In the design world, especially in an agency, projects are ricocheting in and out of inboxes. The barrage of pings and pop-ups are not only disorienting and distracting, but they are a rather poor way to keep track of work. People interject changes in the thread wherever they want to, download links to assets expire, and many larger projects have multiple pieces that need to be accounted for. After working in the design field for nearly 5 years, project management is not just a fancy word organizing an inbox, but rather, it is a complex and personal necessity.
While some may argue that traditional “to do” lists on paper cannot be beat, this method of management is not accessible to teammates and does not allow for a backup. What happens if you lose the list or spill coffee all over your workspace? To date, project management software is one of the best ways for a working designer – or any professional – to keep tabs on their work. These software draw from different kinds of project management methodologies to provide users with a foundation so that they may begin to organize their tasks. Some of the most popular ones include:
- The Waterfall Methodology: The traditional, linear approach to project management. This process outlines five distinct stages and each stage is usually completed before another begins. The stages are generally listed as such: Requirements > Design > Implementation > Testing > Maintenance. While this is a great approach for simple projects, the Waterfall methodology doesn’t really allow for the best capture of requirements and time for creative testing. Because of this, creatives are forced to figuratively put all of their eggs in one basket – as the final product could be completely off from the customer’s needs or vision. This methodology is being phased out by some of the more modern approaches.
- The Agile Methodology: This methodology is quickly replacing Waterfall as the typical approach to project management. This iterative, cyclical approach values team-based “sprints” that are driven by customer-prioritized deliverables. This method’s stages are generally listed as: Plan > Design > Develop > Implement > Evaluate. Because this method is pretty fluid, projects can start with any of the above stages and develop from there. While this method is great for pumping out finished products, a highly involved customer may cause roadblocks.
- The Hybrid Methodology: This is a combined approach that mashes Waterfall and Agile together. This methodology begins with the planning and requirements of Waterfall in the advanced stages of a project and then segues into the active process of design, develop, implement, and evaluate of Agile.
- The Design Thinking Methodology: This methodology is the most fluid and highlights the importance of understanding your end user. This method’s stages flow between: Empathize > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test. Going backwards and forwards in these five stages is enthusiastically supported. By going back and finding an issue, you may be able to discover a new solution, and therefore create a better deliverable. Design Thinking is heavily practiced within the User Experience sphere.
- The Kanban Methodology: This methodology is one of the most efficient day-to-day techniques for project management. Tasks are usually split into lists of To Do, Doing, and Done, with subsets for each. Kanban is one of the most common methodologies for project management software to follow, with tasks being displayed as cards. This allows for the entire team to stay aware of developments and facilitate a more efficient output.
What I Chose
For my master’s program, it was imperative for me to understand project management as the syllabus work is often complex and has very hard deadlines that I must adhere to. In my past positions, I have been lucky enough to experience all different types of project management methods ranging from outdated Excel spreadsheets to software like Jira and Trello. After evaluating the work for this particular course, I decided to implement Trello as the main tool for managing my work. This highly-visual software allows me to see all of the working parts of my projects and gives various options to customize my view. Trello is also, in my opinion, the most intuitive to use. The less brain power it takes for me to organize my stuff, the better!
“Those who plan do better than those who do not plan,
even though they rarely stick to their plan.”
– Winston Churchill
To set up the work for my current class, ICM 501 – Foundations in Graduate Studies, I created a new board to house all of my course modules. Unlike the traditional kanban style, I broke down each module into a task list. For my preferred method of working, it is easier to see what is completed or needs attention if each task is separated from the other. Having general To Do, Doing, and Done lists that encompass all of my work causes immense confusion, and does not help when I would like to look back on past assignments. From here, I created cards for each module section I needed to complete. For example, readings, blog posts, and activities would all get their separate cards so that I could see what exactly was transpiring during that week. In every card, I included due dates, a checklist, and a description. Where applicable, I also added in links, source files, and images.
What I also love about Trello, is that it does a very good job of reminding you when projects are due. The red bell icons seen in the image above indicate an impending due date and you have the option to put a “watch” tag on whatever card you need to complete. Trello also sends reminder emails which are great, especially if you have been neglectful of updating your project board that week.
Securing a project management system to keep track of all of the moving bits and pieces has definitely helped my productivity, and I highly recommend using the Kanban method to organize tasks and help create a workflow. Check out the video below to see my Trello board in action! Have any expert tips about project management? Leave them in the comments below!