The web design industry is constantly changing, which means that the way you manage your projects needs to change as well. This article will discuss 8 critical steps for managing a web design project in today’s world. From evaluating clients and their needs, to making sure each step of the process goes smoothly, these tips will help you get on top of any project!
1. Set Expectations Early and Often
Most problems that come up during the web design process are due to a lack of proper expectations. If you’re lucky, clients will have been through the web design process once or twice before. More often, they will be completely new to the process.
Not only do they not know what to expect, they likely have assumed unrealistic expectations. They don’t know how much work goes into the project, what’s involved on their part, how long things will take, or when things will happen.
Setting expectations starts before you even sell a project and doesn’t end after you’ve launched the new website.
Before the project starts, I recommend having an on-boarding meeting where you cover:
- What’s included
- What’s not included
- Your (or your teams) responsibilities
- Your clients responsibilities
- The process
- How to communicate
- Change orders
- What success looks like
Then, at each major phase of the web design process (discovery, design, development, buildout, review, and launch) make sure to connect with your client and set expectations for the upcoming phase including:
- What you’ll be doing
- What’s expected of your client
- Timing and deliverables
After the project is launched, you’ll want to set expectations about what happens next. How to get updates made on the site, what to do if something stops working, who’s hosting the site, etc…
2. Clearly Delegate Responsibilities (for your client too!)
You should have a clearly defined set of tasks based on your approved scope of work. The next step is to clearly delegate responsibilities, note that this is different than assigning tasks (which you’ll want to do as well.)
Assign responsibility means someone is overseeing the outcome of a particular area of the project. You can have one person own each responsibility area such as design, development, content integration, or launch.
Assigning responsibility makes it clear who will make decisions when questions come up, and who will oversee an area of the project and ensure it’s delivered to your quality standards and what’s outlined in the statement of work.
Do this for your client as well. Assign them the responsibility of providing concise, timely, and actionable feedback. They are responsible for delivering necessary assets in the formats requested, granting access to any online accounts like Google Analytics or domain registrars. They are responsible for delivering content in the format requested, by the date indicated.
This spreads oversight across the team (including the client) and prevents one person from being overloaded attempting to be responsible for everything.
3. Setup a Communication Schedule
Communication is critical for project success. While some ad-hoc communication is to be expected, you’ll keep everything running smoother if you have regular check-ins with your clients and team members.
Check-ins should happen on time, every week or two depending on project size. This will allow you to stay on top of tasks and deliverables as they come up. If something needs more attention, it can be given the time it deserves without being left until the last minute when everything is piling up.
Client communication can be split into two types, updates and discussions. Weekly updates keep clients in the loop and increase confidence that the project is moving forward as expected.
Discussions should occur at key milestones like reviewing deliverables and gathering feedback. This is when decisions need to be made before the project can move forward. By planning for these ahead of time, you and your clients know what will be discussed and when.
4. Track Required Assets
Requirement gathering is a big part of any project, website design is no exception. Websites need a lot of assets, and most of the time the client needs to supply them or they need to be created. Specifically, you might find that you need:
- Login information
- Branding assets like logos, colors, imagery
- Photos or illustrations
- Page content
- Employee bios
- Form fields
- Thank you messages
- Email addresses
- Domain registrar
- Hosting information
It can be easy to overlook a critical asset until the last minute, resulting in a time crunch or panic. It can also be cumbersome for clients to get a slow trickle of requests over a multi-month period compared to a single punch list they can complete and mark complete.
We recommend creating an inventory of all the assets you need with a title, description, and status (delivered, requested, reviewed, revisions needed, etc…) so nothing is overlooked and everyone has a master list to reference.
5. Stay Informed About Your Resources + Timeline
Whether you’re working with an in-house team or outsourcing some of the workload, stay up to date about what people need from each other and when they need it so there’s no miscommunication! It’s important to be clear about deliverables early on as well. For example: “I’ll do X by Y” (or “We will have X done by Y”) is much more specific than just saying “soon.” And never forget your timeline!
6. Create a Project Plan
You’re going to struggle working out of your inbox and your head. You need to have some method of creating a project plan that clearly indicates:
- What needs to be completed
- What completed looks like
- By when
- By who
Much of this is basic task delegation, which allows your team to understand the expectation of what they need to do and when it needs to be done by. An important and often missed step is what completion looks like, which if not clarified, could be different in your mind compared to your team member.
For example, if you assign “build a custom homepage template based on the approved design” to your team member you might think completed means all the final content and assets are in place, and it’s been tested on all browsers and mobile devices.
Your team member on the other hand might think completed means a rough buildout and that content population and testing would be done as future steps. Clarifying what “complete” looks like prevents these miscommunications which typically lead to slowdowns.
Depending on the type of task this might manifest as functional requirements, company standards, or more qualitative criteria if the task is related to design or something more subjective.
7. Have a change order and course-correct process
Projects will never go 100% according to plan, you can always expect the unexpected. When this happens, it has the potential to suck up a significant amount of time trying to figure out how to course correct. You need to have a plan in place of you can quickly and efficiently:
- Identify the problem
- Identify the top 2 – 3 solutions
- Identify if these solutions are out of scope, or in scope
- Communicate all of this to the client, and get approval to move forward
The more streamlined this is, the better. I’ve seen situations where teams spend 10 hours trying to decide how to handle a 2 – 3 hour change.
8. Accountability + Empathy = Successful Project Management
Don’t forget about being kind, understanding, and patient – it sounds like your personal relationships will reflect positively on managing your projects as well!
Make sure to foster good relationships between team members. Regular meetings and check-ins are great for this, but also make time for social activities – whether that’s going out after work or getting together on weekends.
The best project management process in the world won’t overcome team members that are disengaged, unhappy, and unproductive.