September 22, 2020   |   4min read

How to Manage a Development and Design Project—Best Practices

For many years, our development skills were complemented by a UX and UI team. Now, that team has grown to become Utilo. Developers and designers work side-by-side on projects. However, managing such a project is not an easy task. Today, we want to share a few best practices with you.

Project methodology

At Polidea, our default management methodology is Agile in the Scrum framework. The projects are run in either fixed-priced contracts or Time & Material. If you want to know more, check out our article on what to expect when working with a development studio.

We prefer to work in Time & Material, however, that is not always possible. Working in a fixed-price contract and with a fixed deadline, creates a hybrid of sorts, combining all the Scrum’s flexibility with the more rigid, step-by-step waterfall approach. If you are interested in project management methodologies, read our article on Agile vs. DevOps.

Since the project’s deadline is fixed, each consecutive part must be delivered on schedule, so that the next phase can begin. That is why the waterfall methodology is useful here. First, ideation must be complete to prepare prototypes. Without those, it is impossible to test them and finally implement the designs.

What kind of competences does managing a design project require?

A client coming with a project might have a very specific vision of how the product or solution should look like or has only the idea. Either way, the role of a Project Manager’s to work with the design team and the client to yield the best results—being a bridge between sometimes conflicting ideas. Sometimes what a client has in mind might not be a good move UX-wise.

The above means that the PM should master soft skills such as being empathetic, understanding, and patient. The ability to persuade and point the client in the right direction through analogy and examples is also essential. Due to the complex nature of design and development projects, being a yes person will do more harm than good, but more on that later.

Is a basic understanding of UX and UI design necessary?

In short, yes. Understanding the process of UX and UI design, such as prototyping, might come in handy. For instance, it might unburden the designers in cooperation with the client, allowing them to focus more on the project itself. It is possible to manage a product design and development project without such basic understanding. However, it would surely lengthen the meetings, with all the issues that need to be cleared out.

If you are not sure about those two design terms, you can learn about them in our article on the difference between UX and UI.

Project Manager at a workshop

What are the most significant challenges in managing design and development projects?

The best practice in managing product design and development projects is to set up the project design in the right way from the very beginning. By project design, we mean its features, structure, goals, and more.

Now, it is more than ever evident that some meetings can be emails. However, deciding on the schedule and the length of the meetings during such a project is vital. Too many meetings translate to time that could be otherwise spent on working on the project. On the other hand, if only designers or only developers participate in daily status meetings, then the teams’ synchronization suffers quickly and significantly.

Controlling the information flow between all the parties involved is also an important aspect of the Project Managers’ role. The design team makes decisions with the Front End developers, who cooperate with Back End engineers, while the teams receive information from the client as well. It could get chaotic rather quickly, also taking into account various communications channels, such as emails, Slack, and in-person meetings. That is why ensuring everyone is one the same page throughout the project might cut the time and costs for the client.

Another useful practice is to work out the changes policy with the client. It might not happen often, but too many changes lengthen the process considerably and can prove troublesome in fixed-term projects. Skillful management entails keeping both the deadlines and the client happy.

The Project Manager must also take into account the dependencies between design and development. For example, the client used most of his/her resources on the design part of the project. It’s a great, animated design. However, the client might not realize that the implementation of such a design will also be costly. Red flagging some of the client’s ideas straightaway should prevent problems from occurring in the future. The same goes for time management when the client also has a deadline for the development of designs. It might happen that the project agreed on by the client will take longer to implement, and that should be noted as quickly as possible.

Understanding the budget limits and the time frame of the project is important. It allows the Project Manager to quickly react to the client’s ideas. For instance, when introducing a new functionally would mean increasing the budget or abandoning another feature for the sake of the new one.

Ultimately, it’s the Project Manager role to bridge the gap between the design team, the development team, and the client so that all parties involved are satisfied with the end result of their work. The key to managing a design and development team is laying reliable foundations (project design) for the information and workflows, and communications processes.

If you have any questions or a project that involves both design and development, our teams will be happy to help. You can also check out our design studio’s—Utilo—website.

Zuzanna Rykowska

Project Manager

Tomasz Szymoński

Communication Specialist

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