In any program or ongoing process, the designing the project is the backbone element. Every project that moves from the development process is unique, with many different scenarios applying to it. However, they all have something in common, Project Design.
Project design is so important that there is no structure for the project development process to stand on and make the project a success in the future. It is such a crucial stage in a project's lifecycle that it identifies key elements and sets the overall tone of the project. To have a successful project, you need to understand the steps involved in project design and how to document them.
"A good plan can help with risk analysis, but it will never guarantee the smooth running of the project." – Bentley and Borman
A project design provides a strategic organization of ideas, materials, and processes to achieve a goal. Project managers use a good design to avoid pitfalls and give parameters to maintain crucial aspects of the project, like the schedule and the budget. Lots of project managers rush into the initialization of the project. Still, an experienced project manager will tell you that the more you invest in your project's front end, the better your results will get at the backend.
In this article, you will learn about project design and how best to build an effective project design.
What is Project Design?
In online project management, project design is the earliest step where the project and how it will run is planned. During the project design, an outline of the project is created that includes; the organization responsible for completing it, the description of the project, goals and objectives of a project, when the project will be completed, major deliverables, success criteria, budget estimates and many more.
It outlines the different factors related to the project that will be tracked and managed by the manager or development team. It aims to generate sustainable ideas for project development and create an action plan to realize those ideas successfully.
The project manager gives a detailed analysis of how the project will be managed. A project design can come in various formats, such as sketches through a project design paper, flowcharts, HTML screen designs, prototypes and more. The most common representation of project design is presented in the form of a Gantt chart.
While designing your project design, it is important to involve your team and other key stakeholders. As this will ensure important details are not omitted, and your project is achievable and realistic. Your project design should be carefully documented as the project design documents will manage all further stages of the project.
How to Build an Effective Project Design?
Regardless of your industry, there are some steps you follow during the project design phase. These steps will help you create an effective project design document and allow all parties to work more effectively.
1. Prepare Project Vision
The most important text in your project design document is your project vision, as it defines the different entities that have to be worked on in the future. To create a project vision, you must envision the perfect environment where existing problems and needs are resolved. The information on it must be so explanatory and captivating enough for the stakeholders to understand the project's seriousness.
The vision document contains the problem you are trying to solve by the project or by using the products under production. It also provides important information about the projects potential to solve the highlighted problem.
“No matter how good the team or how efficient the methodology, if we’re not solving the right problem, the project fails.” — Woody Williams
The project vision is presented to the stakeholder connected to the project to make them understand the need of developing the project in the first place. Although the document is not comprehensive, its importance is amplified when the project goes under development, and the team follows the designated path.
In most cases, the project vision is quite short and never includes too many explanations and descriptions. Some give a future state of an operating environment in 1-2 sentences.
2. Understand Project Goals and Objectives
The project goals highlight the problem the project is trying to solve, while the objectives show how the project will solve the problem. To have a successful project, your project design must ensure the right understanding of the stated vision and identify the problems that prevent the achievement of the vision.
To define your project goal or outcome, you need to meet with your team and key stakeholders. You have to consider the needs and expectations of all stakeholders and beneficiaries when determining the project goals. Make sure your team makes inputs on the accuracy and feasibility of the goals you have defined. It is better to figure out as much of this as possible early to ease your project management later.
"Outlining projects and building that structure first is key; you can get caught up in the minutiae of large projects, but you have to work from the outside in toward the details. Break up large sub-projects into smaller pieces." – Heather Cazad
Once you have established the goals, you need to break each goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. To make it easy, be SMART
- S – Specific: Be as clear as possible about the tasks you want to achieve. Provide pinpoint guidance on which resources are needed and their roles in the implementation of the task.
- M – Measurable: Earmark what qualifies a task has been completed; each objective must be quantifiable. This way, you will measure results, track progress, and move along your project process easily.
