Being a small group of creatives tackling the day-to-day demands of running a web design agency requires a versatile and agile approach to project management. The responsibilities of the principals are inevitably fragmented, from keeping computers online to art directing multiple web site launches. At Pelago, we’ve pushed enough projects out into the great wide web to have a thorough understanding of managing the process. And distilling our process into a hosted project management service enabled us to perfect it. Here are some things to consider when evaluating web-based software to manage your workflow.
In order to quickly churn out site maps, design comps, and finally, web sites, a project needs to be managed on the task level. Tasks enable us to break down a project into smaller components so we always have something to work on, keeping the project moving forward. Having abandoned traditional waterfall methodologies due to their overly linear nature, working within tasks enables us to work on multiple pieces of the site at once. For example, we can be tossing around ideas on the design while the framework for the code is being set up. We implemented a task listing based on traditional issue / bug tracking systems, giving each task an assignee, status and severity to prioritize our efforts and distribute ownership of the project across our design team.
Any type of design agency that bills for its time or is dependent on freelancers will require time tracking. And by tracking time at the task level, a project manager can learn how much time to estimate for similar tasks in the future. Consistently recording your time builds up an invaluable archive useful for billing clients, estimating future projects, and running reports to see where your time is going. Additionally, the more disciplined your team becomes in accounting for their daily work, the more your billable hours will increase. We built web-based timers to track our design and development time when working on tasks, and improved our billable time by 30%.
Lightweight Project Management
Time tracking and task management are not enough on their own. Some type of lightweight project management is required to tie it all together. Project management can take on many forms, so we coupled together the features we needed to complete our projects. For Pelago, we needed to not only track our work, we needed to meet deadlines, keep projects under budget, and bill clients. To manage these additional project needs, we developed document sharing, payment and expense tracking, financial reports, and invoicing capabilities. It is ideal to utilize hosted software that facilitates the tangential and financial aspects of a project as much as it does getting things done, forming an all seeing eye into the health of each project.
These peripheral-type project features are the gritty details that define our workflow. Most design agencies have some process for managing tasks, and maybe even a time tracking application for billing clients. When evaluating hosted software to manage projects it is necessary to consider how it will integrate with the methodologies already in place, or in the absence of a solid process, how will it define our methodologies. A comprehensive online application is ideal for getting it all done in one place, so we can take a break from being the “IT guy” or the “HR Director” and place our focus where it should be, on the creative side of our web design business .