Whether you follow an agile methodology to complete design projects, use SCRUM or EVO, or follow a waterfall methodology, project management should be one of the ingredients that you bake into every step of your digital design process.
A wealth of systems are available, many of which are built into most computer systems already. Take a calendar for instance: on its own, it isn’t a project management tool, but when used to create a map with deadlines, reviews, and releases scheduled, it can help you organize your workflow, and see the path toward release (and re-release).
But for more robust project management, consider using software that has tools you can scaffold upwards, in order to plot progress, usage, revisions, releases and iterations for you to share across your entire enterprise. If it allows you to communicate with your team and stakeholders as well, then all the better. Some stand-alone and web apps are free, and others have fees. And some may already be ingrained into the work you do.
Agile Methodology for Better Design Project Management
Take Basecamp for instance: it’s occupied a special place in the project management world for sometime, having taught people that there’s more to project management than sending emails back and forth and plugging dates into calendars.
Basecamp’s customizable interface, wiki and file sharing systems have all proven to be valuable tools for designers and non-designers alike. Joshua Mauldin, senior product designer for mobile at American City Business Journals, recalls using Basecamp for the first time: “It was my first project management system that moved me off of email. The ability to keep all project-related communication in one spot, rather than a billion emails, was a weight off of my shoulders.” And with Basecamp’s recent free account offering for educators, even more people could be jumping into Basecamp, perhaps even at the elementary and middle school levels, which would give Basecamp a user base that would grow with the product.
Although Basecamp and Google Apps have both proven to be reputable and useful, new players like Trello and JIRA, are giving designers more choices than ever before. Most recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fog Creek Software Inc. spun off Trello into a stand-alone company, with $10.3 million in funding. On their site, Trello boasts an impressive array of users, including Tumblr, Adobe and the New York Times, among others.
Trello is user-friendly, fun to use and thanks to the newfound interest in wearable tech, Trello runs on your smart watch. Could Trello be poised to become the Twitter of project management? Only time will tell.
Those who’ve used index cards for organizing and building project assets will find Trello’s interface familiar since it too uses a card-based system. After six months of using Trello, Chuck Erickson, marketing communications specialist for Asentria Corporation, became a fan: “The amount of meta data you can create for every card in Trello is invaluable. What would be a simple item in a list full other like items becomes a color-coded, stack-ordered, milestone-aware, checklist-tracking super item.” Erickson also swears by Trello’s sharing features, which save him the time of porting the information into an email and clicking send.
GitHub, a repository for managing and storing versions of your projects, has been used for housing and updating code for years. Little known fact: you can put anything you want there, be it a Word Document or Illustrator file.
But it may take a while to get used to GitHub’s tickets and pull requests, as Leigh Caplan, lead developer at Onehub explains: “A pull request is an easy way for a designer or developer to package up changes that they want to merge into the code base, (say a fix for a bug, or a new feature), and it lets other people on the project see the changes and discuss them all in one place. Everyone on the project can make comments on the changes, even going so far as to annotate individual lines, and comments can automatically cross reference tickets in GitHub issues. All of these tools help answer both what is being done on the product, as well as why the changes are being made.
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At the other end of the spectrum is JIRA, which Joshua Mauldin calls “a customizable behemoth.” Mauldin cites JIRA’s expandability and customization as one of its biggest assets, with the ability “to become anything” according to him—since you can fit JIRA into whatever process you use.
For example, you can write customized plug-ins to put it to work for you, instead of doing all of the work yourself. But perhaps JIRA is so deep for some, and has the potential to overwhelm. Mauldin says, “Getting started may be a little wild for someone. When I first used it, I thought about how a dog would feel trying to drive a car. I think a dramatic simplification would make it easier to get on board. Take that with an understanding that I don’t need all those controls myself—others might.”
As a senior designer at Microsoft, Callie Neylan has used a fair share of project management tools, including JIRA, which she found overly complicated. Having been at Microsoft, she’s also used Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS), Microsoft’s collaboration platform. According to Neylan, Visual Studio is for the developers to code with, and TFS is for tracking everything that goes into building the software, as well as tracking bugs.
For Neylan, Microsoft’s OneNote serves as a wiki: “We post all details needed for building the software there: functional and design requirements. Each of those we link to the corresponding items in TFS.” From above, it may seem like there are three pieces of software—Visual Studio, TFS and OneNote—but they all work together.
Where to Go Next
Another Microsoft tool, Microsoft Project, was once deemed the project management tool, especially since it integrated so well with Microsoft Office, Outlook and Messenger. But in this brave whole new world of evolving tech, there are far more players in the field today. Microsoft even has a lot of new tricks up its sleeve, including OneNote, (which, in case Apple loyalists are wondering, is both robust and elegant on an iPad).
So given the wealth of choices out there, how do you know what project management tool is the best fit for you, your organization or your users? If you want something that’s moldable and customizable, JIRA definitely fits the bill, being as wide as it is deep.
But also consider the bigger picture: if a majority of your team is already on one platform, it may be easiest to get the rest of the team on board. So, right in line with agile methodology, stay flexible and nimble. You may end up trying another platform as new tools emerge with the twists and turns of technology.
Want to go deeper into the agile process for designers?
The HOW Expert Guide, Becoming an Agile Designer, explores how project management systems and tools can enable you to release work more rapidly and more often, getting work out to the client faster – and with more precision.