Tips for Planning a Project if you work for a Design Agency
When planning a project, the Project Manager must create, follow and amend plans throughout the process. The Project Manager will clearly define the project’s objectives for their team, clients, and stakeholders. Communication and documentation must include several details outlined in this blog post to help everyone remain on the same page. The help of visual aids will ensure everyone has clarity from the start of the project. We’ll review a few key topics that a Project Manager working for a Design Agency should consider when starting any project.
The Kick-Off Meeting is Essential for Planning a Project
What is a kick-off meeting? It’s the first meeting with the project team and client stakeholders to confirm the scope of work, talk through the process and project needs, and build rapport with the client. Project Managers or Account Managers should hold a kick-off meeting at the beginning of a project or at the start of each primary phase to ensure everyone is on the same page. The kick-off meetings are an excellent opportunity to define the project’s vision & scope and clearly state each person and department’s roles throughout the project.
Tips & Tricks
As with any meeting, schedule the kick-off meeting at an appropriate time that works for all participants. It’s essential to have everyone involved in attendance. The Agency Team should avoid confusion or the need to reschedule by clearly communicating the location of the meeting (address, conference room number, virtual meeting link) and ensuring that everyone is aware of the correct time zone.
Communication & Coordination for Client Meetings
Preparing for meetings:
Communication and coordination are critical for a successful Project. A Project Manager should make sure that all team members have the correct information. It is helpful to write an agenda in advance and to include each team member’s role (moderating, presenting material, taking notes, creating polls, etc.). This can help a Project Manager avoid potential misunderstandings ahead of time. It is best practice to contact internal participants with the pertinent meeting details at least 48 hours in advance. Creative Repute’s team of Project Managers strongly recommends following up with meeting participants the day before a meeting if they haven’t responded to the initial confirmation message or invitation.
Whether the Project Manager is leading or a Specialist on the team needs to spreadhead the discussion, Project Managers will maintain control over the client meeting if they can prepare an opening and closing statement. The opening should include introductions and an overview of the agenda during the meeting. The closing should include a recap or rephrasing of client feedback and the next steps.
Project Managers are encouraged to send a separate email to their team and the client that shares a recap of the meeting in written form, important notes, and the next steps.
The infographic below shares the Seven Steps for Successful Meetings:
Milestones and tasks have a lot in common, but it is important to recognize their differences. Otherwise, plans and tracking may become overwhelming, unclear, or muddy. A task is an action item that needs to be completed in a certain amount of time to keep the project moving forward. Projects and Milestones are broken down into several tasks. A milestone is usually an action item completed along the project schedule. Milestones line up with the completion of a deliverable. A Project Manager should not set too many milestones because this is meant to be a big-picture overview. Project Managers should break down an appropriate number of milestones into several tasks. In communication and documentation, Project Managers should always list the major milestones with their accompanying tasks.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
WBS is a project management tool that breaks down a project into smaller components by building a task hierarchy and taking a step-by-step approach. The best WBS is in the form of a graphic or another visual representation. This is a great place to organize milestones and tasks for a project clearly and visually.
1. The Project Manager (PM) should start with major elements such as milestones and deliverables.
2. Break down each milestone/deliverable into smaller tasks.
3. Break down each task into sub-tasks or micro-tasks.
4. Clearly label which individual or department is responsible for each task. This can be done in writing or with the use of color coding.
Take a look and a simple WBS example below and click here to learn more about WBS.
Useful Tools when Making a Plan:
The most crucial elements to plan and track are the following:
• Milestone names
• Milestone timeline
• Task names
• Task timeline
• Who is responsible for each task
A tool such as a Gantt chart can be extremely useful in planning and tracking any project. There are many templates available to use, or you can create your own spreadsheet Gantt chart.
Another helpful tool is a Kanban board. Similar to a Gantt chart, Kanban boards are a way to organize tasks and who’s responsible for each task. Kanban boards are a great way to dive into more detail on each task.
In this Kanban Board, we have movable cards that detail the task’s name, a brief description of the task, and the person assigned to complete the task. Task descriptions can be more thorough on a larger project and include instructions, resources, and links. Project Managers can tailor these tools to work best for each specific project’s needs and make a Kanban board for each phase or milestone on larger projects. No two projects wilook the same.
A critical path is another helpful tool for organizing tasks and milestones. It should be pointed out that using several planning tools may be necessary. While each tool contains similar details, they each serve their purpose. Forming a critical path is a way to systematically organize tasks and milestones based on what needs to be done before another task or milestone can begin.
First, A Project Manager should create a list of all the tasks needed for the project. Next, they will determine the dependencies of each task, meaning what needs to be done to begin a task.
Some questions a Project Manager may need to ask their self are:
1. Which tasks can be started and/or completed simultaneously?
2. What task is next?
Answering these questions may add a dependency column to the Project Manager’s list.
For example, suppose the Project Manager is working on a rebranding project and have already met with stakeholders to gather initial requests and preferences on the direction they’d like their new Brand Identity to go. In that case, the Project Manager may build a list like this:
Next, the Project Manager can put the details from their dependency list into a flow chart to better visualize the process.
Once the Project Manager compiles all of this information into a list and flow chart, they can add in the estimated time it will take to complete each task. This will allow the Project Manager to estimate a timeline more accurately, giving the project a better chance of staying on track.
Planning the Budget
Monitor, review, and adjust the budget as needed throughout all projects. A strong understanding of a project’s budget can be helpful when communicating with stakeholders. For example, if a stakeholder makes a request that is out of scope, the Project Manager can explain how that request will affect the budget and timelines. This is a great time to discuss the importance of the request and see if the stakeholders would like to adjust the budget to accommodate their new request.
There are two main categories of costs when thinking about budget. There are direct and indirect costs. Elements needed to conclude a project are direct costs. Indirect costs, also known as overhead, are for elements such as utilities, administrative costs, office insurance, useful subscriptions, etc. It is important to consider both direct and indirect costs when planning a budget, as well as planning a buffer for unforeseen circumstances that may arise. Most projects will have external factors that can affect the budget. Using historical data from similar projects can give the Project Manager a decent idea of what external factors to expect.
While each project has different parameters and requirements, A Project Manager should utilize the tools and techniques addressed above to set any project for success. The Project Manager should check to ensure their WBS and other techniques are tailored for the internal and external teams. Some details may be essential for the internal team but not for the external team. Project Managers will need to communicate clearly and concisely. It’s important to ensure that the team, clients, stakeholders, and everyone involved in the project have understandable and efficient access to all of the information you share with them.