December 5, 2014

The Importance of Design Sprints and Project Management

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Richard Banfield is the co-founder and CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, a design agency out of Boston. In this interview, we had a chance to chat with Banfield about the importance of project management and how his company uses it to meet deadlines and client needs.

Originally, Fresh Tilled Soil left project management up to the designers and developers themselves. However, they swiftly realized that if the company was to be successful, they needed to put the right skills and processes in place.

Enter formal project management.

To enable their designers and developers to focus on what they do best, Fresh Tilled Soil hired a project manager to oversee their initiatives. The experience was so successful that the company now has a team of four full-time project managers and an account manager – for a team of 30.  

4 Tips for Project Management

For those looking to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and become customer centric, we’ve compiled Banfield’s essential tips for successfully implementing project management below.

1. Have a person or team dedicated to project management

Admitting that your business isn’t hitting goals, deadlines, and budgets is not an easy task.

It may seem a little obvious, but it’s important to realize there is a huge difference between a project manager and a designer or developer (or an architect, or an engineer, etc.).

Banfield says thinking of project management as a full time role is the first step towards turning your business around. Projects need discipline and oversight to be successful. A dedicated person or team can help a project get ahead by identifying potential hurdles and anticipating what the client needs before they think of it.

2. Hire the right person for the role

Four out of five organizations report they’re struggling to find qualified project managers to fill open positions. In Banfield’s experience, successful project managers are detail oriented, focused on what-ifs, and come with a healthy side of OCD.

But that barely scratches the surface. Banfield says soft skills are critical personality traits that make a project work. Good communication, presentation, and conflict resolution skills are hard to come by.

So what if candidates have the potential for soft skills but they’re not a master? Companies should be prepared with a training or development program. Fresh Tilled Soil, for instance, has an apprenticeship in place to ensure their team has the resources they need to be successful.

3. Respect the client’s needs.

Project management is an integral part of putting your client and their needs first. Clients recognize your expertise and come to you for help, so it’s crucial to respect the fact that you’re spending their time and money to execute.

To ensure successful client projects, businesses need to start strategic conversations by asking questions such as:

  • What are they doing to push their business forward?
  • What trends and marketplace pressures will they face in the future?
  • How does product innovation effect that?

Hiring a project manager and implementing successful processes says “we know this is hard, so we put the resources in place to make this easy for you.”

4. Develop agile processes.

Staying relevant to clients’ needs requires soft skills, strategic conversations, and innovative operations. To stay innovative, Fresh Tilled Soil uses design sprints to hasten development while keeping project requirements congruent and defined.

This agile method of project management takes place in week long increments and centers on design thinking. The team spends a few days brainstorming ideas, understanding the problem, and planning. Next, they quickly prototype and test. Banfield says this iterative method takes designers out of their own head and ensures they don’t waste time building something based on subjective opinion.

By creating quickly and getting prototypes in front of customers, businesses can separate the noise from the real customer experience.

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You can check out more insights from Richard Banfield on his blog or podcast, as well as keep this conversation going on Twitter.

Has your company implemented project management successfully? What have your results shown? Share your business experiences in the comments below!