggestion get a white board. Creating a list will allow you to actually see the number of projects you have at hand. You might find yourself realizing you have more than you originally thought. When working with others you will want to make sure they know how many projects are in existence as well.
Develop a Guideline
There are a lot of ways you can screw up your projects. If there is going to be a chance for a mess up somewhere don’t let it be because of your pre-production. A production sheet can be the perfect way to guarantee that your project takes off without a hitch. There are many reasons why you would want to have a production sheet. The main reason being that it serves as a guideline for what it is that you are supposed to be doing after one task is completed. If you work in collaborative efforts you will come to realize that a production sheet is critical especially if you are dealing with those who are quick to get lost in the fray, frustrated, overwhelmed at finishing a project or even worse, those who just can’t get anything done to save their lives.
To create a production sheet and/or a guideline you must first understand what the goal is. Whether it is to create a website or a design, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is what is supposed to be the final result. Once you have that squared away you can start plugging in the process/steps. Below is a very simple layout of how your production sheet might go if you are working let’s say a website (note this is but an example and you might find out that you may need to include or reduce steps):
- meet and discuss needs and wants with client/research
- create mockups and/or layouts needed for web design
- gather all resources and decide technical requirements
- develop a site-map and flesh out content needs for each page
- build your pages
- add necessary coding
- review and modify (make necessary changes though you should be constantly checking your project to reduce errors)
As noted before this is but an example of how you can go about setting up you own production sheet. If you need help creating your own I suggest looking for examples. Make sure if you’re collaborating that everyone has a copy of the production sheet so they know what needs to be done.
Organize Your Data
Do you remember when you were younger and your parents would pitch a fit that you would leave your things all over the place? Well just like how your parents became upset and disgruntled your projects can easily take on the same traits. Of course they won’t be sending you to your room but they will make your life a bit more complicated and stressful than you probably want. All projects require some form of data or resource and if you don’t have them or god forbid, have them all over the place then things become disorganized for no reason at all.
There are several ways you can go about organizing your data, it’s generally based on your preferences. However, it is best to go off of a list so that you can check off what you do have and see what you don’t have. If you are working digitally i.e. on your computer then you should get into the habit of labeling your resources in a manner that you will be able to find the items easily. Keep in mind that if you are working with people who may not be familiar with your labeling style that you adopt a style that is understandable to reduce confusion. Those of you who are collecting your data physically should consider having labeled folders or even shelves so that things are where you need them when the time comes. Digital workers don’t forget to back up your files and whether working with others or alone consider Trello or a site similar that can help you stay organized.
Having clear goals in mind when you first go into a project generally makes everything go a lot smoother than going into a project with no idea what you’re supposed to be doing. You wouldn’t start dismantling your motherboard at a whim without having a single clue about what you’re doing now would you? So going into a project without clear goals isn’t something you want to do especially if you have the choice to do otherwise. Other than the main goal of actually getting your project finished in a timely manner you should set other goals as well so that production is being completed and you aren’t subsequently trying to finish the entire thing in one go. You should create your goals in almost the same way you would with exercising, dieting, recovery or anything else that usually requires taking a step at a time.
A good way to start setting your goals is by looking at your production sheet. If you have a production sheet already created you can easily begin deciding your goals and how much time you want to take with each activity. You will want to make sure that each goal is realistic and fits in the allotted time that you have. To stay motivated you should also consider adding in some form of reward after a goal or milestone is achieved. This will allow you to have breaks and come back feeling refreshed so that you can get back to work with no problem. If you’re working in groups you should also try offering incentives so that everyone stays on track.
There is nothing better than being able to look at a project and see how much you have accomplished. It is even better when you can actually calculate the percentage of work that you have left to do and the work that you have actually completed. However, you can’t truly get any work done if you have no idea what you have that needs to be completed. Of course you have a production sheet but in most cases it will not break down every single thing that needs to be done to achieve the end result of a finished project. Just like with goals you need to look at the production sheet so you can start breaking items down and allocating tasks.
If you are going to allocate tasks, especially in a group effort, you want to make sure that whoever you are assigning a task can get the job done. In other words don’t give the work of a coder to the person who usually creates wireframe mockups unless that person has the same, if not better coding skills than your assigned coder. Also make sure you aren’t giving one person all the tasks. Try to fairly divvy it up and if you can’t then only give a few tasks out at a time. If you are working by yourself you can still allocate tasks to do in almost the same way, the only difference is that there is only one person who must do all of the work. Just like with setting goals you need to make sure that the tasks are doable. Don’t forget that with your collaborative efforts it’s beneficial that everyone knows what each person on the team is doing so that no toes get stepped on.
Balance Your Time
Usually when it comes to failed projects time plays a big role. In most cases either you or the group didn’t have enough time so nothing got finished or either you or the group didn’t have enough time so you rushed through everything just so that you could say it was done. Either way both tend to end in lots of failure and lots of disappointment. In order to avoid such a catastrophe you need to learn how to balance your time. It’s the same exact thing when you take on anything else in life. You don’t want to take on too much at a time but you still want to use your time effectively so you get the most out of it.
The first thing you want to do is look at your schedule. Don’t just look at your work schedule, but look at your “life” schedule. Ask yourself these questions. What time do I usually get up? How long does it take me to eat? How much “me time” do I generally take? Do I have any other projects or plans going on today? General questions like this may seem silly but when you start breaking it down you might find out that in a twenty-four hour span of time you really only have four hours of “free time” available to actually get some work in. If you aren’t aware of this you might get a rude awakening and find out that you don’t have enough time to get things done like you thought you would. When working in a group you need to find out how much time your members have to contribute so that you can plan accordingly and that you all have time to live your lives.
Failure doesn’t have to be an option but it does happen from time to time. Fortunately you can take preemptive measures to reduce such disappointment from befalling you and even your team. Do note that there is no guaranteed method to keep a project from being a failure. Sometimes things are out of your hands but with the aforementioned steps you will surely find completing a project a lot easier than it normally would be.