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Project management

How to manage design projects and ensure exceptional deliverables 9 min read
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You might have an eye for design, but do you have a mind for management?

You can have the greatest design team in the world, but if your project management is sloppy, you’ll struggle to deliver. Just like any other kind of project, your design project needs a clear scope and solid communication mechanisms to stay on track. Otherwise, you’ll miss deadlines, blow your budget, and fail to deliver on the expectations of clients or stakeholders.

Managing your design team means setting up protocols and making them easy for everyone to follow. Here are some key pieces of advice on effectively managing your design project from the point of kick-off to high-quality deliverables.

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The 5 stages of a design project

Whether you’re designing a website or a new type of fabric, your design project will move through the same 5 phases, and following these phases will help you stay on task.

Half of all projects fail to meet their goals and half of all projects experience scope creep, so it’s important that you establish the boundaries of each phase to keep your project on track.

1. Project initiation

At this stage, it’s up to the design project manager and the project sponsor to work out the general feasibility of the project. Do you have the skills, budget, resources, and time to complete this project?

If it’s a client project, this may mean identifying the client’s requirements and seeing if they’re possible for you to meet. If you’re initiating the project, this may mean creating a business case to present to your superiors.

2. Project planning

In the project planning phase, the project manager creates a project plan. This document includes a project scope to set the boundaries in which work will take place. It also details when the project starts and ends, and what’s included. You’ll document the budget, resources, and staff requirements, along with a project timeline and other constraints.

3. Project execution

At the execution stage, you and your team will get to work on all various tasks that make up the design project based on the previous stages. If you’re working on your own, you’ll be doing these tasks yourself. If you’re working with a team, this will mean delegating tasks or supervising self-organizing teams.

4. Monitoring and control

This phase usually works alongside the execution phase, as you’ll need to track progress as you go. Depending on your project framework, progress-tracking may take the form of sprint reviews or status meetings. It’s a good idea to use a progress-tracking platform, such as, to keep track of the status of each task.

As the final deliverables roll in, you’ll need to run them through quality control procedures to make sure they’re up to snuff.

5. Project closure

This stage focuses on the final presentation of deliverables to whoever has requested the project. This usually includes a debriefing session. In this phase, you’ll likely have a project review to figure out what went well and what did not.

5 top tips for managing a design project

If you’re in charge of managing a design project, it’s your job to keep all the cogs turning. This ensures that deliverables are churned out on time, under budget, and as specified. Here are some tips for keeping everything on track so that your design team collaborates effectively and your design project meets its goals.

1. Communicate your project management framework

It’s a wise idea to use a formal project framework. Projects that do are more likely to meet project goals, stay within budget, and finish on time. This is because it’s far easier to break down a complex design project with a framework. The project framework you use will determine how you carry out tasks and how the team will collaborate.

If you’re using the Waterfall framework, for example, you’ll plan everything ahead of time. If you’re using the Scrum framework, you’ll determine what tasks have to be completed in each sprint as you go.

2. Clearly define your goals

30% of project professionals say that inadequate goal setting is one of the major causes of project failure. On the one hand, clear goals help your team understand what’s expected of them and how to meet these expectations.

On the other hand, precise goals help you and your team stick to the scope, budget, and schedule. There are two excellent goal-setting strategies to use — SMART and CLEAR.

When you set SMART goals, you make each objective specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. These goals usually work best for frameworks that use advanced planning, such as the Waterfall framework. CLEAR goals should be collaborative, limited, emotional, appreciable, and refinable.

This means they should:

  • Encourage teams to work together
  • Be limited by scope and time
  • Connect emotionally with employees’ passions
  • Break down large jobs into smaller, achievable tasks
  • Be easy to change if situations change

CLEAR goals usually work best for more agile frameworks, like Scrum.

3. Limit your scope

Controlling scope is the second most important factor for project success. If the scope of your design project grows uncontrollably, you’ll struggle to meet deadlines and stay in budget.

To limit uncontrollable growth, better known as scope creep, make sure that you set boundaries at the very beginning in your project scope. Agree on the expectations, quality of deliverables, and the number of iterations for your design. Make sure both you and your client/stakeholder understand what’s expected and what’s not expected.

It’s important that you also establish firm acceptance criteria and know the approval processes your designs will go through. That way, clients can’t interrupt your flow of work halfway through project execution. It’s wise to create a scope risk assessment at the beginning. Think about all the things that may cause scope creep and create strategies to prevent these risks from blossoming.

4. Set up clear communication channels

Poor communication is in the top 5 reasons for project failure, with 30% of project professionals admitting that it’s why their projects didn’t succeed. It’s vital that you set up clear communication protocols and establish regular contact.

In terms of your team, you’ll need to make sure there are proper channels for team leaders to guide project teams and communicate scope, goals, and instructions. You’ll also need robust mechanisms for your teams to collaborate among themselves and stay up-to-date with design iterations and new information.

It’s also imperative that you commit to regular communication with your clients and project stakeholders. 94% of project leaders say that clear engagement with stakeholders is one of the major contributors to a successful project.

5. Manage your project in one place

If updates and design iterations are spread across multiple platforms, it’s hard for your team to know where to find the latest information.

Choose a robust digital workspace, like That way your team can communicate and update each other in one place, while you check progress and manage documentation without having to contact everyone separately.

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Design project management software statistics

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According to project managers, comprehensive management software has a whole bunch of benefits:

  • 65% agree that it helps them complete projects on time
  • 58% say it helps teams collaborate better
  • 57% claim it improves the final quality of deliverables

3 invaluable tools for managing your design project

On that note, it’s probably worth giving you a few pointers on the top templates that will help you better manage your design projects in one place.

Use these boards to organize workflows, track progress, and keep the whole team on course for project success.

1. Define scope and plan projects

Use a Project Charter Template to define your project, outline the scope, and set goals. Plan out expectations and manage the status for each phase of the project. Detail the scope of each part of your design project, along with the expected deliverables and deadlines. Allocate budgets for each phase and assign a design project manager to oversee the delivery of each feature.

2. Keep track of project execution

Track progress during the execution phase using the product roadmap template.

Design Project Roadmap template

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Add your backlog of work and move tasks into the funnel as you go. Then, add a timeline for each design element and move them through the design stages using the status bars to indicate progress. The brightly-colored status bars make it easy to see when bottlenecks occur in the design process.

3. Centralize project communications

Keep all project communications in one place with this Communication Plan Dashboard.

Design project communication plan

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Use this template to create a plan for regular communication with your design team and project stakeholders. Detail the purpose and frequency of each communication mechanism, as well as the date for each update.

Keep all updates in one place using comments in the cards. Each designer can ‘like’ updates so that you can keep track to make sure everyone is seeing relevant updates.

Great design requires great design management

The success of your design project relies on how well you manage the workload. Clear expectations, effective communication, and easy-to-use tools are the key.

That’s why so many design project managers use It’s pretty easy to see how these highly visible templates make sure everyone stays on track and bottlenecks are nipped in the bud early.

If you’d like more advice on managing your design projects, why not speak to an expert? Contact the team at to see how we can help you streamline your design projects so you deliver every time.

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