- A – Achievable: Make sure your goals are realistic. Use the budget, resources, and time to set realistic goal targets.
- R – Relevant: If your goals are not related to the project, they are pointless. All objectives must logically result in achieving project goals and producing intended results.
- T – Time-bound: Give a timeframe for the achievement of the goals.
3. Identify Risks
"No project plan is perfect, everything can go wrong."
Once you know what you want to achieve with your project, you need to identify anything that can stand in the way of success. Write down any potential risk and constraints on budget, time, or resources that could impede your teams' chances of achieving their goals, objectives and milestones.
Some of the risks you should pay attention to while designing your project design are:
- Personnel: travels, family emergencies, lack of expertise
- Schedule: delay, late start
- Scope: shoddy requirements, incorrect boundaries
- Cost: lack of funds, underestimated costs
- Stakeholders: lack of support, loss of interest, poor involvement.
“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley
Now, you have to resolve as many of these problems ad you. This will help you prevent delays when these problems happen once the project is underway. Planning for contingencies enables you to ensure the success of the project in the long run.
4. Prepare Visual Aids
Now that you have documented the risks, you must consistently remind your team of your project vision, goals and objectives. You can prepare a visual aid for part or all parts of the project. Using visualization can be useful, especially when managing any project. It provides team members and stakeholders an easy, understandable snapshot of the project goals, outcomes, deliverables, products, services, and functionality.
You can use visual aids like sketches, flow charts, Gantt charts, WBS, photos, prototypes, whiteboard drawings etc. however, the type of visual aid you select depends on your industry. Gantt charts and whiteboards are used for early-stage project designs; charts, trees or maps are used in software development, while prototypes or models can be created for product development projects.
5. Create and Ballpark Your Budget
Now, you need to include your budget in your project design. It is important to know what budget is perfect for covering the expenses related to the elements included in the project development phase right from the start.
Even if you do not have a complete picture of the costs and incomes your project will generate, you need to create a budget in as much detail as possible. The closer you get the perfect funding required to complete the project, the higher your chances of not running into unexpected cost overruns later.
Ballparking your budget will help you determine if your project is feasible. If your budget exceeds what your client, customer, funding source or stakeholder can front, you cannot realistically undertake the task.
6. Determine Monitoring Process
You need to know what processes must be followed for the project and its element to be approved and who is responsible for the approval. Once the consent has been given, the project can successfully move on to the next stage.
"The goal of the design phase is to have a solid understanding of what success looks like to the project sponsors and key shareholders. What I want is not important; what the sponsors and stakeholders want is. So, I spend a tremendous amount of time understanding what success means to them." – Dave Wakeman
In addition, you may also ass a stage for ""proof of concept"" if your project is technical or complex. This allows you to design a working prototype of the product to be tested for viability before you move the project to the next stage.
7. Use Proper Design Documents or Software
It is best to use the proper documentation or software to capture all the information for your project design. The output of your project design depends on your industry, and it can be as simple as a Gantt chart, flow chart, work chart that is carried to the project planning stage.
Many projects do not have a specified project design phase, so that you can plan your project at the planning or initiation phase depending on your organization.
"Sometimes our marketing plans or branding initiative have several audiences, so confirming who we are targeting for each particular project helps focus the team and clarifies objectives" – Laura Puente
Projectsly offer empower your team to go above and beyond in creating your project design by providing a flexible platform to match the needs of your team.
The Projectsly platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage and report work anywhere, thus helping your team be more effective and get more job done. Furthermore, you can report on key metrics and gain real-time visibility on your projects, as it happens with reports, dashboards and automated workflows. Projectsly is designed to keep your team connected and informed.
It is obvious that a good project design will be a giant step towards achieving a successful project. Knowing how dependent the project's success is on the project design, the responsibility of project managers can be tough and demanding.
The steps above will help you structure a good project design and lift the pressure that comes with knowing you are carrying the burden of the project's success on your neck