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3 Tips for Project Managers to work better with Designers


Explaining the value of design to business people has for most part always been easy. Why would you not invest in user experience to make sure your product works for the end-users so in fact the project actually can deliver business value?

However, when discussing design workstreams with Project Managers who are inexperienced in working with design, things get more difficult as their measure of success often has more to do with delivering on time and budget and less about whether the project delivers business outcomes.

Here are three things to help project managers work better with Designers and design workstreams:

1. Design Sprints

Change the mindset from seeing design as the cause that extends the architect phase to design sprints.

Who says sprints need to have Developers? Having Developers start at the same time as Designer adds unnecessary pressure to the design workstream and jeopardises the quality it delivers and sometimes forces projects to ignore the design output simply in the interest of building “stuff”.

For example look at it this way:

  • Architect phase to identify where the business opportunity is
  • Sprint 1: Prepare for user research
  • Sprint 2: Execute research
  • Sprint 3: Rapid prototyping
  • Sprint 4: Usability testing
  • Sprint 5+: design production and development start.

This is a simplified version, but it gets the point across.

2. Accept research adds uncertainty to your project plan

Whatever the business wants, asking the actual end users always reveals additional needs for a product to succeed… sometimes it also negates existing business assumptions, but more often than not, it triggers a need for change in the project plan.

This can feel disruptive to Project Managers who haven’t worked with design workstreams before.

It is a good idea to have a break point following research to realign the project plan and sometimes the project time and resources to accommodate for research findings… or would you rather prefer your developers spend 50% of their time on rework?

3. Understand the psychology of Designers

At its core Project Management is about making the team effective and get the most and best work out of the individuals.

The notion that Designers shouldn’t be treated differently than other team members is an easy trap to fall in.

Treating anybody the same way is a sure way to be less effective. Would you treat a Technical Architect the same way as a Change Manager? Or for that matter would you treat Jane the Developer the same way as Patrick the Developer?

With Creative people there’s even more risk in doing so. For example people are normally introvert or extrovert and we all naturally adapt to whom we are faced with to get the best communication going. Creative people can not only display both traits, but can do it simultaneously, which tend to mess up our honed ability to talk to either or.

I recommend reading the article The Creative Personality for more insight. As a Project Manager, your team members are in your care and understanding what drives people helps drive the best project results.

Your thoughts

I’d love to hear views from Project Managers. If you’ve worked with design workstreams, does this resonate? And if you haven’t but are about to, let me know if the above helped.


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