Three Steps to Planning a Project

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If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Benjamin Franklin was right — at the very least, when it comes to team design and development projects.

Come on, what’s the fun in planning everything? I agree when it comes to weekends or movies, but in the realm of design and development, the creation, testing, iterations, and upkeep of apps and websites involves so many granular details and myriad files, that failing to corral workflow can quickly lead to disaster. Add multiple members of a project, especially in a freelance setting — and disorganization can sink your ship.

I’ve learnt that it works well when planning for every project consists of three fundamental steps. No matter who is on your team, or where they are located, following these steps in order can help streamline your team project process now and down the road.

Here are the three steps you need to take to achieve team project planning success:

Step 1: Gather Your Resources and Establish HQ: Once your team or project leader is assigned, he or she will need to gather all project briefs, files, and accompanying resources to one “headquarters” site, where all elements of the project can be easily added and received, anytime, anywhere.

Google Docs and Google Calendar are popular in the design and dev community because they’re free, easy to use, integrate with other tools, and allow team leaders to schedule meetings in a flash. At $99 per month, Basecamp is one of my favorite choices for keeping all materials in one easy to access, easy to view place. From intuitive to-do lists to easy file adds and collaboration, Basecamp 3 is an affordable design and development Swiss army knife.

Once your team is set up with the proper support and project resources, you can begin to connect and kick things off.

Step 2: Connect Your Team and Kick Things Off: Schedule a kick-off meeting to get to know everybody on your remote team, divide the tasks, present the plan, and hash out the deadline. In order for the meeting to not destroy the team’s productivity, make it as short as possible. Have a clear agenda, discuss specific problems, possible solutions (assigned to particular team members) and try not to drift off-subject. Here are a few of my favorite tools to accomplish this goal:

Slack — Slack is a good-looking, easy-to-use chat tool available on your laptop or smartphone. While it’s free, and even allows you to add desktop notifications, it can affect the performance of your computer if you have too many windows open. It’s much better than it used to be, but still might affect your work a little bit.

If you like the other Google tools you’re working with, Google Hangouts is one of the most intuitive chat choices. If, however, you want to try using something more advanced, Zoom will be a great choice. The interface might look a bit “old-fashioned” and you need to install the app, which some people may not like, but apart from that, Zoom is a great tool. It allows screen and content sharing, making annotations and, most importantly, it gives you an opportunity of recording your video conferences — so you can share it with teammates or clients whenever needed. The basic Zoom plan is free, it allows unlimited 1:1 meetings, and if you want to include more participants, the meeting will be limited to 40 minutes. The good news is that other versions (Pro, Business and Enterprise Plans) are still affordable and give you plenty of great additional features.

Step 3: Establish the Workflow and Complete the Project Successfully: Now that you’re set up with your project details, files, and everyday communication, it’s time to refine team communication workflow to command a 360-degree view of what people are working on, ensuring that no two members are working on the same thing. It’s also important to have the resources to check if every element of the project brief is clear, and that there are no problems, challenges, miscommunications, or uncertainties. I’ve noticed that it’s crucial for a project with a distributed team and clients to prepare the workflow documents. This way every one can go back to the rules when he or she is not sure how to proceed with a project. This type of documents is also very beneficial to new members of a team — it saves time and makes it much easier to onboard them.

It’s good to create 2 basic types of the workflow documents: the first one is usually about the daily routine of each member. It may include the importance of saying ‘hi’ to the team and post a stand-up once they start their work, a reminder of a stand-down when they’ve finished, etc. The second type describes the whole process of managing the project, participating in it and using all the accessible tools.

Photo by Carlos Muza

Here are some additional tips for Completing the Project Successfully:

  • There’s no need to use tools for video conferences if you don’t want to pay for project management software. Instead, you can use Slack or publish posts on a team blog. It’s about what works for your team and its budget — as long as you stay organized and in the loop!
  • It’s crucial to track time to make sure that everything goes according to plan, so you have the wiggle room to react and move the deadline if it’s necessary. Tools like can help you keep track of team member time.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to utilize the communication and project management tools before you begin the project. There’s nothing more frustrating than scheduling a Basecamp or Slack tutorial mid-flow.
  • Everyone should get a clear list of his or her tasks — and it’s best if it’s prioritized. JIRA only costs $10 for a small team (up up 10 users) and Pivotal Tracker is free for up to three collaborators in a startup.

Even if the whole team is the room next door, managing a project might be a tough process. If your team members are scattered around the globe, the situation becomes even more challenging. Different time zones and cultural differences are just a part of what can make it a bit problematic. This is why it is highly advisable to spend more time on planning and making proper arrangements. Make sure you set the expectations connected with the team communication, encourage them to give feedback, share both their victories — reasons to feel proud, and problems they might encounter to keep you all on the same page. Discuss all the details, even those that seem minor and less important, to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings along the way, then find and equip yourselves with tools you enjoy working with.

Written by Damian Samolej