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Seven tips for planning design projects

mayya geo
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You should recognize this familiar scene from action films: In Batman, before he goes on his mission, Batman researches and plans together with Alfred just to make sure he’s prepared for the case. Or in Lord of the Rings, before Frodo goes on his mission to Mordor to destroy the precious ring, all the characters sit together and plan how to make this happen.

What do we learn from all these stories, all this careful planning?

In the end, it never happens the way they’ve planned it! 

planning error

Planning itself helps to strategically prepare ourselves for a task; to align expectations and consider different opportunities. In this post, I will share some tips that will help you to plan your next design project—to limit the stress factors and plan in such a way that you can later focus on what matters the most.

Why does a designer even talk about project planning?

When I was at school, I had a really cool math teacher. She used to say:

If you can understand the task description, you will find the answer in the description itself. So make sure you read really, really carefully.

So it is with project planning and the design process. If you can understand the project’s needs, write down its scope, and come up with the design-process steps, then you’ve done more than half the job already. Project planning is a part of each design project that we can’t neglect because the right strategic planning will set up the initiative to succeed.

Let’s face It, project planning Is always a challenge!

One product owner and colleague of mine, said it really nicely:

The problem is that so many things can go wrong in the project planning. You can’t just imagine …

And I believe him.

As a freelance UI/UX designer, my work before the spring of 2020 was always dependent on strict project planning. Some companies would work remotely while some would never ever even think about it. Some projects would be short and others long-term based. Most importantly, in all cases, the work was highly dependent on project planning, timeframes, and the achievement of particular goals and initiatives. In other words, finding the resources, the right people, and a way to make it happen.

And then Corona made the planning game even more complex.

Let me illustrate this from the perspective of my personal experience. Back at the beginning of 2020 in Berlin, I was part of a mobile app redesign project that was just about to begin. After discovery sessions and discussions with founders of why and what we needed to achieve, it was about time to set the “how.”

Excited about upcoming months, I was sitting together with the project manager, planning and shaping the roadmap and how we wanted to proceed further. And we loved planning. It gave us a vision for the future and promised that we would achieve our goals and wouldn’t miss something important. We ended up with a clarified scope of work and an actionable task list. The clients approved it. So we were ready to start. At least we thought so.

Until … the new normal happened.

In the second week of March, Germany announced the Corona lockdown and that all companies that could afford to do it should let employees work from home. Pasta, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer were the hottest topics. Meanwhile, the new app-redesign project was about to start, and everyone included was thinking,

“What do we do now?”


The Challenge and the lesson

On the one hand, Corona brought hard times for many due to uncertainty, fear, fast changes, health issues, and financial and economic problems. On the other hand, there are always uncertainties in life. This is how life functions—it’s unpredictable. That’s why planning never works as planned—with or without viruses.

Seven tips on how to improve design project planning

  1. Stay open to change

Being able to change the plan is a strength.  User needs, problems, and wants can drastically change in a day. Your plan should be able to do the same at any given time.

  1. Flexible decision making

Working methodologies and long-term planning should be as agile as possible.

  1. Stay open-minded

Be ready for quick adaptation and flexibility according to new requirements.

  1. Learn to let go

Be able to let go of what doesn’t work in the current situation.

  1. Review your long-term vision often

Your long-term vision and focus on the main reasons why you are doing the project should be the guiding force for your plan.

  1. Believe in your skills

Don’t give up on something just because it doesn’t work as you thought or planned.

  1. Stay positive

It might sound cheesy, but simply staying positive and believing in what you do are maybe the most important assets in your work.

Outcomes of implementing the project planning checklist

Back to the app-redesign project plan.

In a week everything changed for us. Some of the already planned project action steps were possible and some—not. We did not have a clear idea of how long this situation would continue, and when we could proceed as planned.

In the first weeks of the project, we were trying to stay positive. We were reshaping our planning and reviewing everything we did on a daily and weekly basis. When something wasn’t possible, we either looked for a new solution or tried to proceed further so we could keep progressing. As a result, only around 10 percent happened the way it had been planned in February. Yet we definitely learned and achieved a lot. Product requirements, user needs, problems, and budgeting were drastically changing each week. 

This quote from Simon Sinek perfectly explains how I felt during these weeks. It summarizes everything written above:

Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan.

In doing a retrospective about the months I worked on this project and what we all had to face, I do think that planning, not only for our work projects but also for our personal lives, is something that somehow drastically changed after 2020. 

One of my biggest personal takeaways is that “no plan ever goes according to plan”—something unforeseen always happens. Because of that, good lean organizations understand the need for a quick checking process. Then they can respond rapidly to being off-plan and marshal the resources needed to solve the problems and get back on plan.

Thank you for reading! 💜

We are GEOBO, a design studio specialising in branding for fashion and creative tech companies.