Fail: My side project

Spoiler alert: Main reason is poor project management

A couple of months ago I was commissioned to work on a substantial project where I my job was to redesign an internal tool used by the employees of a local firm. Now it’s complete, and there are some takeaways I would like to share. I wasted a lot of time trying to understand what to work on next, finding the feedback, and quite frankly constantly trying to motivate myself to get around working on it.

I spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand what exactly went wrong and why was it so hard to me to complete even little tasks. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that the main issue was poor project management.

The following is an edited excerpt of the hand-off email I sent to the project manager. I was very tempted to go all offensive, but instead, I tried to be constructive, and sent him a list of what I struggled with, why, and how to fix them. I’m not sure my feedback was well-received, but I thought I’d publish it, it may help someone else.

The project was not sliced

When I started working on the project, I was just given a huge document with what appeared to be a list of tasks that the client requested.

These were not only useless to me as a designer, as the Word document addressed both featured that needed design (not all of them for what’s worth) but also stuff that didn’t. It was time-consuming for me to go through it and read it all. To solve this, I suggested working on a feature map, which I produced and was reviewed by you and the client, and quickly got the green light, which felt great at the time.

Looking back, this was a waste of time and of our resources, as the feature-map quickly expired since the requirements continuously changed - features that changed in my absence. This made it impossible for me to continue updating it, so I had to abandon it and jump into the abyss with you.

It would have been great if before we started working, we sliced the project together into little pieces, signed them off, and prioritised them.
This will also come in handy as the project progresses, as it makes it possible to see what’s next, where we’re at, and what’s left.

There was no sense of team

Remote teams need to put a lot more effort in talking. I believe it is the project manager’s role to make sure that conversations are happening. You’re not just managing the project, you’re managing the people involved too.

Even though you were always very responsive on chat and email, our communication was never effective. There were very little meetings and calls, even though I was pushing for them. And when I suggested scheduling a weekly sync, it never became a habit.

I always felt like I’m disturbing whenever I needed to talk to you, and whenever I needed to bounce something off with one of the developers, I oftenly found myself debating myself on whether I should start a chat or not.

A weekly sync would have taken us far. One meeting, in which we look at the project board, talk about the progress, and prioritise the following work together. An hour a week would have taken us far.

Feedback was a headache

Since this was a very big project, and usually multiple tasks would be ongoing at the same time, I usually found myself needing to refer to the previous communication.

Between the emails and the facebook chat thread, it was not only time-consuming for me to find the thread that I’m looking for, but it was also very annoying and demotivating. By the time I find the communication I’m looking for, I would have already wasted a good deal of time and lost the motivation to work on the task at hand.

We didn’t have a centralised place where all the features are listed and feedback on that particular task live.

Look at project management tools. There are tools like Asana, Trello, and even Github. These tools come with visual representations. Having all respective feedback put on the tasks would have made it a lot simpler.

Rescope does not mean scale up

I still remember asking, “Is this for desktop?”, to which you replied, “Yes, just desktop.”

The following month you asked, “Can you please show us how it would look like if we were to do this for mobile too?”

You see what the problem is there? Due to lack of planning, and we started working with lack of knowledge on what needed to be done, it made it a lot harder to get a grip of what needed to be done. Even stuff we agreed on originally changed, is this is probably the most demotivating aspect of this project.

A friend once told me, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.
It’s easy to say “yes” to new requests, but saying “no” is probably the most important part of your job.

I really hope that something positive comes out of this. The project is not yet completed, but I had to back out as it was causing a lot of mental-strain and stress.

If you’re a designer or a developer reading this, please make sure you talk at length before accepting any new projects with a new team. Ask the right questions, the hard questions. Sign on a new job? Then dive even deeper. When in doubt, better politely decline upfront than having to deal with the waves that will hit you later. Trust me, this is going to save you a lot of fatigue.

If you’re a project manager, you probably think you just wasted five minutes reading through. I know, I am stating the obvious here. But if anything, this should show you how valuable your job really is, and warn you of what may go wrong. Thanks for making our lives easier, keep rocking!