4.4 Project Planning and Management

In order for a design project to begin, proceed, and end in a successful and professional manner, a design professional must direct things from start to finish. This means that you (or a design professional peer at your agency) must define and manage the process. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, that process should be detailed in your contracts so that both you and your client will have acknowledged the process you've defined as a precondition of agreeing to work together. Too many design projects dissolve into idiocy and chaos because the designer or agency allows the client to dictate the process and/or to manage the project.

Project Management Tools and Practices

Your project's management process should include reference to specific milestones and deliverables. Each of these references should include information on who is responsible, what deadlines are involved, and what the next step(s) will be. Meetings, email, and phone calls are all helpful in this regard, but a project management tool is a likely imperative.

There are a handful of good project management tools available and I recommend that you make a habit of using one. Whatever tool you utilize, use it to its best benefit in your project management and communications. A good PM tool is a boon to both your project success and your ability to demonstrate and articulate professionalism.

In the course of your projects, every reference to a milestone reached should also make reference to the next step and who is responsible for that milestone. Never let a milestone pass without this sort of specific reference to next steps. It should not be difficult for you to understand that having given you several thousand dollars, a client is rather anxious about what you plan to do next for them. Don't leave them hanging or uninformed about the progressing project. Clearly detail who is doing what and for how long at every step of the project.

Keeping everyone involved in the project informed at every step requires ongoing communications. Questions, approvals, and requests by either party should be responded to inside of 24 hours. In fact more than 12 hours is likely problematic. Do not vanish for a time or allow your client to do so, either. As with any other consequential project factor, clearly articulate in your contracts your communication expectations and the consequences for failing to meet them.