Project management will set you free

There are things we just have to accept as part of the experience. In an Austin summer, you accept scorching stretches of 100º days. A college professor of mine accepted speeding tickets as a tax for his unyielding habit of driving fast. But should we accept draining, out-of-control projects that plunge us deep into the pits of project despair as part of the design job?

Project Management Will Save Your Sanity

The project management process is critical to a healthy project. However, if you are a small agency or freelancer, project management could seem more like a deletable line item. It's not. Why? Because, left to themselves, projects, like that one roommate you had, move from clean-cut to Slob Town in a matter of weeks. Next thing you know, you're consumed by aggravation as you see their dishes and unpaid bills pile up. Every project is managed. It's either done well or it's sloppy. In the case of the latter, you'll lose at least time and money. But often, clients, your practice, and your reputation are right behind.

Every project is managed. It's either done well or it's sloppy.

Now, please don't go scrambling for a Project Manager. Project management does not need to necessarily reside in a position. But it does need to reside in your process. Remember the benefits of boundaries? If you can establish clear project management responsibilities up front, you are, in turn, allowing yourself and your team up to focus on the work that matters.

The Deliverable of Project Management

Treat the deliverable of a smooth, controlled project with the same craft and attention that you would give the visual design or code. If you're used being the maker and not the manager then project management may sound like more work than it's worth. That's fair. But like implementing an elegant Photoshop Action or learning a hotkey, a little work up front relieves a magnitude of frustration.

Here's five ways you can start adopting a project management process:

  • Establish a Project Manager. An obvious first step. This could be you, another team member, or a dedicated resource.

  • Set a project management hub. While you could try to track projects through a hacky combination of email, Google Calendar, and a to-do list app, this will cost you time. Instead, pick one of the myriad of project management software tools out there. Start with a simple one, like Basecamp. Then force everyone to use it. (And I do mean force. Everyone seems to his or her own opinion on this one.)

  • Introduce the Project Manager as a key role to the client with clear responsibilities. The client should know the authority the role carries and how they are expected to interact with the Project Manager

  • Introduce the Project Manager as a key role to the team with clear responsibilities. The team should know the authority the role carries and how they are expected to interact with the Project Manager

  • Don't tread on the Project Manager's responsibilities. If the Project Manager is not you, be cautious to not let yourself or your team take over pieces of the job. This will undermine the role's authority to the client and the team. If the Project Manager is responsible for setting meetings, don't send out the invites or worse, have an ad hoc meeting without them. If they are in charge of running meetings, let them run them. Stick to your job and discover the freedom.

Here's to better living through project management.